During his round on the beach at Vrouwenpolder, lifeguard Jasper Boeije found something very special on Wednesday morning: the remains of a Spitfire fighter plane.
At first, the employee of the Veere Beach Exploitation Foundation (SSV) thought that there was a seal along the tide line. He stopped his car to have a good look at the animal. Then he realized it wasn't a seal. What is it? That was not immediately clear. "I thought maybe it was a piece of rudder or something else from a ship."
He dragged his find to a beach post to hose it clean. Only then did he see that it might be an airplane wing. When he looked closely, he read the word "Spitfire" and realized that he was almost certainly dealing with the remains of a World War II fighter plane.
He then contacted Het Polderhuis museum in Westkapelle to find out what to do with that find. That brought him into contact with people from Wings to Victory, the museum about the air war over the southwest of the Netherlands. According to Jasper Boeije, they were very interested and also picked up the wing. According to the Middelburger, they will try to find out which aircraft it is and who the pilot was. If it turns out that the pilot is still missing, they can tell relatives what may have happened.
Progress was reported on the identification of the pilot.
"When they called this morning with the message we found some fragments of a Spitfire and they are made of wood, I thought: that can't be right. Because almost everything on the Spitfire is made of metal". "But it turns out to be correct. Because it is an extra fuel tank and they were made of wood, especially at the end of the war". "It must have been dug in the seabed, where no air could get to it, otherwise it would have rotted away. It's very special that it is still in such a good condition."
These are parts of a so-called slipper tank, which is an extra fuel tank to increase the range of the Spitfire, which itself had a small fuel tank and therefore a short range. This tank is also suitable for the Seafire, the variant of the Spitfire that could take off and land from ships. You can see that from the inscription. It is difficult to read, but if you look closely it says 'Spitfire and Seafire', so this fuel tank was suitable for both planes”.
And if you look closely at the debris, you will also see that part of it is blackened. According to Van Dijk, this offers perspectives for further research. "Because of those burn marks, there is a good chance that the aircraft was shot down. And if you also know the location, there is a good chance that it will be possible to find out which aircraft it was and who the pilot was."
Because that's what it is is all about. "Behind every wreckage is a human life. And that is what makes this work so special. To find out the story behind these fragments. So now we are going to try to find out."
Fuel tank Spitfire traceable to wreckage 21-year-old pilot
The remains of the fuel tank that washed up on the beach of Vrouwenpolder yesterday come from a Spitfire that crashed off the coast of Walcheren on 22 February 1944. The body of the killed 21-year-old pilot has never been recovered. This is the conclusion of the Wings to Victory foundation on the basis of initial research. Further research should remove the last doubts.
Wings to Victory concludes this on the basis of the database that is maintained with all plane crashes during the Second World War. "We found a report about a plane that got into trouble during a flight and dropped one of its fuel tanks," says Martien van Dijk. The reports show that this did not help, "because a little later the plane crashed off the coast of Walcheren."
On the way to Gilze Rijen
The Wings to Victory database states that the Spitfire was on its way to Gilze Rijen to support other aircraft in the bombing of the airfield there. The reports are based on testimonials. "The Spitfires were never sent out alone, but always with at least two. When they returned to base, the report was drawn based on the experiences of the remaining pilot."
The plane was piloted by 21-year-old Sydney Hatfield Cheeseman. Wings to Victory has contacted England today to request additional reports. Martien van Dijk's goal is to eventually come into contact with the next of kin of the victim.