Digging the Hurricane in the South Downs

Sgt Wünsche's daughter and granddaughter examine pieces of his plane

On 9 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, Polish RAF pilot Sergeant Kazimierz Wünsche was flying over the South Downs when he met a formation of more than 40 enemy aircraft. He was shot down and baled out of his Hawker Hurricane with burns and leg injuries. 75 years later a team of archaeologists and military personnel from both the UK and Poland excavated the crash site at the National Trust’s Saddlescombe Farm as part of Operation Nightingale, supporting the rehabilitation of Polish and British veterans of foreign missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The crater was as deep as 1.2metres into the chalk and invisible from the surface. Remarkably the whole propeller hub from the Merlin engine was recovered, along with a morse tapper, gyroscope and engine piston among other artefacts. 

Joanna Gasiorowska-Brundle, the pilot’s granddaughter, and her mother came from Poland to see the dig. She said: “We will be forever grateful to Richard Osgood, the Operation Nightingale Team, Andy Saunders, the National Trust and the tenant farmers of Saddlescombe Farm who helped to excavate the Hurricane. For Kazimierz’s daughter Grazyna this was an opportunity to celebrate the memory of her father and finally tell his story with pride.”

A Polish soldier helps dig out the propeller hub
A Polish soldier helps dig out the propeller hub
A Polish soldier helps dig out the propeller hub

National Trust Archaeologist Tom Dommett said: “It isn’t every day that you are part of a project to excavate a Battle of Britain airplane, particularly under such moving circumstances. It was remarkable to work with both Kazimierz Wünsche’s family and the Ministry of Defence in rehabilitating service personnel at Saddlecombe Farm. We now have the final archaeology report and can see the conserved artefacts at RAF Northolt museum. This is a great opportunity to talk about Saddlecombe’s history and its more recent past and how it is connected to global events as well as playing a role in local history. We are grateful to our tenant farmers at Saddlescombe and all the project partners for making this happen.”

Operation Nightingale was established to provide cultural heritage opportunities to service personnel post-Afghanistan and Iraq to assist with their recovery process. Since its inception in 2011 the project has investigated a series of archaeological sites, seeing how much military archaeology engages participants and inspires their imagination. 

Saddlescombe Farm is tenanted and can be visited on open days. The Hurricane artifacts have been conserved and kept at the RAF Northolt HIVE museum, which is open to the public.