Spitfire wreckage to be exhumed after 75 years

A Spitfire that crashed in a Cambridgeshire field during the Second World War is to be excavated by archaeologists.

The archaeology team hopes to recover surviving parts of the plane from farmland near Holme Lode Farm, Holme, before the area is restored to wetlands as part of a major conservation project.

The fighter plane originally crashed in 1940 during a training flight for 20-year-old pilot Harold Edwin Penketh.

On November 22 1940, the plane fell from the sky after what was thought to be a failure of the oxygen system or a physical failure of the plane.

Penketh’s body was dragged from the wreckage and he was later buried in his home town of Brighton, but the plane's remains were left to vanish into the peat.

Nothing from the Mark 1 Spitfire (pictured) can be seen above ground presently, but a team from Cranfield University conducted a geophysical survey of the area and believe they have located exactly where the wreckage is.

This week, a group of archaeologists and volunteers hope to extract parts of the plane, including the Merlin engine and its guns.

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

Stephen Macaulay, an Oxford Archaeology East senior project manager who is overseeing the dig, said that although digging in the peat would be challenging due to being waterlogged, the conditions are likely to have preserved the plane better.

"It's really exciting, it's a real challenge. I've done all sorts of archaeology across the world, but to be able to say we've dug up a Spitfire, that's up alongside anything I've done," he said.

The Great Fen Project's Kate Carver stressed the urgency of conducting the excavation now before the area is transformed into a fen bog to create new wildlife habitats.

"We're raising the water tables over the whole site over the next five years, so it's going to get progressively wetter.

"If we don't do it now, it's not going to happen. It's also the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain so it all came together."

After the dig concludes, the hole will be filled in, artefacts removed and cleaned with plans to eventually put them on display, and the process to restore the wild fenland will continue.

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