Spitfire pilot laid to rest in Italy more than 70 years after being shot down

A Second World War Spitfire pilot has finally been laid to rest 70 years after his plane was shot down in Italy.

Warrant Officer John Henry Coates – known as Harry – was killed when his aircraft crashed near the town of Cavarzere in March 1945.

The wreckage remained undiscovered until 2017 and a subsequent excavation revealed human remains along with an RAF pilot’s wings and a warrant officer rank insignia.

Research by the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) found the only pilot of that rank missing over land was Harry Coates.

Warrant Officer John Henry Coates funeral
Warrant Officer John Henry Coates funeral

Forensic testing on the remains were compared to a DNA profile from a member of Harry’s family, while the remnants of the plane’s serial number – PT410 – were found to match his.

On Wednesday, the pilot was buried with full military honours at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Padua War Cemetery, Italy, following a church service in the Cathedral of San Mauro in Cavarzere.

Born in York, Harry had been working as a railway draughtsman before enlisting into the RAF in March 1941.

He was just 24 years old when he died and had been on a mission targeting barges in the canal just north of Cavarzere in a bid to destroy the enemy’s supply chain.

Warrant Officer John Henry Coates funeral
Warrant Officer John Henry Coates funeral

According to historical records, his aircraft was hit by flak and exploded, with the wreckage strewn over a large area.

Among the attendees at the funeral were Harry’s niece Shelagh Coates, from Stamford in Lincolnshire, while the coffin was carried by personnel from RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire.

Ms Coates said: “It is a great honour for us to finally put (Harry) to rest in the Padua War Cemetery today.

“Unfortunately, the find was too late for his youngest brother, my father, Frank who died in 2015 and his sister Betty, who died in 2016.

“But his burial has been attended by many of his relatives, from great-great nephews and nieces through to immediate nephews and nieces.”