Digging the Hurricane in the South Downs
On 9 September 1940, during the Battle of Britain, Polish RAF pilot Sergeant Kazimierz Wünsche from the legendary 303 Polish Fighter Squadron was flying his Hawker Hurricane over the South Downs when it was hit by enemy fire. The plane crashed into a hillside near Brighton but Sergeant Wünsche managed to bail out and survived with burns and leg injuries.
75 years later a team of archaeologists and military personnel from the UK and Poland excavated the crash site at Saddlescombe Farm. The dig was organised under Operation Nightingale, an initiative controlled by the Ministery of Defence to aid the recovery of injured soldiers returning from missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
MoD archaeologist Richard Osgood led the excavation which was attended by Kazimierz’s daughter Grazyna Gasiorowska and his granddaughter Joanna.
Remarkably the whole propeller hub from the Merlin engine was recovered, along with a morse tapper, gyroscope, engine pistons and other aircraft parts and fragments.
Three Polish soldiers helped dig out the propeller hub. Lukasz Juzwiak paid tribute to the pilots of 303 squadron describing them as ‘Polish flying heroes’ and said that Sargeant Wünsche was “a great pilot with the squadron”.
A historic Hurricane repainted with Sargeant Wünsche’s markings RF-E P3700 and in his squadron’s colours made a flypast over the dig site on 9 September 2015 to mark the 75th anniversary of the crash.
For Grazyna and Joanna this was a particularly moving experience.
It was an opportunity for Grazyna to celebrate the memory of her father and finally tell his story with pride.
Joanna was only six months old when her grandfather died so she had not had the opportunity to get to know him. “It’s really emotional for me to be here today,” she said. “It does make me feel a real connection with him.”
National Trust archaeologist Tom Dommett felt that it was remarkable to work with Kazimierz Wünsche’s family and the Ministry of Defence in rehabilitating service personnel. “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,” he said. “We are grateful to our tenant farmers at Saddlescombe and all the project partners for making this happen.”
The remains of Sargeant Wünsche’s plane are on display at the Polish Museum in RAF Northolt where 303 squadron was stationed during the Battle of Britain.