York & North Yorkshire

Spitfire pilot to get hero's funeral 74 years after death

Warrant Officer John Henry Coates Image copyright North News and Pictures
Image caption Warrant Officer John Henry Coates, known as Harry, died when his Spitfire crashed and exploded

A war hero killed when his Spitfire was shot down in Italy in 1945 is to be finally laid to rest after his body was unearthed at the crash site.

Warrant Officer John Henry Coates, 24, of 111 Squadron, was declared missing in action on a dawn raid targeting barges on a canal near Venice.

His plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed close to the village of Cavarzere.

A military funeral will be held at Padua War Cemetery, Italy, on 27 March.

Image copyright North News and Pictures
Image caption This Spitfire from 111 Squadron based in Scilly is similar to the one flown by the WO Coates
Image copyright North News and Pictures

His mother and immediate family all died without knowing how or where the airman from York was killed.

His name was engraved on the Malta War Memorial commemorating the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives around the Mediterranean but with no known graves.

In October 2017 his remains were discovered by Romagna Air Finders, an organisation which recovers WW2 aircraft.

An appeal to find his family was started and one of his relatives spotted a story in a local newspaper.

Image copyright North News and Pictures
Image caption Italian aviation architects uncovered various items from the wreckage
Image copyright North News and Pictures
Image caption The Spitfire's engine was pulled from the ground

WO Coates' niece Helen Watts, whose mother Molly Dearlove was the airman's younger sister, said: "Myself and my siblings grew up knowing that our uncle had gone missing towards the end of World War Two.

"It is absolutely amazing that he has been found all these years later."

Image copyright North News and Pictures
Image caption His family will attend his funeral along with regimental representatives and local dignitaries

After volunteering for the RAF, WO Coates, who was known as Harry was based in Rimini supporting operations to drive German forces out of Italy.

On the day of his death, he should have been on leave but swapped duties.

Alessandro Voltolina, of Romagna Air Finders, said: "His discovery means he may now rest with all the other youngsters who lost their lives in Italy and are too often forgotten."

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