Not For The Grot Box

GrotSome people would definitely call this coin a ‘Grot.’ Perhaps if it were Roman they would be correct although, having said that, calling any 2000-year-old coin a Grot may be a tad derogatory. However I digress and – to be clear – this coin isn’t a Roman issue anyway. It’s black in colour, which means the silver has oxidised. You can also see that it has been burned, which is not part of normal oxidisation.

So what is this coin? Well, I admit that is rather hard to tell. However, close magnification reveals it to be a small, Dutch silver issue of Queen Wilhelmina of Holland. Even I would have to admit that, so far, this coin seems to be something of little merit. If I’d found it under normal circumstances it would most certainly have ended up in my Grot Box (there’s that word Grot again). But from extensive research, pre and post discovery, I can now reveal that this is not a normal coin at all. In fact, it’s one of those tiny historical artifacts that has a huge tale to tell.

Amazingly, almost everything that we detectorists find potentially has just such a tale to tell. However, unfortunately in almost all cases we can never even guess at what that may be. The date on this coin is illegible but is most likely around 1939 or possibly 1940. One thing we do now know is that in 1941 this coin was in the pocket of a Luftwaffe airman named Heinz Volker. How on earth do I know that for sure? Well, Volker was a leading ace of NJG2, the expert night fighter unit. Volker and his crew were based at Gilze-Rijen airfield in mid 1941 so that at least explains the Dutch factor. But how did the coin end up in a remote north Hertfordshire field? Well now that is a really incredible tale in itself…

In May 1941 Volker and his two other crew took off in their Junkers 88 C2 night fighter. The mission was to fly all the way to the Bassingbourn area of Cambridgeshire, as well as patrolling north Hertfordshire. The reason for their chosen route was that the OUT training Units of the RAF were based at Bassingbourn and nearby Steeple Morden. Here were big juicy Wellington bombers packed with inexperienced crews – prime targets. Whether their intelligence knew this is open to debate but certainly NJG2 crews returned to this area night after night.

If one closely examines the coin, the forced impression of another coin ground into its surface is clear to see. We can assume from this it was in very close proximity to this other coin – most likely in a wallet – and looking at it, it’s likely that the coin must have experienced some extremely violent type of pressure. Which, given what we now know, it most certainly did.

On the night in question, Heinz Volker and his crew were in the area of Ashwell when they sighted a Wellington bomber. They closed in fast, opening fire; white wobbling threads of 20mm cannon shells wove their way through the dark night sky. They found their target. White violent cannon shell impact flashes appeared all over the RAF bomber and bits started to fall away, tumbling back in the slipstream. The Wellington bomber violently turned to starboard but it seems Volker misjudged this. He was coming in too fast and, unable to avoid a collision, flew straight into his doomed target. There was a huge thunderclap noise over Ashwell village as the two airplanes impacted and then violently exploded. The Wellington broke into several parts and crashed nearby. The Junkers 88 cockpit was smashed open, its fuselage snapped and the tail unit fell away. Everyone on board the Wellington, which was jammed full of trainees, was sadly killed. The German aircrew were also killed. Two bodies fell away from the shattered Junkers cockpit but Volker’s remained trapped in the wreckage.

Many years later, in 1993, I excavated the impact site of Volker’s Junkers 88 and found this tiny battered silver coin in the crushed and burned remains of what once had been the cockpit of a German night fighter. So, a very poor condition example of a coin this may be. But just look at the fascinating story it can now tell.

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About Julian Evan-Hart
Julian is from Hertfordshire, England and has always been interested in fossils and antiquities. Julian has written a number of books on metal detecting, and is an avid user of Minelab products.

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