Subscribe now!

Homepage Archives Open in new window Index (10/2003) Relic Hunter (09/2003) Relic Hunter (11/2003)   Vol. 37 October 2003 
The Relic Hunter
As seen in the October 2003 edition of W&ET Magazine

From The Other Side Of The Pond

By: Ed Fedory
Photos By: Simon Harrold

It was less than a generation after "the war to end all wars" had concluded that the sabers were once again being sharpened. Just a couple of decades had passed, and we suddenly felt ourselves obliged to begin numbering our wars. The plowshares of peace were once again forged into weapons, and the fields of wheat and rye were furrowed by artillery shells... yet another world war had begun.

It had only been on rare occasions that my relic hunting has taken me outside the realm of the French & Indian War and the American Revolution, and on those few occasions the Civil War was my main focus. When you think about it, all of that digging and research gave me a fair amount of knowledge, but only in a very limited arena. When I sat down one night and thought about all the times... multiplied by all the places... and then multiplied that by all the battles and wars... I realized that I had barely managed to scratch the surface of relic hunting. "So many relics... so much knowledge... so little time," was a phrase that kept running through my mind.

I don't think there's a relic hunter out there who hasn't, at one time or another, come up with a list of places he'd love to hunt. Call it a "wish list"... call it your "Christmas list"... but most of us have them. They might not be written with pen on paper, but they are indelibly printed in our minds. A lot of the places on my list are not in this country, and are probably the product of too many hours in front of the television as a child, and an overly active imagination. I'd love to search the "Valley of Death" of which Tennyson wrote and through which Errol Flynn rode, and dig up a couple of pieces of round shot and perhaps a few lance tips. I'd like to stand beside Burt Lancaster in the shadow of that lion-shaped mountain at the Battle of Islandawana and dig a few Martini-Henry bullets from the soil. I'd have loved to stand behind the mealy bags with Caine and Baker at Rourke's Drift and maybe, during a lull in the battle, dig up a few assegai spear points left behind by the retreating Zulu.

Though I'm not sure where the missions would take me, I'd find it interesting to search the sites and campaigns visited by Colonel Michael Mulhare of Her Majesty's, Queen Victoria's, Army; or Yakima Rudnicka, formerly of Franz Josef's Horse Guard- both my great-grandfathers. I know I'd have to visit Saipan and Iwo Jima, islands where my dad spent a good deal of time during World War II... and I guess that brings us full circle, back to my opening thoughts of war and relic hunting.

In terms of human events of any kind, World War II has to rank at the top of the list in terms of geographic area covered, and the number of participants involved. Its battlefields are world-wide, and the amount of equipment hitting the land, water, and air, staggers the imagination. The relics we dig are tokens of battles fought and soldiers fallen, and no war ever produced as many military relics as did the Second World War.

Recently, I had the good fortune to correspond with Simon Harrold. Simon has a website- that contains a virtual museum of recovered World War II relics, dug from the battlefields of Europe. What I found to be truly amazing was the wide variety of relics being recovered!

Normally, most of the relics I am able to recover fit easily within the confines of my collecting bag. I don't have to bring much more to the field other than my detector and a digging tool. I also don't give too much thought to the dangers of digging a hole in the soil and hitting something that might blow up in my face. I did manage to have a nasty experience with a squadron of ground hornets once, but that is pretty much as dangerous as my type of relic hunting gets. We just don't get many live mortar rounds, rifle grenades, and artillery shells in my neck of the woods. Such doesn't seem to be the case when relic hunting in Europe on World War II sites. Anyone who has been detecting for even a couple of years has recovered live ammunition rounds, but I've yet to find myself banging my digging tool against a panzerfaust hidden in the depths of the hole I'm digging!

From some of the pictures found on Simon's site, you really have to wonder about how so many weapons were lost. I guess if you didn't need another weapon it stayed where it was dropped, or was thrown into a nearby stream or creek so that the civilian population or the partisans couldn't use it against you. Recovered German MG-42s, pistols, and even an M-3 machine gun, like the one Dad had on Iwo, have been recovered from the fields and streams of Europe.

I've often been asked about my oldest find, or perhaps my best find. I've never been asked about my biggest find. However, I am sure, from some of the recoveries I've viewed, that this could be one of the most asked questions of European relic hunters. I've yet to recover a German half-track personnel carrier or a 9.7 ton panzerkampfwagen. Either would look out of place in the yard, make flower arranging a difficult, if not impossible, task, and besides... the wife just wouldn't stand for a half-track or a T-38 tank sitting outside her kitchen window! I guess, in a way, I have preserved domestic tranquility by not relic hunting on the "other side of the pond"- at least for the time being.

Water hunting takes on a whole new perspective when you're swinging the coil in the streams of Europe. Weapons lost, or discarded, are often recovered in a remarkable state of preservation from the shallow waters. In coastal areas, divers often find the remnants of beach assaults, or the remains of supply ships whose cargoes never made it to shore littering the sands beneath the waves.

The wreck sites of aircraft, whether dropped in aerial combat, or by anti-aircraft ground fire, are often found, and bear grim witness to the horrors of war in the air.

As would be expected, a large number of personal items are recovered by relic hunters in Europe. These might range anywhere from old ration tins and medals, to ID disks and "dog tags." In some cases, numerous German ID tags have been found discarded over a small general area, giving rise to the speculation that some soldiers did not want it known to which particular corps they belonged. Yet in other cases, the recovery of "dog tags" and ID disks have resulted in the repatriation of lost soldiers with their loved ones after more than half a century. This is, in my opinion, the noblest effort any relic hunter could make.

Being within the memory of the living puts a strange spin on relic hunting World War II sites, which I feel needs to be addressed. It is a conflict with which we all grew up. We are the sons and daughters of the combatants, and we've heard some of the stories our father's brought home with them from the battlefields of Europe and Pacific. We never heard all the stories. They protected us from the horrors- and truths- of what that war was like. Many went to their graves, stories untold, nightmares finally finished.

To some it appears almost ghoulish to dig up so recent a past, and yet the very act of recovery, on a near-global scale, may serve as an account sheet for the human expense the world endured to make it a safer place for most of us to live. Sometimes, I think, such reminders are good. Some times, and some things, should never be forgotten.

I want to leave you with just a short little story, one I will never forget, that happened to me about 20 years ago. It's kind of war related in its own way, but I like it because it shows the perspective of an old soldier... one who's seen a little too much despite his years.

I was coinshooting in a park in Corning, New York... running patterns along the side of a slope, looking for that elusive Indian Head penny. An elderly gentleman, who had been sitting on his porch and watching me for some time, decided to cross the street and see what I was doing. When I told him the device I was using was a metal detector, he told me he had seen one during the war. I seldom miss an opportunity to listen to living history, and turned off my detector. I mentioned that Dad had been in the Pacific, and he mentioned he had been in Europe. I said that Dad was with the 73rd Bomb Wing on Iwo Jima and Saipan. He said he was in the Army, too... Rangers... Normandy. I said something stupid then, which only youth and inexperience can account for... "There were a lot of heroes in that corps."

The old man just looked at me. It was a long look... a reflective look, and one which was forgiving me the awkward innocence of never having been under fire. Those old rheumy eyes glistened slightly, and slight was the quivering of his chin. "Son, we left all the heroes on the beach."

I never will forget that old man... or my own...

Copyright © 1995 - 2015 People's Publishing. All rights reserved on entire contents; nothing may be reprinted, or displayed on another web page, without the prior written consent of the publisher.


Subscribe now!

Go to top of page

Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine Best Finds W&ET BookMart W&ET Archives Put some treasure on your coffee table! Subscribe! Subscribe To Western & Eastern Treasures Magazine Find W&ET Near You Silver & Gold Makes a Great Gift!