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.
Recovered German helmets from beneath the forest floor of Europe. Such relics often bear grim testimony to the horrors of war, as does the pierced helmet on the left.
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.
These American medals and insignia were recovered in Europe. From the qualification bars of the silver medal on the left, it's obvious that this particular American solider was highly trained to engage the opposing forces!
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.
I would be really surprised to find one of these in the bottom of a hole during one of my digs- we don't often recover a German machine gun, MG 42, in upstate New York!
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.
Still stacked beneath the forest floor were the brass shell casings of a 105 mm gun position. Much of the spent brass was collected after the war and sold as scrap.
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!
Personal items, such as this German ID tag, are much sought after. They help to define battle lines and are great indicators as to where certain battalions were positioned during engagements.
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.
Now, we're really talking relics! How would you like to unearth a German half-track? Believe it or not, such recoveries are often restored, or used for parts in other restorations.
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 with many recovered projectiles from the war, this German Panzerfaust was still live and capable of massive destruction. It was handed over to the authorities for proper disposal.
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.
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."