Digging to reveal more about Aldbourne's Band of Brothers

Written by Tony Millett on .

Operation Nightingale's timing is spot on - they are revealing more about the Band of Brothers' Second World War stay in Aldbourne just days before the 75th anniversary of D-Day.  And, as the picture above shows, the incredible story of these American soldiers is being passed on to a new generation of villagers.

In the corner of the village's Farm Lane football field, the group of military veterans and archaeologists are digging on the site of the hut where E Company's platoon sergeants lived - already pinpointed by a geophysical survey. 

The archive photo below shows the hut as it was before D-Day - with men of E Company - known famously as Easy Company - parading in front of it.  To the left is the container that held a collapsible glider.
Photo courtesy Neil Stevens - with thanksPhoto courtesy Neil Stevens - with thanks
Two days before D-Day the company left their huts on what is now a football pitch, moved to Exeter from where they were among the very first Allied men to land in Normandy. 

Their story was made into the Band of Brothers television series - and one of the actors from that series, Tim Matthews who played Private First Class Alex Penkala (known as 'Penk'), has been to visit the dig and chat with the military veterans.

Led by Richard Osgood, who is Senior Archaeologist with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation, the Operation Nightingale team of volunteers that began working in the village on Monday (May 20), consists of ten military veterans and ten archaeologists. 

(You can read more about how Operation Nightingale supports veterans and about 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment in our previous article.)

Richard Osgood is delighted with the dig.  He is full of praise for the way the village has welcomed the team - bringing cakes to the camp and allowing men to shower in their homes. They have had visits from the cubs, the primary school (photo below) and from the pre-school (photo above) and there is an open day this Saturday (May 25) from 11am to 3pm.

They have revealed the pier bases of the hut - concrete with reinforcing bars, tar paper damp proof course and some corrugated iron.  And have made all manner of small finds - mainly coins and bits of building materials including roof ties and a hinge. 


The concrete foundation piers emerge...The concrete foundation piers emerge...  ...the Brylcreem jar......the Brylcreem jar...  ...found by Kayleigh Topliss...found by Kayleigh Topliss


They also uncovered a Brylcreem jar - with its lid still on.  Among other finds were several (empty) crisp packets, a pop bottle made for Leese & Co of Swindon, shirt buttons, keys for opening tins of spam or corned beef and a Coca-Cola bottle - hopefully from that vintage year 1944. 

Close to the edge of the hut a metal detectorist turn up part of a mandolin’s tuning system - with keys and cogs intact.  Could that have belonged to an Easy Company soldier?

A more startling find is a 1937 three penny piece with a bullet hole right through its centre.  Darius Smith, recently retired after 29 years with the Royal Engineers, explained to marlborough.news that it could not have been used as target practice - the hole was too central and the coin had not been bent by a shot: 

"Someone was messing around - put the coin on the end of a rifle barrel and fired a round through it.  A lot of the time they'd have been bored - there's only so much time you can do training." 
  The layout of huts round the field - revealed by the geophysical surveyThe layout of huts round the field - revealed by the geophysical survey   
The finds will belong to the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.  However, the director, David Dawson, has said that after conservation, the finds will be displayed in Aldbourne's Heritage Centre.

Army veterans Darius Smith and George Pas (ex 6 Rifles, two tours in Afghanistan and now in a wheelchair after his motorcycle was hit just before he was due to go on another tour to Afghanistan) both told marlborough.news how deeply they felt about the dig and making everyday connections to the men of the Band of Brothers: 

"It's just amazing that this is the building where they lived - it takes some processing.  The whole thing’s amazing.”
Primary school pupils learn about the dig - and the Band of BrothersPrimary school pupils learn about the dig - and the Band of Brothers