They had been pestering the country for weeks. Not a day went by without one being seen somewhere over Kent or Sussex. Our gallant lads were doing their best to rid the skies of them but they had orders from the boss who had promised his Furher that he alone could bring the people of England to heel. Today, as my mother and father were leaving the house to go to church, the Sunday morning was disturbed by a loud roaring sound. Looking up, mum and dad witnessed a plane hurtling to the ground. Mother said they had no time to take cover as it hit the ground three hundreds away across the other side of the river. Looking up at the sky they realised the plane that had disappeared into the ground was one of the enemy’s. The Hurricane flew off east. The story would have been better if the plane had been a spitfire but it wasn’t. Their attention was now drawn to the pilot floating to earth under his parachute. Father left mother and helped to capture the man but as dad said, he put his hands up on their approach.
The plane had now lay under the earth for twenty nine and a half years when I became aware of a plan to dig it out. The local policeman and a few of his friends had joined up with a local aviator to add something to their collection of wartime relics. The spot was not that easy to find but with the help of my father the very place was found. A very shallow depreciation in the turf gave a hint. The JCB only took a couple of bucket full of earth before a blade of the propeller was unearthed. The whole site was saturated in glycol fluid from the drum. Soon more pieces came to light. The trail led straight down for twenty feet. Most of the bodywork of the plane had disintegrated on impact and had been salvaged for scrap at the time but no one had bothered to dig knowing there was no pilot inside.
The first thing to come to light were two heavy armoured plates that together made a shape like a church window. Through those were square holes, which the contents had passed through. What fascinated those digging were the score marks on the tail side showing where the bullets had hit. This plate had saved the pilot’s life. Under there was his medical box containing pins, bandages and a rubber tourniquet whose rubber had perished although everything else was in good condition. The oil had done a marvellous job of preserving everything.
Next was his life raft, sadly perished but still identifiable. His seat and controls were mangled and amid there was a small book with an inscription inside. The next and most surprising thing was a large-scale map with a short pencil attached by a piece of string. This map was of this area and in pencil all the guns, trenches and sites were accurately marked.
Then came the engine with the propeller boss still attached. The soft ground had allowed all to travel easily down. Hoisting the engine clear, it was loaded into a trailer and transported to the local garage and once there a pair of large stilsons clamped to the boss, one managed to turn the engine after nearly thirty years and after a crash like the one it had been subjected to.
One has to raise your hat to the Germans. They could build things to last. Later the plane was identified as an early model of Messerschmidt, an ME 109D as used in the war against Spain. This one had no guns so was assumed to be a spy plane and the map only went to endorse this assumption. The pilot was traced and presented with the two pieces of armour plate that had saved his life when shot down. The diggers also gave him the little book of German poems and he broke down and cried. He had been a prisoner all the war and found work on a local farm where he now lived, having never returned to his homeland, and so never seeing his parents again. His wife told the man that being a prisoner all the war was a disgrace on his family and to the day he died, would not admit to being a spy beating measuring up the defences of England.
From “Rye’s Own “ December 2005
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