10.30 am and the Highclere plane search team had congregated by the Castle tearooms for our next expedition. This time we were joined by an eye witness: Colin had lived at Highclere as a young boy throughout the Second World War and actually seen some of the planes go down into the hills and woods over the Estate.
His father, Jack, was something of a legend and had held on to the ropes of Geoffrey de Havilland’s plane as it was preparing to take off for the first time here at Highclere in 1910. I was watching Colin as we drove round, for through his eyes, he was going back down the vista of seventy years to 1942, to hard times and fun times, adventures in the woods but also running home scared along the tracks, as a 12 year boy, having found things he still cannot forget.
We firstly went to stand above where a Magister had crash landed. It was a popular training plane and Colin had heard the engine stutter and fail. He ran down towards it but luckily the Highclere keeper at the time, George Baker, was already there and told him not to go near. Sadly the pilot had died when the plane tipped nose first into a dip in the field, having nearly put the plane down successfully.
We returned to the car and I drove us on up into the top woods. The next plane that Colin remembered was more elusive. Tree lines change over 70 years and we were looking for beech trees along the edge of a field, and then burnt trees or unexpected clearings. The metal detector began to beep madly and gave us great hope. Digging down, holding our breath, we found metal. It was, however, a pipe for a water trough. The only other thing we found was an old piece of ammunition which I promptly dropped and we never found it again.
We were downcast but then Sid came racing up in his car to show us where bits of a wing allegedly were in another wood. We set off again, driving through inhospitable tracks. Unfortunately when we got there, we realised we has lost the spade. I returned to look for it and thirty minutes later I thought we were going to have to use the metal detector to find the spade until Sid announced he had found it …..in his car. More hilarity but sadly no wings.
We returned to the tearooms for lunch and the ups and downs continued – Steve tried to brush a wasp off Paul but in error threw the remains of his lunch over him. It was that sort of day. Unable to move for laughter, I was ready to give up but Paul and Steve decided to return one more time. Terry the keeper showed them where he had found a piece of a plane in a branch which had been 30 feet up a tree. It was amongst beeches near a field. Thus we found the next plane.
It is probably the Whitley, the one Colin saw. An English bomber but perhaps not a very well designed plane. If it proves to be so, then we have found where four brave young men died on December 8th 1942. As mother and a wife I find the pointlessness of it all so hard to accept, the pity of war and the undone years. It is a place to put a small cross and to remember them on our memorial.