He called it a "flying coffin with windows".

The description scrawled in Leo Harris' journal turned out to be sadly fitting when the British World War II bomber was shot down near the German town of Limburgerhof one night in 1943, killing the seven airmen on board.

That journal and a piece of the fuselage from the downed Stirling Mk III plane EF129 are two pieces of history Nelson man Mike Harris can hold on to, to remember a father he never met.

Mike Harris and his sister Gay Armstrong hold a piece of the plane's wreckage. Photo/supplied
Mike Harris and his sister Gay Armstrong hold a piece of the plane's wreckage. Photo/supplied

Harris, who was born while his father was training to be a navigator in Canada, has been to see the graves of Leo and his fellow crewmen, but he still had unanswered questions about that fateful night.

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Then the tireless work of former Dutch marine Erik Wieman and his crash site research team IG Heimatforschung have led to the identification of the plane crash site and the recovery of items from the scene.

A site memorial was unveiled in a recent ceremony, attended by 18 descendants of the men on board.

"In a way we created a new family last Saturday," said Wieman.

"Many of the descendants and all of the families did not know about each other. Beyond the death of the crew, the story goes on."

The crashed plane carried five men from the UK, one from Canada, and Leo Harris, from New Zealand.

Crash site researchers Erik Wieman (left) and pilot Ingo Stumpf prepare to fly over the crash site. Photo/Supplied
Crash site researchers Erik Wieman (left) and pilot Ingo Stumpf prepare to fly over the crash site. Photo/Supplied

When Wieman found out about the crash he set out to find witnesses. After tracking them down he was able to apply for a permit with the archaeological services and begin his search.

"As I found it, the site was thoroughly searched with metal detectors and sieved. Many bigger and smaller plane parts, parts from the wings, fuselage, tyres, Plexiglas, cloth, hundreds of pieces of ammunition were found."

After finding the site, Wieman set about tracking down relatives of the killed airmen.

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"Often relatives do not know what happened and where. They only get a notification that their family member died, and, if lucky, they get a grave."

The bodies of the crew were buried in Limburgerhof, then exhumed after the war and buried in an Allied cemetery in Germany's north.

18 descendants of the killed airmen attended an unveiling ceremony for the crash site last weekend. Photo/Thomas Stortz
18 descendants of the killed airmen attended an unveiling ceremony for the crash site last weekend. Photo/Thomas Stortz

"The crash site was deemed to be forgotten. Like one family member described, between the last flight from England until the final grave there was a big gap, and we could fill this gap. And now this field, this crash site, where seven airmen died, is not only a normal field anymore. It is a special field, a place for the descendants, and all passersby now know what happened here too."

In a speech at the memorial ceremony, attended by Leo's daughter Gay Armstrong, John Wheatley, whose son married Mike Harris' daughter, revealed how he logged on to Facebook one day and saw a picture of an eyewitness to the crash holding a photo of Leo Harris. He was then able to put Mike in touch with Wieman.

Mike Harris, who was unable to attend the ceremony, told the Herald the news of the crash site discovery was "out of the blue".

Numerous bits of wreckage from the crashed plane were recovered during the site search. Photo/Supplied
Numerous bits of wreckage from the crashed plane were recovered during the site search. Photo/Supplied

"Seventy-five years later I never expected for a moment that anything like this could occur," he said.

He was "eternally grateful" Wieman had dedicated so much time and effort to finding the site.

The discovery of the site was "closure", Harris said. He hoped to go visit the memorial some day and meet Wieman to thank him in person.

He sort of accepted he wasn't coming back, the casualties were so high.

Though Harris didn't know his father, speaking to his family and reading through his journal has helped build a picture of a man who rode a bicycle everywhere, had a pet fox terrier, loved fishing, and played tennis.

Reading through the journal, which he only discovered about 10 years ago, Harris saw how his father referred to the Stirling as a "flying coffin with windows".

"He sort of accepted he wasn't coming back, the casualties were so high," he said.

But the journal also reminded him of the times his father found happiness.

Leo Harris wrote about how comforting it was to hear Big Ben chiming when he was staying in London.

On a trip to England decades on, his son was able to stand and listen to those same chimes, and feel comforted as well.