British soldier killed in Italy during Second World War to be buried

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A young British soldier who was killed as he stormed a German-held hill in southern Italy during the Second World War will finally be laid to rest almost 75 years after his death.

Lance Corporal Ronald George Blackham, of the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, was killed during a fierce battle on September 25 1943 as he fought to take Hill 270 near Salerno.

Just 22 when he died, his remains were found in February 2014 in a shallow grave near the village of Capezzano by Associazione Salerno 1943, a group of voluntary military historians.

Ammunition from an Enfield rifle and the Coldstream Guards cap badge indicated the remains were of a British soldier, and after the Ministry of Defence tracked down his brother Douglas a DNA test confirmed his identity.

Now, 73 years on from his death, 19 members of his family - including his younger sister Alma Williams, 80, and two-year-old great-grand-nephew Conan - have travelled to Salerno to see him buried at the war cemetery, along with the remains of two other unknown Coldstream Guards soldiers found nearby.

Mrs Williams, the only sibling attending the funeral, said the discovery of the remains was the first official confirmation that her brother had died, and had left her "speechless".

She said: "Our first thoughts, my brother and I, we thanked God at last he's not roaming the world not knowing who he is, and at last they've found him.

"It's just amazing, it's shock. It's turmoil in your brain - you don't know whether you're coming or going, whether it's true or whether it's false."

L/Cpl Blackham was born in Weaverham, near Northwich in Cheshire, on October 6 1920, the eldest of four boys and two girls.

After leaving school he worked for the Imperial Chemical Industry until he joined the army, enlisting at 19 in the Coldstream Guards, on June 18 1940.

Despite being just six when he died, Mrs Williams remembers her brother as a tall man of 6ft 4in who kept pigeons and enjoyed snooker and football with friends.

Once, when he returned to the army from leave, her mother Florence pointed out horse chestnut candle blossoms on the trees - a lifelong memory that still brings a tear to her eye.

Mrs Williams, also from Weaverham, said: "She took me to the window, looked out and said: 'When the candles come back on the tree, Ron'll be back home on leave, so it's all right.'

"Now, every time you see the candles growing it sticks in your mind - your mum said he'll be home, but he never came."

In September 1943 the Allies landed on the Salerno beaches in Italy, their first major landing in occupied Europe.

At noon on September 25, the Coldstream Guards were brought in to mount an attack on Hill 270, north of Salerno, using thick trees as cover to infiltrate the bottom of the hill.

No 1 company - including L/Cpl Blackham - and No 3 company of the 3rd Battalion began advancing from the nearby Capella Ridge, but as they left the sheltered woods German machine gunners opened fire, hurling mortars and grenades among their barrage of bullets.

During the battle the Guards suffered 120 casualties, including L/Cpl Blackham.

Mrs Williams remembers how a man on a bike came to the house to deliver the fateful news.

She said: "I was with mum at the front door, she opened this envelope and collapsed on the stairs with a stroke after reading it - 'missing presumed dead'.

"For the simple reason, she knew what had happened.

"Apparently the week before she had had a dream, that she was swimming in a river with Ron and the water was red, and she said: 'Something's happened to my lad.'

"I had to go and get dad out of bed. He came and carried her up the stairs and she didn't speak for six weeks."

Now, more than 70 years later, L/Cpl Blackham's burial will finally bring peace to the Cheshire family.