Spitfire replica given to people of Lesotho as WWII thank you gift

A replica spitfire has been donated to the Kingdom of Lesotho. Credit: ITV News

The Spitfire. Iconic fighting machine. We know what it symbolises.

British defiance against Nazi Germany. Survival against the odds. So much owed by so many to so few.

Well, there’s another chapter to this well worn war-time tale. A story almost forgotten. It turns out there’s a few more people to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

The story takes us to the tiny southern African kingdom of Lesotho.

Eight decades ago a pink speck on the map of a British Empire that spanned the globe.

David Spenser Evans of the Spitfire Heritage Trust takes up the narrative.

"This was Britain’s darkest hour. And yet this small nation, five and a half thousands miles away, raised the money to pay for 24 of these magnificent Spitfires. It was an enormous contribution."

For five years David and his team has been planning what you might call a very belated thank you present and today, Armistice Day, they delivered right on time.

It is a full scale, lovingly crafted replica of a Spitfire.

It will stand next to Lesotho’s War Memorial. And on Sunday they will remember not just the money they gave, but the men they sent to a distant war.

"We were living under British rule, so we had to fight", 95-year-old Khailie Molebatsti told ITV News.

He added: "But I was young, and I was happy to go."

Thuso Hlomel, 93, fought for Britain and took part in the Battle for Malta. Credit: ITV News

In all more than 20,000 men of Lesotho answered – or were told to answer – the call to arms. They were part of much larger Africa force that campaigned through Burma, the Middle East, North Africa and Italy.

But after the war, the contribution made by Africa was relegated to the margins of history.

Thuso Hlomeli, 93, rattles off his British army service number as if it had been issued yesterday, not in 1943.

He remembers too one episode from the horrors of the 'Battle for Malta'.

How he had search through the rubble of a bombed out town, to remove and dispose of dozens of bodies.

And it took the Spitfires paid for by Lesotho. And it took brave men from this land. And neither should be forgotten.