An award-winning project which uses archaeology to aid the recovery of injured soldiers has uncovered a crashed Spitfire on Salisbury Plain under the watchful eye of the pilot’s daughter.
Serving and former Service personnel taking part in Operation Nightingale’s Exercise Tally Ho! excavated the remnants of the 609 Squadron fighter plane, which was shot down by enemy fire on October 27 1940.
Pilot Officer Paul Baillon bailed out after damage to the Spitfire’s oil tank meant visibility was severely reduced and he wouldn’t be able to safely land the plane. His daughter Rosemary Baillon visited the dig site, near Upavon, to watch the excavation take place.
Miss Baillon never knew her father as he was tragically killed, aged 26, in a dogfight with the Luftwaffe over the English Channel in November 1940 – 4 months before she was born.
Rosemary Baillon said:
“I am delighted to have been contacted by The Rifles Archaeology and the Defence Archaeological Group about Exercise Tally Ho! which involves the excavation of the remains of the MK1a Spitfire P9503 which my father flew in 1940. At the first threat of war, my father joined the Royal Air Force volunteer reserve and learned to fly at Sywell, Northamptonshire.
“It was on 27 October, 1940, that my father was brought down by enemy aircraft near Upavon. This was a particularly worrying time for my mother who was expecting me to be born in the March of the following year.
“It appears that the young men who fought both in World War I and World War II had the same kind of courage and self-deprecating attitude to their achievements as the young men in the military of today.”
The reservists of 609 (West Riding) Sqn served with distinction during the Second World War, becoming the first squadron to shoot down 100 enemy aircraft. Later in the war they were pioneers of close air support with the Hawker Typhoon. The squadron reformed in 1999 as a reservist RAF Regiment force protection unit, again joining the regular air force on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Operation Nightingale was established by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), which manages and maintains MOD land and property, and The Rifles, the British Army’s largest regiment. The programme helps personnel injured on operations, including Afghanistan, return to their regiment or prepare for civilian life. This helps the Ministry of Defence (MOD) fulfil its obligations to personnel and illustrates heritage best practice; in this case to provide case studies for the future English Heritage revision of guidance notes on aircraft excavation.
DIO’s Senior Historic Advisor, Richard Osgood said:
“The project has been a poignant and moving discovery. Archaeology is all about people – whether they be prehistoric, Roman or Saxon. This site has yielded traces relating to the sacrifices of airmen from the 1940s and it has been a real privilege to re-tell the story of Paul Baillon.”
The excavation of the Spitfire involved serving personnel and veterans, including from Tedworth House Recovery Centre in Tidworth, which is run by Military charity Help for Heroes. The project has also drawn on assistance from partners including Cranfield University, Wessex Archaeology, the Army’s 135 Geographical Squadron. Support from the Royal Air Force came from the current 609 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force (RAuxAF), and the RAF’s Air Support Operations Centre (ASOC), which coordinates close air support for ground forces.
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