The sky over Belgium was witness to fierce fighting during the duration of World War 2.
Thousands of fighters, bombers, and transport aircraft were shot down in flames and crashed in the fields and forests below, many of them with their crews still inside.
Several aircraft wrecks have been found since 1945, but many still remain unaccounted for, along with the remains of the pilots who were Killed in Action and never returned to base.
British, German, American, Canadian and pilots from many other nationalities were lost for decades and thanks to the efforts, professionalism and dedication of a team of experts based in Belgium, the identities of the young men that once took to the skies and never got back home emerge.
1/ What led you to start searching for missing WW2 aircraft?
I am fascinated by aviation since childhood, and during my study time (30 years ago…) I realized very little was known about the air war over Belgium.
So I went to the Public Records Office in London (this was the pre-internet era) and started browsing through the RAF archives and contacting and interviewing veteran airmen, who were relatively active at that time – early pensioners let’s say.
With my good friend Jean-Louis Roba, who is well known for his research and publications on the Luftwaffe, we became a team writing books on the subject.
I’ve always been fascinated by the way the magazine After the Battle conducts research on WW2, also re. battlefield archaeology: thorough archival work, and studying the then-and-now aspect.
This way recent history is being brought to a large public in an accessible way – very important or me, since I started teaching history at secondary school then.
Realizing that many thousands of aircraft crashed within the boundaries of the small country which Belgium is, I combined my other fascination, archaeology, with my passion for old aircraft.
The preliminary research is as important and enjoyable as the dig itself – interviewing eye witnesses, browsing through old documents, trying to find the surviving aircrew or their families…
That’s when with several Belgian enthusiasts we established the Belgian Aviation History Association and the Archaeology Team (BAHAAT).
The purpose is to share the knowledge about an almost forgotten war with the general public. That’s why we organize exhibitions, even a museum, and write reports, books, articles.
Difficult to say, but I am still particularly proud on the project I started in 1995 on Halifax LW682.
Not so far away from where I live, this bomber came down – the whole crew perished but three of the Canadians were still in the wreckage.
So with the help of the Canadian government we organized an archaeological investigation, during which the three airmen were found, so they could be buried along their fellow crew members.
Especially for the relatives – the son who lost his dad on his first birthday, the sister who was still hoping her brother would be found, the burial was extremely moving and offered closure.
But there was a side effect on this history. Tons of material were found, and send to Canada to be used for the restoration project of Halifax NA337.
And several tons of non-identifiable aluminum scrap was melted into ingots. And these ingots were used to construct the roof of the Bomber Command Memorial, inaugurated in 2012 in Green Park Piccadily, London.
Well, last year we had a extremely interesting dig on a FW 190. The pilot bailed out (unfortunately too low), but we found all his personal papers (see www.gelbe13.be).
We hope the following weeks to start a huge project on the recovery of a Lancaster wreck, and we have our collection which is housed in the For Freedom Museum in Knocke.
Before we start such an action, we contact the official organizations and try to establish contact with the relatives.
All of them. But since we’ve published quite a few books on the air war, with information where the plane came down, it’s nice to see that local enthusiasts start their own investigation in order to find the exact spot.
I am working full time in that business now, and companies like ours have state of the art detection material which we use to find out whether or not an archaeological dig might be interesting.
I myself live in the center of a village in Belgium which was almost completely destroyed by German shell fire – the scars are still visible on our house.
People do not realize anymore what times our ancestors had to endure. “The destruction of the past is perhaps the greatest of all crimes” the French philosopher Simone Weill said once.
|The search, identification and recovery of the crashed Luftwaffe fighter “Gelbe 13” has been documented in every detail
That really was a time capsule. We even found a love letter written by a Dutch girl – she knew that she was dating a man who was part of the occupying forces of her country.
|Portrait of KIA Luftwaffe pilot Willi Lück, found in his wallet during the archaeological investigation
But she ended with “I don’t give a shit what my parents think of it”. We hope one day we might be able to find out who she was…
|During his stay in Holland, he dated a Dutch girl (G)erry, who lived in Amsterdam – she spoke German. She wrote him a letter (free translation from German)SOURCE: http://gelbe13.weebly.com/|