A 'Missing' Post Battle of Britain Hurricane, with a Vietnam War Connection.
RAF Serial: N2608 Fuselage codes AK-F
Pilot: F/O Hugh Desmond Clark
Date: 1 November 1940
Place: Frith Farm, Wickham, Hampshire
The aeroplane crash near the village of Wickham had caused great excitement. Hampshire County Police reported the crash at Frith’s Farm; the plane was completely smashed, but its pilot landed in a tree ¾ of a mile away and was not injured. 10-year-old Eric Tucker watched a Hurricane coming from the east and trailing smoke and said the pilot baled out and landed in Bere Forest. Eric cycled to Frith Farm to see the aircraft before it was carried away on a Queen Mary trailer and after the farmer had tidied-up his field the incident passed into local folk-law.
Over 60 years passed before memories of the plane crash were stirred again. Ian Hutton was carrying out research into war-time Hampshire when he discovered reference to it in the County Archive and followed this up with a visit to Wickham. MoD refused permission to excavate on the grounds that the aircraft and its pilot could not be positively identified. Even though Ian Hutton had provided the serial number N2608, the pilot could not be identified.
A further fifteen years passed before the mystery of the ‘Wickham Hurricane’ was addressed again. Dr Phil Marter of Winchester University’s archaeology department was seeking a project suitable for his summer school students studying conflict archaeology.
Following further research the pilot was identified as F/O Hugh Clark who had baled out after being shot down by Me109s.
During a three-day excavation at Frith Farm on July 25th 2019. It rapidly became clear that the Hurricane was not deeply buried and that almost all the wreckage had been removed 1940, but by combining traditional archaeological methods with a knowledge of Hurricanes a great deal was discovered.
After the top soil had been removed the outline of the impact crater became visible as a darker, disturbed, area of sandy earth with traces of corroded aluminium and rusted steel. A surprising result of the careful ‘trowling’ was the appearance of a ‘bow-wave’ of earth pushed up in front of the aircraft as it buried itself. The wings inboard of the undercarriage mountings had also penetrated the ground, leaving a distinct outline of an aircraft’s centre section.
A cross-section of the crater itself was then excavated along the axis of the assumed line of flight. This proved that the assumption was correct as the deepest parts were in the north east corner ‘the nose’ of the Hurricane.
N2608 had approached from the south east in a dive of approximately 45 degrees, hitting the downward slope of the hill. The engine had penetrated the sandy soil to a depth of 1.5 meters and the remainder of the aircraft had either scattered itself further down the slope, evidenced by a scatter of small finds, or burnt in the shallow crater. The RAF salvage team had pulled the Merlin from the crater and had thrown various small pieces into it to help level and restore the field.
The students, on their first aircraft dig, were astonished at the ability of the aircraft team to identify tiny, deformed and corroded items, much as they might fragments of pottery. Of particular significance was a tiny brass plate, smaller that a matchbox, bearing the aircraft’s serial number, N2608.
Flying Officer Clark’s service after the Battle of Britain was something of a mystery. A fascinating contact with his family, filled in his story. Having very much done his duty in the Battle, previously bailing out burned from another Hurricane, Desmond finished his war in Vietnam, taking part in the surrender of Japanese forces, and being presented with a Samurai sword by a Japanese officer in Saigon. He went on to a distinguished career in the Royal Rhodesian Air Force.