Monday, September 06, 2010

B-17 Bomber's Last Resting Place

Derek Andrews

Back in the early 1980's whilst living with a young family in the English county of Kent, we were driving around the countryside one Sunday afternoon when we came across a small group of  men in a nearby field.

They seemed to be digging and examining something so we stopped and investigated. Kent is known as the Garden of England for its beautiful countryside dotted with farms, small villages, orchards and hop-fields. It has a coast-line that looks out over the English Channel to La Belle France just twenty or so miles away.

During World War Two, the Battle of Britain was fought in the skies over Kent as the Spitfire and Hurricane pilots based at the now iconic airfields such as Biggin Hill, Kenley and Hawkinge, duelled with their oppsoite numbers in their Messerschmitts.

USAAF aircrew at Snetterton Heath Airfield

What we had stumbled across were a group of enthusiasts who had Ministry of Defence permission to dig for the remains of a downed Spitfire. Usually there is a written record often backed up with the memories of locals who were there, of the approximate location.

At the time of the crash the vast bulk of the wreckage would have been salvaged for its undamaged parts and the very valuable aluminium of its fuselage. If the pilot had bailed out and parachuted to safety he would have been back in the air the next day if he was uninjured. Such was the shortage of trained pilots. If his body was with the wrekage it would of course have been reverently removed.

These aero-archaeologists had found some artefacts from the 'plane buried deep in the earth and we shared their thrill at their success. The bits and pieces they found were not that many but they very generously gave my ten year old son a carburettor which amazingly still smelled strongly of aviation fuel. It was covered in mud and his parents imagined that he would enjoy cleaning the mud off before displaying it in his bedroom. He preferred to keep it "as found" however !

Which is a very long introduction to a similar story which was reported in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo just a few days ago.

A similar group of researchers led by two enthusiasts who run the Sywell Aviation Museum near Northampton, and a chap who was 5 at the time, were trying to locate any remains of a B-17 USAAF Bomber which had crashed near Towcester in October 1944.

In fact it was a triple tragedy as three B-17's had taken off from their base in Norfolk, about 90 miles NE of Northampton on a mock-bombing/navigational exercise to Rugby, Warwickshire, another 25 miles NW. In heavy cloud the three planes had collided with each other. I believe all three crashed with no survivors but the article didn't make it clear.  It is clear, however, that 11 crew from the three planes were confirmed to have been killed.

However these 21st century "treasure" seekers had found a few bullets, a piece of the windshield, a wheel, a pedal, some boots and most importantly an I.D. bracelet with the name of the pilot,

Lieutenant Nicholas Jorgensen engraved on it. I know that when anything personal is found in this way there would be a big effort made to locate the family and return it to them, so just out of interest I Googled the name. Really it was just to see if there were any other articles about the find.

I was quite surprised when I immediately found a military aviation forum where a Philip Jorgensen had, in 2005, asked for any information about his uncle, Nicholas Jorgensen. Several forum posters had sent him basic info on where, when and how his uncle had died but there was no mention of this latest development.

As he had provided his email address, I emailed him and sent a link to the article. Got a reply two days later and he had been contacted by quite a few people, not just me ! The power of the internet ! He didn't make it clear whether he had been contacted by the Museum regarding the bracelet so I told him I would contact them and see what was happpening. At this point I thought his uncle might be buried in Northamptonshire so I offered to photograph the grave after tidying it up if necessary.

He told me that the body had been buried in England but after the war ended it was returned to his family in the U.S. Philip told me that they only had the flag that had draped his casket; no personal mementoes. The family were also sad that as it was not a combat accident, no Purple Hearts were awarded.

The next day I spoke to people at the Museum who confirmed that they were in touch with family members in order to return the bracelet. They also hope to erect a small marker-memorial at the site of the crash. As they are not awash with cash, they do not know when this will be but definitely by October 2014 which will be the 70th anniversary.

The Chronicle & Echo had a follow-up story the next day, without much new information, though there was a photoof Lieutenant Jorgensen in his uniform.

The following links are to the two articles and also another that tells of a cache of Prisoner of War items found by someone in their back garden. Several dog-tags of Italian and German POW's were amongst them.



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