Artefacts recovered as Spitfire is unearthed in Cambridgeshire field after 1940 crash

Volunteer John Edwards cleans a section of a cock-pitt as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire.Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
Volunteer John Edwards cleans a section of a cock-pitt as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire.Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire
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The first artefacts have been recovered from a Spitfire which has lain buried in a field for 75 years since it crashed during the Second World War.

Archaeologists began excavating the site in Cambridgeshire on Monday. They hope to recover parts from the peat before the agricultural landscape is restored to wetland as part of a conservation project.

A Volunteer holds the the remains of a pillow as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire. Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

A Volunteer holds the the remains of a pillow as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire. Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Since digging began at the crash site near Holme Lode Farm, Holme, three days ago, the aircraft’s starter motor, parts of the wing and canopy and a well-preserved rubber head-rest have been recovered.

Oxford Archaeology East senior project manager Stephen Macaulay, who is overseeing the dig, said he is hopeful large parts of the Merlin engine will be found as the team digs deeper.

He added: “We’ve already found artefacts with an awful lot of significance.

“As well as parts of the aircraft like bullets and cockpit fragments, we’re also finding remains of the original recovery exercise including china plates the RAF personnel who recovered the pilot’s body would have eaten their food from.

Archaeologists excavating a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire to recover the first artefacts from a Spitfire which has lain buried in a field for 75 years since it crashed during the Second World War. 'Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Archaeologists excavating a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire to recover the first artefacts from a Spitfire which has lain buried in a field for 75 years since it crashed during the Second World War. 'Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

“We’re in deep peat and it’s very wet, and while that may present itself as a problem it is also a benefit, because the plane sunk into the ground and didn’t blow up and disintegrate on impact the way it might otherwise have done.

“So we’re hopeful that as we get deeper down we may find a fairly intact Merlin engine.

“To be able to show the thing that made the Spitfire arguably the best fighter plane in the Second World War would be really quite exciting.”

Pilot officer Harold Edwin Penketh was 20 when he died in the crash on November 22 1940 during a training flight, after what was thought to be a failure of the oxygen system or a physical failure of the plane.

Volunteer Thomas Sigsworth from Leeds uses a metal detector to scan through top soil as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire. Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Volunteer Thomas Sigsworth from Leeds uses a metal detector to scan through top soil as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire. Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

His body was recovered from the crash and taken for burial in his home town of Brighton, but the remains of the plane, which had plummeted vertically into the ground at high speed, were left to vanish into the peat.

Geophysical surveying by Cranfield University pinpointed the site of the wreckage.

The team working on the site includes people from the Defence Archaeology Group which oversees Operation Nightingale, a scheme using archaeology to help the recovery of injured veterans and service personnel.

After the excavation finishes on Friday the land, owned by the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire, will be turned into natural habitat to link up remaining fragments of fenland and create a 14 square mile Great Fen landscape.

Archaeologists excavating a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire to recover the first artefacts from a Spitfire which has lain buried in a field for 75 years Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Archaeologists excavating a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire to recover the first artefacts from a Spitfire which has lain buried in a field for 75 years Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Volunteer Alexandra Edwards works on a recovered Pitot Tube as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm. Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Volunteer Alexandra Edwards works on a recovered Pitot Tube as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm. Photo credit: Chris Radburn/PA Wire

A volunteer holds the leather covering of a head rest as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire to recover the first artefacts from a Spitfire. Photo credit  Chris Radburn/PA Wire

A volunteer holds the leather covering of a head rest as archaeologists excavate a site near Holme Lode Farm in Cambridgeshire to recover the first artefacts from a Spitfire. Photo credit Chris Radburn/PA Wire