Service personnel remember Battle of Britain forebears on Salisbury Plain

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An award-winning project using archaeology to aid the recovery of soldiers injured on Operations TELIC and HERRICK continues its success on Salisbury Plain with an Investigation of a crashed Battle of Britain Spitfire.

Soldiers, Airmen and Marines taking part in ‘Operation Nightingale’ (Exercise Tally Ho!) uncovered the remnants of this fighter plane from 609 Squadron which was shot down by enemy fire in October 1940. The pilot, P/O Paul Baillon bailed out and all the work took place under the watchful eyes of his daughter, Rosemary.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) worked with The Rifles to create the project, which helps service personnel injured in Afghanistan return to their regiment or prepare for civilian life and it has now taken on a tri-service role. It also helps the Ministry Of Defence fulfil its statutory obligations and to illustrate heritage best practice; in this case to provide case studies for the future English Heritage revision of guidance notes on aircraft excavation.


The project draws in assistance from partners including Cranfield University, Wessex Archaeology, the Army’s survey unit,135 Geographical Squadron, and 609 Squadron RAAF, to help deliver the programme.

In 2012, Operation Nightingale recently received a special award from the British Archaeological Awards in recognition of its innovative use of archaeological work to boost the recovery and career prospects of military personnel injured in Afghanistan.

Rosemary Baillon, daughter of Pilot Officer Paul Baillon, said:

I am delighted to have been contacted by The Rifles Archaeology and the Defence Archaeological Group about Exercise Tally Ho! which involves the excavation of the remains of the MK1a Spitfire P9503 which my father flew in 1940.

At the first threat of war, my father joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve and learned to fly at Sywell, Northamptonshire.
It was on 27 October 1940 that my father was brought down by enemy aircraft near Upavon. This was a particularly worrying time for my mother who was expecting me to be born in the March of the following year.

It appears that the young men who fought both in World War I and World War II had the same kind of courage and self-deprecating attitude to their achievements as the young men in the military of today.

Header Image : Wiki Commons

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