Legenda is presented in the latest issue of Bloomberg Businessweek. Have a look,follow the link below :)
Last time I was in Riga I discovered a very interesting bar but had no time to visit it. This weekend I made sure to stop by it and I sure dont regret it.
The Armoury bar opened some 4 and a half months ago and is located in Old Riga. It is a bit off the tourist tracks but it is quite easy to find. You walk down the street from Riga Rock Cafe and in front of the Radi un Draugi hotel is an alley, alittle more than a hundred meters in the alley you ll notice its sign. Some locals might know about it so it doesnt hurt to ask a friendly Riganian for directions, and the adress there is Vecpilsetas iela 11-2.
This is more than a bar though,it is more like a little weapons museum where you can have a few drinks and at the same time study the weapons covering the walls, you can even touch them and play around alittle with them. Ofcourse all the weapons is deactivated.
They have a great selection of drinks including 60 whiskeys and 12 draft beers for a good price, with Happy hours on beers between 4-6 pm and 6-7pm for coctails.
The guy owning the bar is a very friendly guy and the girl working behind the bar is by far the koolest bartender I have ever met, happily posing together with guns for a photo if you ask her nicely.
I highly recommend you to make a stop by this bar on your next trip to Riga, one of the nicest cities of the Baltics.
You better behave when this bartender is on duty.
The US Marines I met was like kids in a toyshop.
The guests was happy to have some drinks and play around with their favourite toys.
The bartender posing together with a US Marine on a ten hour leave.
For 16 years Legenda have invited international participants for their expeditions, and through the years many people took part in interesting and important digs in the forests and fields of Latvia. Thousands of fallen and missing soldiers has been recovered and gotten a final resting place on some of the many War Cemeteries across the country. I have only been part of this for a few years and have only heard stories and seen photos of diggers being part of this before me. Some of them never returned while some found wifes and made families and couldn`t partake in expeditions for that reason.
Early this summer one of those guys decided enough is enough. Hans from Sweden had been a very active member before family life caught up with him but finally he was allowed outdoors again. He invited several of the "old guard" from Sweden,Holland and the UK and kindly invited me as well. Ofourse I was thrilled to join and bought tickets for the date that had been set.
The Latvian team began researching some sites where there should be some frontline trenches and massgraves . Rooms at Kristines wonderfull resort Radi was booked and soon the expedition date arrived.
Upon arrival to the hotel in Riga only one other digger had arrived, he had been there a few days enjoying the city life. As I was checking in the receptionist told me that he was waiting me and soon I finally met Dave from UK at the Rock Cafe. The rest of the group would arrive in the evening so we had a good time getting to know eachother and sharing stories from past expeditions. Andris,Anna and Roberts joined us and a few hours later more diggers arrived and we were all gathered for a fun evening. From Holland came Peter who had been on several digs and he brought his friend Walter who was fresh to the game and from Sweden came Hans,Johan and Nils.
When we met up outside the hotel next morning I won the competition of who had the biggest hangover and celebrated it with a puking in public,,ahh,Mother would have been so proud had she seen that.
About an hour later we stopped by Radi to put our luggage in our rooms and meet up with the rest of the Latvian team, and headed towards the old Kurland Kessel frontlines.
We spent the whole day searching trenches, bunkers and the area around. The weather was changing all the time from sunny to heavy rain, but the morals were high and the diggers didn`t seem to be bothered much by it. A bunch of live ordnance saw daylight again, a few PanzerFaust tubes and lots of MG ammo were dug out as well, but no soldiers or very interesting finds made. When I was roaming around with the detector I dug a signal and found a Soviet era illuminaton bomb parachute in very nice condition, not WW2 but was very happy with that find.
In a waterfilled crater some one had a interesting signal, but it was deep there and difficult to reach. Andris had a solution for that, he stripped his clothes of and jumped into the water and began digging out silt, branches and mud to get to the item. He located it, stretched his arm deep down to get to it, grabbed a part of it and tried to pull it carefully up. His face turned white and shouted a warning and was out of the crater in a nano second and we all scattered away from the pit. He had broken off the pull ring and arm of a F1 Lemonka handgrenade. He was incredibly lucky as it would have cut both his legs off had it detonated. I guess he praised the lord that he was wearing black underwear..
The search continued for a few hours more before we pushed through a thick brush forest to reach our vehicles heading back to the resort for dinner and a nights rest. The evening was joyfull and a group of the diggers stayed up late to watch the meteor storm across the dark skies. I was already in bed by then but I could hear their "Woooows!!" and sighs as the tracers shot across the sky.
Roberts,Nils and Hans.
Radio antenna part.
Parachuted illumination bomb.
F1`s and detonators.
Rifle grenade launcher.
After a good night of dreaming and a big breakfast we drove off to an area where there should be many Red Army soldiers buried. We had a gravemarker from there and good info from the landowner. Many holes and probes was dug but it was with no results. Also the field was overgrown at the moment so another search will be done there later in the autumn when the vegetation has died off a bit.
It was an interesting area though. We found several bunkers with interesting signals. Some battle damaged German helmets came out of the soil, and ordnance and lots of spent ammo prooved the site had seen some action. The best find of the day was the MG42 Talis dug out. Other than rust I dug out a small propeller from an aerial bomb and a 23mm casing made into a small bunker lamp.
We had company from Bloomberg BusinessWeek again, a photo crew who took lots of pics for an upcoming article about Legendas work. As far as I know it will be printed in September so keep an eye out for that, it should be interesting. On our way back we visited Saldus War Cemetery to pay our respects.
In the afternoon when we was back at Radi we celebrated Natalias birthday with gifts for her, sauna and a party. Since it already was Saturday most of the international guys was leaving the next day, but some of us was going to check out some German positions the next day.
Small bunker lamp.
Soviet practise rocket.
Mortar ammo box.
Digging out the MG42.
Sunday morning was sadly the time to say goodbye to Kristina, Radi and some of the diggers. Some of us prepared for another day of digging while the ones who were leaving was going to visit a private museum before going to the airport. Hugs and handshakes took up most of the morning before we found ourselves digging out some German bunkers. Most of the finds here was of the explosive kind. A lot of rifle grenades, 120mm mortar mines and smaller ammo. The work was hard as it was wet heavy clay and deep bunkers. I found nothing but pieces of shrapnel and driving bands of grenades but Duksi made a kool little find, a bakelite morse key which he kindly offerd to me as a gift. I wonder how many interesting and dramatic messages that was sent with it..
This area was also very overgrown and will need further investigation at some point. It had been raining a bit on and off all day but suddenly the sky broke and it poured down bucket sized rain drops and it was decided enough was enough. We cleaned up the area, placed the explosives around a tree for EOD to dispose of and headed towards Riga, clean clothes and warm showers.
We spent the afternoon having fun at the Rock Cafe together and ended the evening a bit before midnight. I was still going to stay a few more days roaming around Riga doing alittle shopping and visited a relatively new "museum-bar" which I ll make a small report about soon.
It had been a short and intense expedition, but even though we didn`t find any soldiers or spectacular finds I think all the guys had a great time and is looking forward to the next trip.
So until then you know what to do,Keep Smiling and stay muddy :)
Recently Legenda made a expedition to locate and exhume some Latvian legioneers from Russian soil. The expedition was made possible through a good cooperation with Russian authorities. After a week of hard work 42 soldiers had been recovered and will be repatriated to cemeteries in Latvia. Below is a link to a video of the trip although it is all in Latvian still. More info will come.
Spring is here and from Canada to Scandinavia and Central Europe bags was being packed,metal detectors controlled while butterflies soared in many diggers stomachs, the Legenda Spring Expedition was about to begin. Flights and hotel rooms had been booked by the international team and we all were eager to meet our friends in Latvia again. As last year I decided to make a road trip there from the area around the Polar Circle in Northern Norway. After a long and dark winter nothing is better to pull one out of the winter depression than a bit of speeding on the freeways towards the south.
This year I wanted to try the Finnish roads so I plotted the route into the GPS and began the journey one Sunday morning. By lunchtime I had crossed through Sweden and into Finland and later on the evening I was outside Helsinki where I found a nice parking lot to get a few hours sleep. I wanted to beat the morning rush to have a less stressfull time finding the ferry place which turned out to be a good idea as road construction made it a bit difficult to navigate as the Finns isn`t too good to put up directions, but after a tiny mis-drive I stopped the car by the ferry check in.
Some hours later I arrived Tallinn and quickly found my way out of the city centre and sped towards the Latvian border. Sometimes the car sort of jolted, like driving on a icy winter road, but I thought that could be because some shitty asphalt, oh how wrong I was.
Some hundred meters before the border traffic had to stop for red light in a intersection and I stepped on the brake. The brake paddle went straight to the floor and I realized I had no brake power. Now, that is really something you want to have when hurdling towards cars stopped in a intersection!! I began pumping the brake as I looked for a "safe"place to steer off the road and into the fields, but then got some action on the brake and managed to avoid crashing.
By pumping the brake regularly I managed to maintain pressure on the brake system but knew something was very wrong, and the closer I got to the Legenda HQ the worse the car became. As I parked by the local shop a km away from the farm the car was difficult to drive,made bad noises and it felt like it would collapse at any second and when I parked it safely by the farm building I don`t think it could have kept driving much more.
As I described the situation for Toms he had a theory what was wrong with it and called his mechanic and I handed him the keys happy to have a good friend like him.
We had some coffee and later drove to Riga to help Viktors Duks to move some furniture from an apartement into a van before Toms dropped me off by the hotel in Old Riga where I met up with Andris,Victoria and Kim,one of the diggers from Holland.
The next day the other diggers would arrive but we had other plans for the day. We were going to visit Sigulda.
We took a train to the lovely medieval looking city where we spent the entire day visiting castles,getting the sights and ate some amazing local cakes. For those looking for something special when visiting Latvia Sigulda is highly reccomended!!
One of the castles in Sigulda.
Back from our cultural expedition we found Riga Rock Cafe full of some happy diggers busy emptying the place for beer. On our last visit some of us had decided to try make a prank on our favorite cafe. The walls there is covered with artists photos and memorabilia and Steve N had prepared a photoshopped band photo of us,all ready with a frame and strong tape on the back. In secret it was smuggled to the table we wanted to place it by and glued to the wall. You can just imagine how fun we had doing that :D
Early next morning we met up in the hotel lobby ready to dig, and were soon picked up by the Latvians and we tore off towards Saldus and our second home Radi and our lovely host there Kristine. It was so great meeting all the team again and with big smiles on our faces we were on our way to the old battlefields.
Before 11 in the morning we were already into the mud. An old forgotten Soviet field grave was being opened. This was a very hard work as much of it was waterfilled and the soldiers here had been very uncarefully reburied in the early 50`s. Parts of soldiers was missing, and the sticky mud stuck to our feet and equipment, and it was a difficult job finding all the bones. In the end we got the job done and had recovered between 60-70 soldiers. The exact number we ll know after closer inspection of the remains which will get a official reburial next spring and hopefully their names added to the memorials and giving families a final closure.
Working in shifts some diggers worked in the graves and some were searching the fields and forests around. Between lots of ordnance some interesting finds was made such as a RSO transmission which took six strong guys to carry out of the woods, and we found a german MG position protected by S-mines and the field around it was full of exploded Katushya parts.
After dinner in the evening Andris began having trouble with his foot which was very worrying as he had a blister on the foot and working in the wet grave wearing boots which was not of the waterproof type. Now this can become very serious so he was rushed to the hospital and given strong antibiotics..
Talis bringing in bone trays.
Andris and Regina trying to read a name engraved on an item found alongside one of the soldiers.
Anders getting ready to dive back into the mud.
Roberts making coffee for us.
Live ordnance collected for EOD.
RSO transmission found in the forest.
Very difficult work..
We also had a interesting visit this expedition, a journalist from Bloomberg BusinessWeek who is making an article about us, which we are looking forward to see the result of.
Trying to collect all the tiny bones from hands and feet in the sticky mud is really difficult..
A well marked food kettle was found with one of the soldiers.These can have names engraved.
Wet muddy and mossie bitten it was a tired flock gathering around the tables for Kristines exellent food and although we were all happy to be together again most of us went early to bed, but not before we had some laughs and a good few hours of fun. Victoria for example has become a skilled shieldmaiden since last time and didn`t let the chance escape her to kill me a few times with her kool viking sword.
Our Shieldmaiden doing her thing..
The next two days we searched trenches,bunkers and fields on a private land but with no much luck. Some exellent finds was made though, for example a ton of Panzer 4 parts, some helmets and a nice trench art cigarette casing.
Matt has his 50th birthday coming up and the Latvians had prepared a nice gift and prank for him. When we were opening a trenchline Duksi pulled me aside and snuck a gift for Matt into my hand. I stepped in front of Matt in the trench and stuck it into the mud before my detector "started to act up". I asked him to check the signal while I "made adjustments" to the detector. He found the signal and dug it out. His face was hilarious to watch as he cleaned the find and saw it was a silver EKM with his name and birth date engraved. I think that was a great idea by the guys and it certainly made Matts day :D
Matt showing the birthday present he found in the trench.
Battledamaged tank wheel and a nice Russian helmet came out from a bunker.
Anton and I emptied a couple of dumping pits where we found lots of detonators, some handgrenades, a very nice canteen, panzer parts and lots of other bits. The best part from those pits was prehaps the antenna base from the tank. From a brake paddle Stephen Taylor managed to identify it as from a Panzer IV.
At one point during those days Ivans came out from the forest calling out for some guys to help, he had found the remains of a fallen soldier. Finding the spot again proved to be difficult. He couldn`t remember the exact place and we went into the thick forest to try re locate it. Not only was the soldier lying there but he had left his expensive metal detector next to the remains. Luckily we had Mindaugas with us, an exellent pathfinder who managed to track it down and after a while we could bring the soldier back.
Some of the dumping pits gave some good finds.
The soldier Ivans found was carefully exhumed and brought back. He had metal teeth.
It was late before we was back at Radi and again we were tired and most diggers was dreaming about rust and bones before midnight as we had a big day Saturday. We were going to Liepaja for the reburial of the 107 Red Army soldiers we had recovered in a massgrave last spring. Many of us had never had the chance to attend a reburial ceremony before so we was really excited about the event.
The diggers carried the coffins, each with a white rose attached to the lids and placed them nicely in front of the prepared grave at the cemetery, and soon locals,journalists,an ortodox priest and other officials arrived.
The weather was beautiful and warm and even though most of the International team do not speak Russian it was a very moving ceremony.
The priest did his part of the ceremony and so did the officials, but for me the most touching part of it was Regina. In a true warrior tradition spanning back to the Viking age she used her strong voice reading out the names of the ones that had been identified before Legenda placed the coffins in the grave,covered the coffins with pine branches and closed the grave before covering it all in a layer of pine branches. Next members of the local Russian community and Legenda placed flowers and wreaths in front of the grave.
I am so gratefull to have been a part of this,it was a full circle. We dug them out of the muddy forgotten grave and now we could give them a final resting place. Very, very moving.
Regina reading out the names of all the soldiers that had been identified.
Legenda closing the circle by covering the grave.
After this emotional ceremony we had coffee in the chapel before we drove of to Priekule. We had permission to search a park in the middle of town which saw heavy battles. The place changed hands 17 times during the fighting and there was lots of finds to be made. Jonny Bay found maybe the koolest thing of them all, a MG ammo box with a Walther P38 in perfect condition inside!! A fantastic find. Ofcourse this had to be deactivated which was done on site. The area also held many parts of either a Stug or a Panzer 4, and Ivans, strong like a JCB pulled out a side skirt armour plate from the river, man does that guy have muscle power. Some helmets and a nice K98 also saw daylight again. Anton was seriously lucky as well, his first signal turned out to be the shield from a PanzerSchreck. Some remains of two soldiers was also found here.
The last evening had arrived and we had a great party together. I had made a gift to Legenda which was a great success, a german jerry can made into a minibar which I had filled with coca cola,Norwegian Aquavit and some snacks, and Legenda had gifts for some of the International team as well. Jon Potts showed us all that he is an awesome singer and songwriter when he played us some lovely songs. The Sauna was near the boiling point and the party ended in the early morning hours.
On Sunday we had to shake hands and give out hugs again as we departed for Riga and flights home. On our way back we made a stop at a roadside cafe were someone we won`t name locked the keys in the car,which seems to have become a Legenda tradition and Victorias Viking sword was used to try pry open the door, very entertaining :D
I wasn`t going to leave for yet some days and had a great time in Riga with Andris and Victoria. The ever so awesome Toms had my car fixed and picked me up early the day my ferry was leaving and Im forever in debt to him. The brake, ballbearing and ABS on one of the wheels had been totally ruined, some God had definately watched over me the last part of my drive to the Legenda HQ.
The trip had been amazing but the heat started to get on my nerves so I had begun longing for rain,snow and the cool degrees up north and it was fantastic to find shade in the deep hull of the ferry over to Stockholm. The car worked perfectly now and I was soon home to my furry little cat friends who was overjoyed to have me back, or maybe one of the cats was in revenge mode because the first thing she did was tearing up my very last roll of toilet paper. I better remember to buy her some fish for dinner tomorrow...
Until next time,Stay muddy and Happy.
A couple of the articles made by local journalists:
One written by Angela Fomina:
Legenda is a non profit organisation funded by its members.
All Russian soldiers recovered are buried in a ceremony every April in a town near Riga with full military honours and attended by high ranking dignitaries from the Latvian and Russian governments.
All German soldiers recovered are handed over to the German war graves commission for re burial in various cemeteries throughout Latvia.
Legenda has been doing this difficult work for over 15 years and have recovered hundreds if not thousands of lost soldiers giving many families in Russia and Germany closure on lost relatives.
All our members are versed in the dangers of live ordinance and all live ordinance found is collected and disposed of by army engineers.
All our members are also shown the correct way under strict supervision on how to respectfully and safely exhume any remains discovered.
We do not and never will prescribe to battlefield looting and so called black digging were soldiers remains are desecrated and items found on them stolen and sold for profit.
Legenda adhere to Latvian law and local laws when searching and obtain permissions and all the relevant permits before starting our work.
Searching battlefields without permission or without the relevant experience is extremely dangerous and illegal and we strongly advise against it.
236 Latvian soldiers who fell in world war 2 has been repatriated. Click the link below for the article.
The weekend 16-18 October this year Legenda exhumed a WW1 cemetery. We found 77 fallen soldiers. Today the soldiers was reburied on the Trušele Brethren Cemetery in Ķekava.
Rest In Peace
The planning of an autumn expedition began a few months ago as the diggers started to become restless after a long summer. We found a fitting date and started gathering our equipment. Tickets was booked from around Europe and from across the pond. A couple of new guys were invited and the butterflies in the stomachs started being active for all of us as the departure date approached. Just a few days before I was about to leave, my metal detector stopped working and I had to send it in for repairs and that was very frustrating. There was a tiny hope I would have it back before I left but in the end my bag went into the planes cargo hull without my trusted Fisher.
After an uneventful journey I checked into Radi un Draugi in the Old Town of Riga and then went straight over to the rock cafe across the cobblestoned street where a bunch of the fine folks already was gathered. It was a very nice afternoon and evening as it should be when meeting old and new friends. This time Jon had joined us from the UK and Brandon, an American who is based in Germany. Jonny our Irish friend from the spring expedition had already been here a few days together with a friend and his father-in-law. They had been searching the forests with Maris and one of the days they had found and recovered a soldier. We ended the evening not so late so we could have a hope of being fresh and ready by 08 next morning.
It was a wonderful feeling getting out infront of the hotel well rested and wearing the digger clothes. Everybody was excited and we found our seats in Alexanders van, an exellent driver by the way. Usually we drive to Kurland, but this time we had some work just east of Riga. The grass on the side of the road was frosted after a cold night and it was a bit fresh when we stepped out in a field where other diggers already had started to prepare for the day. After half hour all the guys had arrived and we were all happy to hear Talis shout and swear to gather us when the tractor arrived.
The field we stood on was an old lost cemetery. Older than we normally work with. This one was exactly 100 years old, an Imperial Russian War Cemetery from 1915. Rumours told that it should be 400 soldiers lying here, including some 70 Latvian Riflemen. Until 1940 the cemetery was kept by the Latvian War Grave Commission. After USSR occupied Latvia, there was no organizations to keep Imperial Russian or German war cemeteries and it slowly deteriorated. As the Imperial Russian Army used wooden crosses on the graves and not concrete such as the Germans there is no visible traces today.
In the 1970`s there was made some attempts to exhumate the cemetery and it was recently decided to do a search here and exhume and rebury any soldiers on one of the official war cemeteries.
So, we opened up a ditch using the tractor and after a while we saw how the soil had different color. Proof that it had been disturbed at some point. The ditch had to be widened and dug deeper before we encountered the first signs of a grave area and the first bone was found. Having located a few soldiers it was easier to get a sense of which direction we had to search. The sandy soil was very easy to work with and soon the field was a busy place. By Talis`car a fireplace was made to boil water and cook food, and warm up and have a chat between the digging.
Many of the soldiers had been buried with their gasmask and full ammo pouches, and some had personal effects like icons, crosses and one of the soldiers had a gold ring for a female, probably the soldiers fiancee`s who had given it to him as he left for the front..One can only imagine.
There were diggers searching around the field with detectors and also with rods. A lot of Arisaka ammo, stripper clips,shrapnel and grenade nose fuzes all over the field. Not many meter away from the exhumation a live large caliber grenade lay right under the surface and some other live rounds and handgrenades as well. They were collected and marked for the EOD. When the police came by Talis was nice enough to ask them to arrest me, luckily they have probably met him before coz I went free. Also the boss of the Latvian War Grave Commission came by and had brought some maps and information.
Towards the afternoon a TV crew came to make a report on us which always is fun. The potential fame went straight to the head on some of us.
In the end of the day we had lenghtened and widened and deepened the opened up area and it seemed we couldn`t find any more soldiers. We took off towards Riga around dusk and went to bed reasonably early. We had exhumed 70 soldiers but the number can be adjusted after detailed expertise of the remains.
This soldier had a shrapnel piece stuck in the skull.
Bottle from the gasmask kit.
The watch was frozen at 15.40
All the items found with the soldiers was delivered to the War Grave Commission.
Day two was a bit warmer in temperature and it was still clouded, perfect for digging. We was hoping to find more soldiers today, and it would be a hard day if it was any thruth to that it should be 400 soldiers lying here. The tractor opened up a trench next to the one we dug yesterday. Everybody was standing along the edges looking for any clues and some worked on the bottom in front of the tractor. Here and there we saw disturbed soil and some shrapnel, but no soldiers. This went on for many hours until we had completed a large square around yesterdays. It was very frustrating, but it is like fishing as we say,you never know.. A wider area was searched with the probing rods and deep signal detectors but nothing else than battle shrapnel. The EOD guys came to pick up the live shells and sped off again in their matt green hilux. The rest of the day we searched the field and surrounding area where there was positions and dug outs, but no major finds was had. Still, a great day in exellent company.
In the evening we who stayed in Riga went to eat at an Irish Bar/Resturant around the corner from the hotel and was tried ripped off, it wasn`t for much money, but their service was horrible and food that had been ordered never arrived, but was still listed on the bill. The food wasn`t very good either. So if you ever feel like getting ripped off and have crappy food visit Paddy Whelan. Of course we didn`t let that spoil our mood and we spent the evening laughing and preparing light hangovers for next morning. We also watched the news report the TV people had made about us which was very fun and it certainly led to near megalomaniac tendencies amongst some of the members of the group.
Anders went out on the fields to try his brand new detector and came back with his very first find. A british "Cricket" grenade.
Arisaka muzzle cover.
Sunday morning and we was just going to relax and have fun. We drove to some German WW1 positions in a forest. The weather was superb, blue sky and sun. The diggers spread out in every direction. I followed Andris to a small hill with a bunker system. We decided to dig one open. That said, Andris took most of the bunker out, he is a machine. After some hours digging it was around two meter deep but still no floor and no finds exept some wire,nails and a bottle. It was decided it was monkey-business and refilled. Next thing some other guys comes around and we find that the bunker floor is actually not deeper than 40-50 cm deep as the walls probably collapsed or was built of logs..
Lots of bottles was found around the area and some smaller finds, nothing exeptional. Directly outside the bunker a digger called to me. On the surface he found the front emblem of a picklehaube helmet. It was bent over but otherwise in a very good condition. So many diggers had walked past it during the day but only he spotted it. Around 17 we decided to call it quits and we had to say goodbye.
Most of us who had stayed in Riga had evening flights to catch and the group grew smaller towards the night. It is always a mixed feeling ending the expedition. You want it to be more, but at the same time you start to remember the softness of your own bed.
Until next time Keep Smiling :)
There was a small cemetery near the positions, partly destroyed by illegal diggers.
It was the time of the year again when a buzz starts going in our mailboxes and closed internet groups. People felt the butterflies in their stomachs and was getting ready for this years International Expedition to the old frontlines of Kurland. This year we would see some new faces coming from the USA, Ireland, Denmark, Netherlands, UK and Germany. Many other of the regular diggers would also show up. Everyone was excited and no one knew what Legenda had found through their research for us to dig this year. All we knew was that it would be busy. This year I had some extra time to spend so I had decided to make a roadtrip from Nordland to Latvia. I had never driven so far alone before and I felt the stress and anticipation rising the closer it got to the departing time I had set. The car was prepared and I had some parts changed , new engine- and gear oil was filled and lots of music and snacks for the ride prepared. Well rested I began my trip a Sunday afternoon and had planned to drive through the night to the ferry place in Stockholm. The roads in Sweden was absolutely lovely and the speed limits double of those in Norway made driving very effective. I was afraid to fall asleep behind the wheel but with small breaks every two hours or so it went like a dream or maybe Im just a good sleep-driver. About an hour drive north of Stockholm I parked the car outside a gas station and slept a few hours before I drove the last stretch. Downtown I made a wrong turn and got to see some small streets around the city before I suddenly saw the harbour and found my way to the ferry dock. While waiting for check-in the Custom officers came around to check me and the car and found little of interest except a bayonet which they claimed was a breech of the weapon-regulations but I got to keep it as long as I placed it into my luggage in the back of the car. So much for personal protection.
The ferry M/S Isabelle was a large ship and had some nice bars and resturants where I got a bit tipsy with all the pensioners taking the cruise over to Riga. I also spent some time on the outer deck scouting for subs but never saw one. Next morning we arrived Riga harbour and I drove straight to the farm of Legendas boss to park my car and get a lift back into Riga.
After a long shower I went across the street of the hotel and met up with some of the other diggers having arrived before me. Beer was brought on the table and as the hours passed more and more diggers arrived and joined us. Soon we had occupied large parts of the outdoor section and had a great time. The next day went down much the same. Some strolling and shopping in the city and the afternoon was spent together with good food and beer and even more diggers arrived from around the world. At one point we got a text from the ones arriving from Belgium that the airspace over there had been closed and all flights delayed. A big punch in the face for those guys. One of them had to cancel the whole trip because of the huge delays while the other one was very lucky and managed to score a ticket and would arrive only a day later. We all planned to take an early evening as we would be picked up before 07 next morning, but in good company that is difficult so there was some tired faces gathering outside the hotel when the vans came to collect us.
Long before lunchtime we arrived at Kristinas lovely resort and was given our rooms. The Legenda flag was raised to show everyone we was finally there. Not long after we heard the Boss shouting and knew it was best to rush to the cars and get out to the forests. Usually we have had a "soft" start on the expeditions but this time we were met by a JCB waiting for us. Work was about to begin. The researchers in Legenda had located what could be a large Red Army massgrave and the JCB started opening up the forestfloor. The diggers gathered around and some jumped down in the opened trench following the JCBs shovel closely. Suddenly we saw the soils color change from red-brown to patches of black, the soil had been disturbed at some point and was full of organic material. We had found the spot.
The soil was made up of wet and heavy clay and the groundwater kept seeping in and flooding everything which made it a difficult job. Our boots and equipment kept being sucked stuck and the gloves became like muddy clumps. Scoops were cut from bottles and plastic cans and drainage pits was dug. We worked in pairs in the ditch and diggers was sitting on the edges of it checking the soil we lifted out to not miss any bones or items. When someone got tired places were swapped and the work continued uninterrupted. Body after body was exhumed and it got very busy for the ones in charge of the remains. Bone trays was filled quickly and lifted out of the massgrave, registered and placed into bodybags. The fallen had been placed in layers ontop of eachother and it was not an easy job at all. The day went quickly and we kept working until the evening approached and the ditch was finally empty. We had exhumed around 50 soldiers this first day. The new diggers was tired but excited of the intense start of the expedition and they had prooved themself to be made of the right material. Back at the resort Kristina dished out a brilliant dinner which I think everyone enjoyed.
A Red Army button made of plastic. These buttons was part of the Lend Lease help and produced in the U.S.
After a long winter my muscles was not used to digging and they screamed in pain the next morning, it was even painful to lift the coffeecup, but I knew that only more digging would loosen them up making them "fresh" again. We went back to the massgrave to check if there could be another row of fallen there and the JCB opened up a new ditch next to the one from yesterday, and sure enough here we had more fallen. The weather was perfect for digging, some clouds and some sun and not too hot, we even had a few drops of rain. Very soon all the diggers had found their place and the ditch was busy. Bodies and their items was carefully exhumed and removed from the wet clay. We found some helmets and ammo with them and also uniform buttons and personal items. The clay preserves well so some of the remains still had hair and the soil was fatty making the job a bit horrible. We could also see that most of the soldiers had met terrible faiths as they were severly damaged by explosions. Around three o`clock it looked like we had got all the fallen out of the massgrave and most of the diggers and the JCB went off to a nearby hill to search the trenches for any fallen. I was still struggeling with a flooded pit and tried to gather all the little bones from the fallen soldiers hand. At this point I was alone in the massgrave and drove my shovel into the ground to have something to lean on for a small break. When I pulled the shovel back out a lump of the clay broke loose and I saw black soil. There was another layer of fallen beneath my feet!! I was overwhelmed by a feeling of hopelessness and called out to the Legenda guys gathering equipment around the ditch - More bodies!! Come back!! Together we uncovered five or six more Red Army soldiers before we made sure there was no one left and all bones had been removed.
At the little hill the other guys had found a single fallen soldier on the bottom of a trench. The rest of the trenchline was opened and searched but no more remains was to be found.
In total we had exhumed 106 soldiers from the massgrave and one from the trenchline. None of them had any medals or ways to identify them but in the digging process two sections of an aircraft fuselage had been found, and on them was names of the fallen inscribed so there is hope we can find these names in the archives with a complete list of the fallen soldiers.
One of the fuselage sections with names inscribed.
One of the soldiers had a german butterdish.
A cross and beaded chain found on a fallen.
A pencil made from a PPSh casing.
On day three we drove to Ezere, west in Latvia, where a German field cemetery had been discovered. It was in a small park where the locals use to walk their dogs, the kids play and teenagers party. The forested patch was fenced off to make sure we could work undisturbed. A local girl thought this looked very interesting and was invited to help us and she spent the entire day digging with us and she did an exellent job. From the Volksbund we had lists over the fallen who should be buried here. Three soldiers had been exhumed a week or so earlier so we knew where to start digging, and with the German cemeteries comes precision. The graves is normally spaced out in a perfect symmetry. Also here the soil conditions was not the best to work with, and groundwater kept flooding the graves as we uncovered them. With the JCB we managed to dig a deeper pit in the end of the row and lead much of the water away making the job a bit simpler. A few of the soldiers here had been buried in coffins which made it very easy to locate all the bones and items. Everything was carefully dug out and placed in the body bags. Items with the soldiers was put in smaller bags and taped together with the body bag. Many of the fallen had dog tags and I think most of them will be identified and have named graves. In this park we exhumed 23 soldiers and with the 3 found earlier it was 26 in total. At one point an old lady who lived next to the park came by and she had brought her old photo album. She told her stories from the war and about her losses of family members. It was a very emotional meeting and difficult to keep the eyes dry listening to her. After the dig some of the diggers sat down sharing a beer with her and she was smiling and laughing with us.
On the way back in the afternoon we stopped by a small museum meters away from the Lithuanian border and we also stopped by the Saldus War Cemetery paying our respect.
The park sometime before the war.
Visiting the Cemetery after these days of exhuming such a large number of fallen was very emotional. The diggers went around silent in their own world. Some just sat down staring blankly in front of them, minds filled with thoughts. Seeing some of the graves had fresh flowers or small grave decorations surely made up for all the sweat, mud and insect bites and one of the last entries in the Cemetery protocol brought tears to our eyes...
Translation of the protocol entry :
Beloved father, I have found you after 70 years. We were and still are full of sorrow, because You had to give your young years to the nazis. You and Georg Elser have always been my heroes for being resistance fighters. Goodbye, Helga
P.S. You gave two great grandsons. At least we have freedom for 70 years now.
That evening back at the resort we made sure to enjoy this freedom. Some was eating and drinking, some enjoying the sun and our Boss enjoyed fishing,,without a fishing line - The result is the same he explained..
Our last day in Kurland we drove to a forest where battles had raged some 70 years ago. We was going to spend the whole day here roaming around with our metal detectors in search of battle discards and fallen soldiers. The area was strewn with trenchlines, bunkers and strongpoints. Together with a small group I headed into the forest in search of a small hill where German forces had made a strongpoint. We crossed a field and a patch of forest where the Soviet lines had crossed through and it was signals of metal everywhere. Lots of ammo and different shells and grenades. It was a very creepy place and it felt like we were being watched. I swear I kept hearing sounds not from this world and when I mentioned this later one of the other in the group swore she had seen shadows running around us as we pushed through the dense forest. As we crossed into a clearing she suddenly sped off, she had seen a pile of rust. Some other diggers had been here before us clearing a trenchline and piled up helmets, magazines and ammo crates on a big log so we went back to the others heavy loaded with old metal.
The other guys had a bit more luck than us regarding finds. They had dug some good signals and found something very eerie. Three helmets with skulls inside, but no other bones. The rest of their bodies was no where to be found. What had happened here will be a mystery but it was a very creepy and strange find.
Both Viktors and Ainars had birthday, so in the afternoon we had some cake which was wonderfull. Many of the diggers was tired by now and sat around in groups chatting, while some was still roaming around the trenchlines searching and soon it was time to head back to Radi for a big dinner, sauna and a party which lasted till long after midnight. Matt once again entered his role as DJ Legenda and kept the music blasting until the very end.
A very good signal and a muddy dig, but it was an empty helmet this time..
Monday morning rose with a wonderful weather but there was no more time for digging. People had flights and jobs to get back to and we left early for Riga after saying goodbye to those we wouldn`t meet until next time. Some of us was staying in Riga some extra days and we had a good time together. On wednesday it was only me and Kim left and I had to go to the farm to pick up my car and head to the ferry. At the farm we started making some future plans and then the Boss approached me with a little something for me. He gave me the Legenda patch to sew on my jacket. That was a big moment for me and I shook his hand having a frog in my throath. I would love to have stayed longer but I had a long drive back home so I filled up the car, turned on the GPS and half hour later I was through the ferry check-in. It had been reported a storm but the crossing went fine, there was a moment of heavy weather but it all cleared up and was warm and sunny until I reached northern sweden and the border crossing into Norway where it started raining. Driving in this area at night was sketchy at best as the road was more or less animal territory. Moose, reindeers, rabbits and birds kept running along side the road and I had to drive really carefully but around 02 I parked the car at my house and was greeted by two very happy cats which made any post-expedition-depression impossible.
The trip had been amazing and emotional and some new friendships had been forged. All the new guys this year was wonderfull people which I am sure we ll see again soon. Thanks to everyone taking part on the expedition and a special thanks to the ones making it possible through all research and paperwork.
Until next time, Stay muddy and keep Smiling...
Arty shell and PanzerSchreck rocket.
Two tired diggers.
Lots of live ammo and explosives scatter the old frontlines and is still a danger.
From a Maxim Mg belt.
Pz. track and Pz. fire extinguisher.
We wasn`t sure if the Boss did some practical work here or chopping down imaginary enemies..
A fight almost broke out when we realized we both had the same outfit, Serbian jackets and Norwegian army trousers..
It takes some serious dedication bringing the Lexus out on the crappy Kurland forest roads..
Latvian/Lithuanian border. The bridge was blown up during the war and never rebuilt.