Parts of a downed Lancaster bomber have returned home to base in Metheringham after being recovered 70 years after it crashed.
Julie Barton from Pontypridd in South Wales and Debbie Bartlett from Essex are granddaughters of Flight Engineer Ronald Barton, part of the crew of Lancaster ZNPD214, which flew from RAF Metheringham airfield on October 6, 1944 to bomb the shipyards of Bremen in northern Germany. His plane never returned and was thought to have crashed in the North Sea.
However, his two granddaughters began researching the circumstances of the crash two years ago when their father died, eventually tracing the actual crash site 40 miles away in a field near Cloppenburg where it so happened that the local council was planning to build new houses.
It was found during a routine survey for old bombs, and after getting the work halted by the town council the sisters worked with German archaeologists on an excavation of the site.
Lancaster ZNPD214 was part of 106 Squadron based at Metheringham and the sisters had called upon the knowledge of the Metheringham Airfield Visitor Centre’s collections manager Tim Taylor who travelled to Germany with committee members Roger Feneley and Rod Sanders to assist with identification of the remaining fragments at the crash site.
It was discovered that a large part of the plane had been recovered by the Germans during the war, leaving only 10cm fragments of metal, along with a few pieces of bones and clothing to be found.
Mr Taylor said: “A team of three of us from the visitor centre went across last weekend and brought back all the remains that were found during the excavation last month.”
If found to be human bones they will be DNA tested to hopefully identify members of the crew.
Mr Taylor said: “There are personal items like a bit of a woollen jumper, a piece of flying helmet and clothing. Two of the bodies were removed after the crash and buried by the German army leaving six still missing.
“If the sisters had not halted the construction project, they would have built houses over an aircraft and possibly the remains of the crew members still lost.”
The sisters visited the museum on Tuesday to see the remains spread out in the old gymnasium. Julie Barton said: “it was amazing and very emotional for my sister and I to go there and see the pieces back home.
“It was the culmination of two years of research and hard work and determination to make that happen.”
Miss Barton said: “It is fantastic to have found the actual crash site and to have been working on the weekend of the VE Day anniversary with German volunteers looking in the earth for fragments and remains.”
But she said the story will not end there as the German town council has promised to build a memorial to the crew on the crash site. The sisters have contacted members of the other crewmen’s families spread across the UK, Canada and Australia
who are willing to attend a dedication ceremony.
Experts have not suggested larger sections of the plane buried deeper underground may still be found using ground penetrating radar.
It is the sisters’ wish that the aircraft fragments be passed to the Metheringham airfield museum and once collated and documented will go on display with information boards, possibly in time for the 106 Squadron reunion on July 14 when some veterans will be there, along with Miss Barton and the son of the pilot who died with her husband, Douglas Stewart. His camera is already on display at the museum after he handed it to a member of the ground crew for safe keeping before leaving on that fateful mission.