The Wreck Hunter...
...Battle of Britain & The Blitz, from Frontline Books
Title: The Wreck Hunter
Author: Melody Foreman
Publisher: Frontline Books
This is basically the story of Terry Parsons, one of the earliest of Battle of Briatain aviation archeologists who began recovering some of the wrecks from WW2 back in the early 1960's, but also the stories of the aircraft and their pilot/crews whose aircraft recoveries are described in this book. Everything starts with Terry telling about his childhood, when as a schoolboy, he was one of the eyewitnesses who lived through the events that are now described. He saw aircraft shot down and like so many young boys, would seek to find souvenirs from the wreckage. His interest has stayed with him, and in the early 1960's he began to dig some of these sites. He went on to dig some 900 wrecks, from which just a small number are described here.
There are a good variety of stories told in the different chapters that make up the book, from Spitfires and Hurricanes of the RAF to Messerschmitt Bf 109s and Dornier bombers of the Luftwaffe. Many downed aircraft were recovered during the war by recovery teams, but often they removed what was on the surface, while some parts remained buried deep in the ground, depths created due to the heights the aircraft fell from, and weighed down by the concentrated weight of an engine. There are so many aspects to this story, and with it assembled using Terry's own notes from his years of carrying out this work, he addresses many of the questions which arise. Perhaps the most important is whether there are any remains of the crews still in the wreck site. He always tried to dig aircraft where they knew the pilot/crew had escaped, but if remains were found, then everything stopped until the proper authorities had been notified and the remains dealt with in an appropriate manner. The same must also be true of live munitions which could still pose a significant danger.
The stories describe how in those early years he and the teams he worked with relied on a lot of eyewitness statements who still lived near the various sites, and who could direct them on where to look. He was also able to meet a number of veterans who included the pilot's of the aircraft they were digging. Sadly that is now at the point where those veterans are no longer with us to provide those personal accounts of what happened, a number of which are included in the stories held in this book. This applies to both RAF and Luftwaffe aircrew. To Terry, a key element to every dig was the discovery of the story behind the aircraft they were hunting. Who was flying it, what were they doing and what had happened for example. This element of the wreck recovery is vital I think. The recovered parts are largely given to museums for public display, so they can be shared with the rest of us, to help us learn about the history of that time, and the lives of the people involved. There have been tales of unscrupulous people who dig for parts simply for sale and monetary gain, with little or no regard of the potential for finding human remains. That has, rightly, given rise to the law which now requires any dig to apply for a licence from the MOD and English Heritage before any work can be done.
The stories are all fascinating to read, and equally well supported by a good selection of photos which illustrate the digs under way, some of the artefacts they recovered and portraits of the aircrew concerned. As someone who grew up on the Kent & Sussex border in the early 1960's when Terry was beginning his early digs, I am familiar with many of the places he talks about, and can well understand the fascination he has had for his own interest. An excellent read, a story of someone who has done thing 'properly' throughout, honouring the lives of the airmen that flew these machines at a key point in our history. Certainly recommended.
Thanks to Pen and Sword for this review copy.