#3. An Untouched Battlefield Discovered in 2010
After a major war, people in cities and towns are usually pretty eager to start picking up the pieces so that life can continue, or at the very least, so the bodies don't stink. But what about the major battles fought in the middle of nowhere? The wild animals that live around there can't clean up mortars and bullet casings, they don't even have opposable thumbs. In those cases, the battlefield can sometimes sit just as it was, like a display in a museum, for decades.
Such was the case with Eora Creek, the site of one of the deadliest battles between Australian and Japanese soldiers, deep in the jungles of Papa New Guinea. Brian Freeman, a former Australian Army Captain and trekker, was researching WWII era diaries and maps in 2010 when he found references to a large-scale battle in a remote region of Papa New Guinea. In the battle, 79 Australian servicemen died and another 145 were wounded. Hoping to discover a few remnants of the troop presence, Freeman made his way to the site, only to discover that no one had stepped foot there or disturbed anything since the last bullet was fired in 1942. Spent ammunition casings, canteens, helmets, and remains of bodies littered the jungle, including one body still leaning against a tree.
The site of the battle is around 60 miles off the road through harsh jungle, which explains why it stayed hidden. Helmets were still perched on staffs in traditional soldier burials which means the area was even protected from the horrendous storms that are known to sweep through. The local native population, the Alola people, were aware of the battlefield, but they had didn't want to go near it, partially because of fear regarding soldier spirits, and mostly because they aren't stupid enough to poke around an area with live rounds and grenades scattered everywhere.
"I can't tell what's down there. Hand me your lighter."
#2. Color Photo of One of the Most Important Moments of the 20th Century Found in 2009
Ronald Playforth via The Guardian
In 2009, a blurry photograph showed up at an auction house in England. The picture looked unremarkable, featuring a group of men who are likely soldiers over 20 yards away and obscured by bushes. All in all, it's not great composition and the lighting is bad, in fact, it's hard to tell what's going on in the picture at all, except, hang on, that scene looks familiar.
"Say it. Say Mel Brooks is funny, or we're not accepting your surrender."
Ah yes, it's only the most significant German army surrender in World War II and one of the most pivotal moments in modern history. The picture, it turns out, is the only color photo in existence documenting German command giving up Northwest Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark to the allies. Not even the Imperial War Museum in London has a color photograph of the occasion.
Apparently Ronald Playforth, who was a clerk for Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery (aka the badass accepting the surrender) took the picture from the bushes even though no one was supposed to be photographing the event. Then he tucked it away for 64 years and didn't tell anyone about it except his family. It wasn't until 2009 when his family finally decided to share the photo with the world, or more specifically, sell it to the highest bidder.
Burke/Triolo Productions/Brand X
"Probably regret saying it was 'priceless' now, huh?"
Oh, and it wasn't the only rare color photo that popped up long after the war. Hugo Jaeger, one of Hitler's personal photographers, took thousands of photographs during his time with the Fuhrer. He was also one of the few photographers that regularly used color film at that time. At the end of the war, Jaeger buried his photographs near Munich and didn't show them to anyone until 1965, when he sold them to Life Magazine. In 2009 they were published on an online gallery. Despite all the footage and photographs that exist of Hitler and a swastika adorned Germany, it's still shocking to suddenly see them all in color.
Hugo Jaeger via Life
You can really make out Hitler's combover in that last one.
#1. A Top Secret Carrier Pigeon Message Discovered in 2012
Lee Sanders via The Telegraph
In November of 2012, Englishman David Martin of Surrey discovered the skeleton of a pigeon in his chimney. That part is pretty routine -- birds fly into chimneys all the time, because they are stupid. But this bird skeleton had a small red capsule attached to its leg. Holy shit, it's probably full of tiny gifts! It's the bird Santa Claus!
The truth was almost as strange: Inside was a coded WWII era message that had been sealed ever since it was written 70 some years ago (needless to say, this particular pigeon was a spectacular failure at its job). The letter contained 27 groups of 5 letters and was signed by a Sergeant W. Stott. After David Martin contacted the local media, the Government Communications Headquarters took a crack at decoding what was likely one of their own codes...and failed miserably. Seriously, they couldn't even get close to breaking it. After weeks, the code crackers had made no progress and the news media claimed that the code was unbreakable.
Lee Sanders via The Telegraph
"We've been through every breakfast cereal on the market! None of the decoder rings work!"
But in December of the same year, Canadian Gordon Young claimed to have partially cracked the code. Using a WWI era codebook, Young deciphered some of the message in less than 20 minutes. According to him, some of the message read:
"Hit Jerry's Right or Reserve Battery Here. Already know electrical engineers headquarters. Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here."
Sergeant Stott turned out to be a 27 year old paratrooper who had dropped into Normandy behind enemy lines to evaluate the size of the German Army in the area. Young claims that the rest of the code may be either unsolvable, or possibly fake to try and fool any Germans stationed inside the chimneys of cottages.
"Claus, for the last time, get out of the damn chimney!"