Johnny McNee (Aviation Historian) also employed Alastair Ruffell’s GPR expertise to help him accurately locate the remains of a WW2 Spitfire aircraft (P8074) in a peat bog at Moneydarragh – Donegal. The Spitfire would have been travelling at 200-300km/hr, weighed a few tonnes and would have Profiven through the peat in Moneydarragh like a knife through butter! The engine of the spitfire is housed in the Tower Museum. Bud Wolfe (pilot of the Spitfire when it crashed) had an interesting career.
He was arrested – interned – sent to the Curragh in the Free State, escaped, captured again, beaten up, escaped again and flew for the rest of WW2. He also fought in Korea and Vietnam and was an instructor in the Vietnam war with over 70 kills to his name! Prof Ruffell referred to him as the ‘first Top Gun’. On 13th May 2017 invited us to be part of the history of another Spitfire, R6992! A number of junior and senior school students part of a multidisciplinary team involved in the excavation of Spitfire R6992 which crashed into a field on 20th September 1942 in Fingullar, Monaghan. F/Lt Gordon Hayter Proctor was the pilot at the time of the crash. He survived the crash and flew as part of the 1402 Met Flight based at RAF Aldergrove. Below is a report of the day by Grace McNee, daughter of Mr Jonny McNee, Senior Panning Officer DCSDC.
‘On the 13th May 2017, pupils from Class 9C took part in the archaeological excavation of a WW2 Spitfire that crashed in a field in Co Monaghan near the village of Emyvale in 1942. The project was organised by my Dad who was helped by the Monaghan County Museum, his friends from Queens University Belfast, and the NI Fire and Rescue Service. My Dad needed 4 licenses to undertake the whole dig legally. It took him 5 months to get these and involved a lot of writing. As well as Foyle, there were pupils from Beechhill College and St McCartan’s College in Monaghan Town. Mrs Sloane took us down in the school mini bus and we were very excited as we left early in the morning to drive to the dig site.
In the field, my Dad explained how the plane had crashed on the 20th September 1942, narrowly missing the McCusker’s cottage which sits nearby. He told us that the pilot was Ft Lt Gordon Hayter Proctor who had flown from RAF Aldergrove on the day to record the weather. His plane controls stopped working and he had to jump out of the Spitfire at 8,000ft. He landed safely by parachute in Northern Ireland in the grounds of a big country house. His plane flew on for a bit by itself before crashing. This was a very sad end for this plane which had flown in the Battle of Britain and had been shot down twice.
We are all told to wear hard hats and yellow vests as were going to dig a deep hole with a digger to get to the buried parts. Professor Ruffell from Queens told us how they used a Ground Penetrating Rader machine to pin point exactly where to dig. Aiden the digger driver carefully scraped the soil back inch by inch so we didn’t damage any of the archaeology. Dad and the archaeologist told us to use our eyes and noses when we were in the hole. Our eyes to look carefully and our noses to sniff for aviation fuel and oil. They showed us the how soil changed colour when the plane crashed and burnt. We found some small bits in the upper layers of soil, but they were very crumbly. It was very exciting to get into the hole and scrape around bits of the plane as we found them. We found many broken bits of engine. Our class helped to bring them out of the hole and gently scrape the mud of them. We showed them to the crowd of people who were watching. Some of us even got on the BBC and RTE News. We all felt quite famous!
Eventually the digger dug down nearly 8 ft to find the remains of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine. It was very broken up! The plane hit the ground at 400 mph and the engine just disintegrated. The crater was filled with the smell of aviation fuel. Dad says this is how you know you are going in the right direction – the smellier it gets, the closer you are. We got to hand dig some of the clay away from the engine before Aiden carefully lifted it out with digger. Everyone clapped and we had a group photo taken of all the pupils kneeling beside the engine. My Dad is now living in the garage cleaning all the bits before they go on display in the Monaghan County Museum later in the year. Some small bits are going to come to Foyle College for display. It was a great project to be involved in. It was very exciting watching the digger carefully scrape the earth and then being allowed to get into the hole to look for bits and identify them. We were all very tired and muddy when we left to go home. It was a great day out!’ Grace McNee 9C
Many thanks to Jonny who came to Foyle in June to give a presentation to our yr 9 students with the wreckage found that day! Although the pieces looked distinctly different to those excavated from the soil that day! Lovingly restored they looked as though they had just been taken off a production line! We hope to travel to Monaghan in the New Year where the majority of the fragments will be housed in the museum!