By Harry Yorke, Daily Telegraph
A relic hunter’s groundbreaking discovery could see thousands of families finally recover precious memorabilia of relatives who served during the Second World War.
Dan Mackay, a self-styled relic hunter, has uncovered a hoard of more than 14,000 dog tags buried beside an anti-aircraft battery close to London – including those of British soldiers who fought and died during the Normandy landings.
The 37-year-old is now working tirelessly to trace the relatives of the men – believed to have served in nearly every regiment of the Army – many of whom may never have recovered relics from their loved ones killed in action.
Mr Mackay, who made the discovery whilst searching in a field, has already repatriated eight tags to families, but has now launched a national appeal in order for more British families to come forward.
Commenting on the project, Mr Mackay said the veterans to whom the tags belonged included decoratedsoldiers including military medal winners, prisoners of war and those who had been written about in military journals and dispatches.
“The excitement was almost unbearable, it was as if someone had lifted the lid on a treasure chest full of silver coins,” he said, recalling the moment he made the discovery.
“It’s starting to feel like a full-time job – and certainly not one that normal people do. But now we’re desperate to return the dog-tags we’ve found and I will travel nationwide, if that’s what it takes.”
After his requests to help find relatives of the soldiers were rejected by the British Legion and several military historians and magazines, Mr Mackay said he made a breakthrough on the website War Forces Records, which connected him with a surviving veteran, Frederick Henry Bills.
“I got a reply back the very next day which said that FH Bills was still alive and I was speaking to his son,” he added. “I had an email saying that he had made notes of his time in service and had written them up for his family to keep and refer back to.
The tags, which were uncovered close to a disused factory where they were manufactured, are also believed to be some of the first tags commissioned by the British Army using stainless steel.
Introduced during the First World War, dog tags were commissioned in vulcanised asbestos fibre up until 1960 – but Mr Mackay believes the Army may have considered introducing the new tags into circulation much earlier, only to abandon the plans later in the conflict.