Unfinished Tale of Terror in the Clouds; BOOK REVIEWS

Article excerpt

EVERY war leaves behind the heart-breaking, unfinished story of soldiers who will be "Missing in Action" forever.

The tragic memorials of the First World War carry the names of thousands of men with no known grave. They simply disappeared into the shattered landscape.

Even those who were found and buried were not always identified and their headstones bear the poignant words Known Unto God.

But what is even more surprising is the fact that whole aircraft, complete with their pilots, disappeared during the Battle of Britain.

Between 1972 and 1986 the mortal remains of 13 airmen reported missing in 1940 were recovered.

But the grim discoveries sparked a furious row because the crashed Spitfires and Hurricanes were being dug up by enthusiasts who call themselves aviation archaeologists.

Their critics accused some groups of insensitive desecration and dismissed others as being little better than macabre souvenir hunters.

So the government introduced the Protection of Military Remains Act and an official policy of leaving crash sites undisturbed.

But who is right?

Dilip Sarkar, a policeman in Worcester, author of eight books on the Battle of Britain and a respected aviation archaeologist gives both sides of the story in Missing in Action: Resting in Peace? (Ramrod Publications, pounds 19.95).

This was always going to be an emotive subject. These, after all, are "The Few", the heroes of the desperate summer of 1940 when the Battle of Britain was fought.

Of those who were reported as missing during the battle only one body now remains unaccounted for - Flt Sgt Eric Williams.

Dilip Sarkar believes he may be lying with the wreckage of his Hurricane under a derelict timber wharf in Gravesend, Kent, and has now persuaded the Ministry of Defence to excavate the site.

Those who favour the investigation of such sites argue that heroes who gave their lives for their country deserve a decent burial.

It is said that those who mourn need a grave as a focus for their grief and, perhaps most importantly, a final end to the story.

Dilip Sarkar is emphatic that everything must be done within the law and it is clearly right that there must be controls on those who excavate crashed aircraft. …