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World War II Spitfire pilot's 'lost' badge found in Highland field


By David G Scott

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The Australian Rising Sun badge that Chris found with a 5p coin for size comparison. Picture: Chris Aitken
The Australian Rising Sun badge that Chris found with a 5p coin for size comparison. Picture: Chris Aitken

A Highland man has recovered the badge of a World War II Spitfire pilot that may date from his final tragic mission in 1943 when he baled out over the Pentland Firth.

Chris Aitken was metal-detecting in a field near his home at Gills, Caithness with his son Finlay when he came across the Australian Rising Sun badge under six inches of soil.

Chris, who is a teacher at Wick High School, said: "We were just looking in the fields around the area after getting permission from the landowner. Being agricultural land, we turned off detecting iron so we knew anything else would be good."

Trudging up and down the field with Finlay, he eventually came up trumps when the detector showed there was an object under the surface.

"It was six-inches down and the only thing of interest we found in the whole field," said Chris.

Chris Aitken out metal detecting with with his sons Callum, right, and Finlay.
Chris Aitken out metal detecting with with his sons Callum, right, and Finlay.

Chris knew it was something special right away due to the "spikes" on the object. After cleaning it up he could make out it was a military badge so he posted a picture on Facebook

Wick historian Harry Gray recognised the Australian Rising Sun badge and said that 455 Squadron RAAF (Royal Australian Air Force) had been in Wick at various times between 1942 and 1944.

"The badge could have been given to someone and subsequently lost or a collector may have had a badge and lost it," he wrote.

Chris Aitken with his sons Finlay, with metal detector, and Callum in the field where they found the badge.
Chris Aitken with his sons Finlay, with metal detector, and Callum in the field where they found the badge.

Chris's mother, Maria Aitken from Keiss, did a bit of digging about herself but through online archive material rather than muddy fields.

"I did a bit of research on the Australian soldiers buried in Caithness and found a war graves website which had the story of Ronald James Fiscalini whose plane went down during a training flight beside Stroma," she said.

"You can see Stroma from Chris's house."

The flight path showing that Fiscalini would have flown over the area where the badge was recovered.
The flight path showing that Fiscalini would have flown over the area where the badge was recovered.

Maria thought it "a bit of a coincidence" that an Australian pilot crashed near Stroma and her son found an Australian badge in a field directly under the flight path.

She added that the pilot was "found the next day in a dinghy not far from the crash site" but that sadly he had died and was subsequently buried in Olrig cemetery.

Flying officer Ronald James Fiscalini was aged 23 when he was killed while training in a Spitfire in 1943.
Flying officer Ronald James Fiscalini was aged 23 when he was killed while training in a Spitfire in 1943.

Flying officer R J Fiscalini took off from RAF Castletown in his Spitfire X4494 on May 13, 1943. He was on a non-operational day training exercise detailed to carry out low-level oblique photography below the cloud base.

The aircraft crashed at 11am into the Pentland Firth near Stoma and, though Fiscalini baled out over the sea and initially survived, his body was recovered from his dinghy the following morning.

Another report suggests he may have survived for a period in the Pentland Firth, stating he "died from exposure aboard a fishing boat that had rescued him from the sea".

Harry Gray said: "It's the old story – old men create wars and young men fight them."

Fiscalini's grave in Olrig cemetery.
Fiscalini's grave in Olrig cemetery.

Similar badges viewed online show they were designed for the uniform cap and collar of Australian troops stationed in the UK during WWII.

Not wearing his formal cap while on flying operations, it seems safe to assume the badge could have been pulled from Fiscalini's collar as he prepared to bale out.

Armed with the new research information, Chris located the pilot's daughter, Heather Fiscalini, who was born on November 11, 1942 – just six months before her father was killed.

"I found his daughter Heather in Australia and messaged her on Facebook. It turns out that this is the only badge of her father's that she doesn't have," he said.

The pilot's daughter, Heather Fiscalini, said it is the only badge she did not have belonging to her late father.
The pilot's daughter, Heather Fiscalini, said it is the only badge she did not have belonging to her late father.

"It's incredible that the only badge that Heather's mother never received when he died was the badge that we found.

"We've speculated as to how it got in the field. Either his cockpit cabin came off as he was ditching and he lost the badge over the field or it washed up on the shore and when seaweed was taken for fertilising the fields and it ended up there."

Chris said he would be "honoured" to send the badge to Heather so it can be added to her collection.

After expressing her delight, Heather gave Chris details of the address to send the badge to.

Flying Officer Fiscalini was a member of a Coastal Command squadron flying from RAF Castletown which opened in 1940. Initially built to provide a base for fighter cover for the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow, it later became an air-sea rescue base as well, before closing just after the end of the war in Europe.

Finlay Aitken out metal detecting in the Gills area. Picture: Chris Aitken
Finlay Aitken out metal detecting in the Gills area. Picture: Chris Aitken

Chris said that although he and his sons have only taken up metal detecting recently his brother, Mikie, had previously found a 13th-century coin hoard near Wester.

"It's a great family activity but does need a lot of patience and persistence," Chris said. "People only hear about the finds, not about the hours trawling fields. This was our first big find really."

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