phone numbers to his friends that was making their first trip over from England. They probably felt the butterflies in their stomachs more than me.
As the taxi pulled up by the hotel I looked over at the cafè next door. There I spotted a couple of faces I knew , Natalia and Victoria from Legenda and with them was some more diggers. Shortly after we met with another guy from England , Steve and then Andris showed up as well. We brought the Brits around for a stroll to an interesting fleamarket and the Latvian War Museum before we to Andris` big frustration enjoyed a culinary experience at a well known fast-food chain. A little later when the burgers had taken its toll on us and we had met Anton from Sweden , we went to our evening headquarter in Riga for some beer and real food , the Ala Folkbar.
Next morning we had an early breakfast before we tumbled off towards the Riflemen Monument where we was going to be picked up. After a short wait we got restless and called the diggers. They were just minutes away , but we should look for a champagne colored van. It turned out we had been standing next to it all the time. I knocked on the window and out came a
friendly guy. Peteris had been waiting there for us half asleep and as we threw our bags into the van a few more cars with diggers parked by us. It had begun.
First stop was the airport to pick up the Swedes , Anders and KJ. Andris and I was sent in to meet them and as we entered the airport Andris commented on the weird looks people gave us. We looked at eachother and burst out laughing , in these times camo clad men with big knifes sticking out of their pockets get some attention on international airports , who would have thought. We had an interesting chat with a British military officer who wondered what militia we belonged to when our swedish friends arrived and we hurried back to the car.
An old lady had remembered him being thrown down there after the battles around the farm she had grew up on. In the crater a young tree was growing dead center almost acting like a gravemarker. We carefully dug around the roots and bended the tree out of the way without destroying it. The whole area was forested but we quickly saw that the soil was of the marshy type and easy to dig. Not more than half meter down the diggers stopped and a discussion in Latvian broke out , heads was shaken and the faces was serious. Some more of the bog was removed and we could all see what it was about. There was no bones in the crater , but still , there was a soldier there. The conditions of the ground seemed to have preserved and mummified the fallen soldier. Nobody had been prepared for this. Some of the diggers asked to not to
have to dig this one as it was all quite graphic , and we were all a bit shocked to have found something like this. Maris and Karl Johan stepped up to the challenge and started to prepare themself. The tension was thick in the air. It was dry and tasted metal. Someone spotted that my digger gloves was of the waterproof type and asked me to hand them over and I was just happy to not be asked to jump into the crater. Laughter broke the tension as I handed over the two lefthand gloves I had brought from Norway , man , do I need to pay attention while shopping.
It was amazing to see how well preserved everything was , but very strange and emotional as well. KJ and Maris did an exellent and respectfull job and all the diggers looked at them with new eyes. They rolled the soldier carefully into a canvas and lifted him out of the crater. He was securely wrapped and brought to the car. We closed the pit and put the small tree back in its place.
A landowner had contacted Legenda and shared the story his grandpa had told about a corner of his land. Near a field hospital there had been an area with several wooden crosses. The metal detectors picked up a lot of signals and a few test holes was opened and in one of them a bone was found. Now we knew there was at least one soldier here so we opened up the soil around him so we could see what direction he lay , and then we checked each side of him to see if there was others. Now most of the diggers became active and more and more fallen was found. Everybody knew their job. Some was opening up the top soil uncovering the forgotten fieldgraves , some was searching the heaps of soil for items or small bones belonging to each grave , some was taking photos documenting it all and others brought up equipment , bonetrays and Volksbund bags. It was like watching ants build their nest , and when one digger needed a rest another stepped in and took his place. Hours later when evening came , we had found and exhumed 13 German soldiers and we had the ID discs from several of them. Driving back to the resort I looked back in the van and could see the effect of a long day work filled with exitement , most of the guys had fallen asleep.
Soldier after soldier was unearthed in the row of fieldgraves and sometimes a happy voice shouted that a dog tag was found. It was collected by Toms who was in charge of registrating each fallen. Any personal effects was also collected in bags , numbered and attached to the Volksbund bag it belonged together with. The diggers put their pride on never removing any such object from a fallen , and who would want to bring grave items into their pockets or homes anyway? For each of the soldier we exhumed a stick was placed where he had been found , and as the trench grew longer we noticed the sticks was grouped. Some places in 3 , then 4, then 3 and 2... We wondered a bit about this and came to the conclusion that the wounded and fallen had been brought here with a horse carriage which normally only had room for four soldiers.
There was some equipment with the fallen , but not much. Some belts and uniform gear , a few wallets and personal effects and a few had been buried wearing their helmets. We could also see on the bodies that they had been killed in combat , by observing big damages to bones and skulls. Some bullets and shrapnel was also found on the bones. One soldier had a soviet rifle bound to his leg and we could see a sharp clean break in his knee. Another one had a lot of buttons from a zeltbahn he had been brought in on scattered around him. At one point the work stopped for a moment when a car stopped and a woman came to see what was going on. She came from the local Council and wanted to see that we had all papers and was not graverobbers. Also the landowner came to speak with us and other passers bys also showed interest.
When we had dug the full row of graves , which counted 27 with the ones we dug the first day, there was not much room for more soldiers in the cars so we decided to just investigate the area further for digging the rest another day. The more experienced diggers took this task while others spread out across the field and forest around. There was rumors about a downed plane on the field as well. In the edge of the forest we had lots of alloy signals from the detectors and could find parts and shrapnel from a plane all over the place. 23 mm rounds with the bullets pressed into the casings told a story of impact and so did melted blobs of aluminum. In the middle of the field we had a deep signal and the soil was different o that spot. Oil came bubbling up when we stepped on it and we made a guess that this was where the engine was. Parts of the exhaust system and the cockpit clock made us believe it was a IL-2 "Sturmovik" that had crashed here.
At 0930 we visited the Saldus War Cemetery and we walked around in our own thoughts for some silent moments before a "Davai!" was called out and we went to the old frontline where a JCB awaited us. Just a week earlier nearly 50 Red Army soldiers had been discovered here and we was opening up deep trenches and even deeper bunkers in search for others and hopefully give closure to more soldiers fates. This area was a mix of fields , cut down forest and thick almost unpenetrable forest. On a field was ruins of a farm and behind it a few deep positions for tanks or motorized artillery guns. I made a stroll through the forest searching some trenches , got lost for a moment and then found Jay and Dan who was clearing a minefield. They had found two rows of S-Mines , the German bouncing mine , which had been there untouched since the fighting. I found Sofia who was digging a very good signal which was an old silver button. A few meters away the JCB was opening up a trenchline and here rifles , panzerfausts , helmets and a cache of riflegrenades was found between shrapnel
and other junk , but no soldiers. 3 or 4 bunkers was also found and opened , containing nothing but equipment and explosives.
Around mid-day we gathered in a clearing , a table was set up and cake brought to us. Viktors had birthday and that ofcourse meant a little celebration , which i think was very nice , and the cake was very tasty. In the afternoon the sky
cleared , it became very hot and mosqitoes filled the air. We decided to open one more bunker before calling it a day , but also in this one there was no soldiers , just some bayonets and helmets and it was a tired , dirty and mossie bitten bunch heading back to the resort.
The rest of the evening was spent together enjoying coffee , some drinks and a good time sharing stories and making plans for new expeditions. Early next morning we shook hands , gave out hugs and email adresses before driving back to Riga for some rest , shopping and interesting discussions over a few beers.
Until next time : Keep Smiling.