AL Fleming opens a carrier bag and retrieves something you don’t quite expect: a large, heavy, jagged and deeply scarred piece of metal, maybe some 18 inches in length. Pointing to a small but noticeable dent, he remarks casually: “That was made by a bullet. Amazing, isn’t it?”

The piece of metal turns out to be the tip of a propeller of a German Junkers 88 bomber that was shot down near Lennoxtown 82 years ago, at around 2am on May 7, 1941, during the Clydeside Blitz. Greenock suffered particularly badly on the nights of May 6 and 7, with 271 people losing their lives as waves of Luftwaffe bombers targeted the town.

The Junkers 88 was downed by a Boulton Paul Defiant, a night-fighter scrambled from RAF Prestwick. The four-man German crew bailed out of their stricken bomber on parachutes. Two – the pilot, Oberleutnant Werner Coenen, and observer Hauptmann Gerd Hansmann – died, their parachutes unable to open fully in time.

Radio-operator, Oberfeldwebel Ernst Langanki, and air-gunner, Feldwebel Willi Muller, suffered broken bones as they landed on Balmore golf course. They were arrested by members of the Home Guard, and subsequently became prisoners of war (PoWs).

HeraldScotland: Gerd and GisellaGerd and Gisella (Image: free)

The dying moments of the Ju.88 were witnessed by many people in Glasgow and beyond. Among them was Fleming’s own father, Ian, an artist and Glasgow Art School lecturer who at the time was serving with Maryhill Police.

“BLITZ again tonight,” he wrote in his diary on Wednesday, May 7. “The barrage was intense and I was on the canal bank as yesterday. A Jerry plane was brought down with a roar.”

Reporting the events of the night of May 6/7, the Glasgow Herald said: “One enemy aircraft is believed to have been shot down when raiders were again over Central and West Scotland this morning. Early reports show that the attack was on a more widespread scale than on previous nights.”

The incident might have ended there, just one of countless thousands that occurred during the war. But Al Fleming has spent the last 10 years diligently breathing life into the story of how the Ju.88 crashed in bleak Blairskaith Muir at the foothills of the Campsie Fells. He has researched the crew’s lives, assembled photographs of the crash site, and delved deep into archives, German ones included, to retell the story. Some documents end with the flourish: “Heil Hitler!”

Recently, he used his research as the basis of a presentation, to Strathblane Heritage Society; such was the interest that it attracted the largest crowd – 108 – at any such talk in the village, ever. Three other presentations are planned.

When we meet over coffee, Fleming produces not just the part of the Junker’s propeller but also part of a fuel pipe, a few inches in length. Other parts of the wreckage have also been recovered.

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Britain suffered terribly during the Blitz. Around 43,000 civilians were killed, and thousands more were injured. Cities and industrial towns were targeted by the Luftwaffe in the long campaign before Hitler turned his attention eastwards to Russia.

As the Blitz continued, Britain improved its responses. The historian Daniel Todman has cited the military, civil and industrial resources that went into countering the threat from the skies, including two million civil defence workers, full- or part-time, by mid-1941 and an increasingly sophisticated network of fighter and anti-aircraft defences.

On his laptop, Fleming shows the slides that make up his presentation. Google Earth images reveal the landscape as the Ju.88 crew would have seen it at the time. The modern-day landscape shows such modern additions as Celtic’s training ground at Lennoxtown.

One close-up image shows the actual site where the plane landed and exploded. “You can see the sparse growth there,” he says. “It’s sparse because of contamination caused by large quantities of aviation fuel and other things.”

Blairskaith Muir, it turns out, had been the site of a “Starfish” decoy – one of a countryside network. These decoy towns, once their inflammable materials had been set ablaze, were designed to resemble key targets that had already been hit and to hoodwink German bombers into dropping their own bombs on them.

The two dead Germans were laid to rest in the Campsie burial ground on May 9. As they were interred, local policemen had to protect the cemetery from large, angry crowds. The village priest, for his part, was infuriated by “the use of a Swastika during a Christian burial”.

HeraldScotland: Al Fleming on the Blairskaith Muir near the Campsie Fells near Lennoxtown. He has been researching the Blairskaith Junkers bomber crash in 1941..jpgAl Fleming on the Blairskaith Muir near the Campsie Fells near Lennoxtown. He has been researching the Blairskaith Junkers bomber crash in 1941..jpg (Image: free)

In time, Werner Coenen was exhumed and reburied in the German military graveyard at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

The two survivors, air-gunner Feldwebel Willi Muller and Oberfeldwebel Ernst Langanki, were despatched to Canada, and to the notorious Camp 123 for German PoWs in Medicine Hat, Alberta.

On December 18, 1946, by which time the war had been over for more than a year, Muller was one of four PoWs hanged for the murder of one Dr Karl Lehmann, who, says Fleming, had made enemies among hardline Nazi PoWs because of his willingness to publicly question Hitler, and Nazi policies. It was the last mass execution in Canada.

“There were 10,000 prisoners in this camp, in the middle of nowhere,” he says. “That’s absolutely astonishing, and it was only one of several. These camps were run by the Germans.”

His research has extended to exploring the life of Gerd Hansmann, who remains buried at Lennoxtown.

A year after the war his widow, Gisela, arrived in the cemetery from Germany to visit his grave. It was a lovely summer’s day, and the area was looking at its best. When she saw that flowers had been placed at his headstone by local people, she was so moved that she opted not to repatriate his remains. She would make many return visits, even after remarrying.

At an auction, Fleming once bought, for £300, official German documents relating to Hansmann, including one that asserted that he died a hero’s death for “the Führer, Volk, and Vaterland”. There’s even a studio portrait of Hansmann, clearly a handsome young man, with Gisela, and Hansmann’s business card. It’s fascinating to see such things and to relate them in your imagination to the man who died so young and so far away from his home.

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“I’ve also had in my hand his parachute harness clip,” says Fleming.

“There are times when I think that so many things have fallen in my lap, though not without my doing a lot of groundwork.

“It’s almost like fate that these things have come together to tell what I think is a really fascinating story – not least my father having made that note in his diary. The story is highly relevant to the north of Glasgow but not a lot of people know about all the circumstances.

“People are quite amazed by the story. It’s not just an account of a war-time plane crash; it’s the sheer personalisation of it, the fact that documents are available, and it’s also the fact that these guys landed on Balmore golf course. I see it as a tragic little cameo in virtually every respect.

“These [the German air crew] were just people who were doing what they had to do. We rightly lionise British bomber pilots but we tend to forget about the German pilots. They weren’t coming over here and shouting things like, ‘Take that, schweinhund!’ They were just doing their duty as they saw it.”