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Historic aircraft parts are recovered from the Plain
THE history of military aviation really begins on Salisbury Plain, and last week’s excavation of Pilot Officer Paul Baillon’s Spitfire Mk1a (P9503) was another chapter in that story.
During the Battle of Britain, 609 Squadron, Royal Auxilliary Air Force, based at RAF Yeadon, now Leeds Bradford International Airport, moved to RAF Middle Wallop as part of Fighter Command’s efforts to defend the south coast of England.
At this time, one third of the RAF’s frontline squadrons were from the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. During August 1940, 609 Squadron destroyed 46 enemy aircraft.
However, by this point almost all of the prewar auxiliary pilots were dead or missing.
On October 21, 1940 the squadron became the first to achieve 100 confirmed enemy aircraft kills.
Paul Baillon was flying from Middle Wallop and, after a dogfight with a German aircraft, he sustained damage to his fuel tank which severely reduced his visibility, and he bailed out, landing close to Upavon Airfield.
He recorded in a letter to his mother that he walked to Upavon, was given lunch in the mess, taken back to Middle Wallop and given 24 hours off to recover. Sadly, he was killed in combat a few weeks later.
Organised by MoD archaeologist Richard Osgood, the dig was a first attempt at using archaeological techniques to recover the aircraft.
Ground penetrating radar was used to pinpoint the site and was so accurate that the first dig located the engine immediately.
Every item recovered was flagged, bagged and tagged for later reference and identification.
Helping in this procedure was Elaine Corner, 44, from Amesbury. Ms Corner was a staff sergeant in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers serving with 104 Regt REME at Tidworth when she lost her leg in an accident.
She left the army in December 2011 and continues to receive support from the Recovery Centre at Tedworth House.
“I volunteered to help in this because it is something that has always interested me,”
she said. “As a child I used to watch the Jorvick excavations at York and this was an opportunity to take part.”
609 Sqn RAAF still exists, and members were helping at the dig. It is based at RAF Leeming but is no longer a flying squadron, instead it has the role of force protection.
The squadron was deployed to Ali Al Salem as part of Operation Telic from February to August 2003 A Spitfire that flew with 609 Squadron, number X4590, is now preserved at the RAF Museum, Hendon.
Another 609 Squadron Spitfire, number R6915, is preserved at the Imperial War Museum, London. It is hoped that the remains of PO Baillon’s aircraft may be reconstructed.
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