An award-winning project which uses archaeology to aid the recovery of injured Service personnel is uncovering a crashed spitfire on Salisbury Plain. Residents from The Help for Heroes run Recovery Centre, Tedworth House and members of the Help for Heroes Band of Brothers are taking part in Operation Nightingale exercise Tally Ho!
The wounded Servicemen and women are excavating the remnants of the fighter plane from 609 Squadron which was shot down by enemy fire on October 27 1940. The plane’s pilot, 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.
Band of Brother Member and former Royal Marine, Rich, said: “The Op Nightingale dig has been instrumental in my recovery. Over 4 days, we have been excavating the scattered remains of the aircraft – which has been very personal finding aircraft remnants that the pilot would have used. Thanks to Help for Heroes, I was signposted for this project – Help for Heroes has been the lynchpin to my recovery. I can’t thank them enough.”
Operation Nightingale is a Defence initiative which was established by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) and The Rifles. 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 statutory obligations and illustrates heritage best practice; in this case to provide case studies for the future English Heritage revision of guidance notes on aircraft excavation.
Operation Nightingale recently received a special award from the British Archaeological Awards in recognition of its innovative use of archaeological work to boost the recovery and career prospects of military personnel injured in Afghanistan.
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 Protection of Military Remains Act protects these sites and it is important that they are considered properly. This is avowedly the case in this instance and it is thanks to the hard work of the British service personnel and volunteers involved”
Rosemary Baillon, daughter of Pilot Officer Paul 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.”