A YOUNG hero of the Second World War from York who was killed when his Spitfire was shot down by enemy fire over Italy is to be finally laid to rest 74-years on.

Warrant Officer John Henry Coates, known as Harry, served with 111 Squadron and was declared missing in action after the RAF aircraft he was piloting crashed close to the village of Cavarzere on the outskirts of Venice in March 1945.

Now, more than seven decades later, he is set to be given a military funeral which will be attended by around 22 relatives after his body was discovered by Italian aviation archaeologists.

His immediate family all died without knowing how or where the 24-year-old solider was killed. Harry didn't have any children himself, but he had three brothers and three sisters.

Harry's niece Helen Watts, 65, whose mother, Molly Dearlove, was Harry's younger sister, said: “Myself and my siblings grew up knowing that our uncle had gone missing towards the end of the Second World War.

“It is absolutely amazing that he has been found all these years later. This is the kind of thing that only ever happens to someone else."

Harry, was born in York in 1921 and his parents, John and Eliza Coates lived in Eighth Avenue in Tang Hall.

He worked as a draughtsman in the civil engineers department of The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) in the city and, although in a reserved occupation, he chose to volunteer for the RAF and trained as a pilot.

By early 1945 he was based near Rimini supporting operations to drive the German forces out of Italy and had been taking part in the dawn bombing of barges moored on a canal when his plane was targeted by anti-aircraft fire and exploded on impact with the ground.

On the day of his death he should have been on leave but tragically swapped duties to fly with a team of 6 RAF Spitfires on a mission to target barges.

His name was engraved on the Malta War Memorial, a 49ft column commemorating the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives around the Mediterranean and who have no known grave.

Helen said: “We had always thought his plane had gone down close to Lake Como, so it was a surprise he was discovered elsewhere.

“Sadly none of his siblings, including my mother, lived to see the day. They would have been thrilled by the news.

“My mother didn’t even realise his name was on the Malta War Memorial.

“The whole family is delighted that he will now be given a hero’s burial. We

are expecting the funeral to be a very moving and special ceremony.”

It was in October 2017 that Harry's remains were discovered by members of

the Romagna Air Finders, an organisation which recovers Second World War aircraft.

An appeal to find his descendants was launched and after one of his relatives

spotted a newspaper story and his family finally learnt of his resting place.

Harry never married and had no direct descendants but he has at

least 62 known blood relatives.

Alessandro Voltolina, 48, of Romagna Air Finder, said: “We were working

on the excavation of a different aircraft when the son of an eyewitness told me where another had crashed.

“As a result I started a search for that unknown plane. It is always a matter

of great satisfaction when you find the location and all your efforts are rewarded.

“WO Coates is the 6th or 7th pilot I have found. His discovery means he may now

rest with all the other youngsters who lost their lives in Italy and are too often forgotten.

“I hope it means much happiness for his family as now they know where he rests.

He has become a pilot killed in action rather than a pilot missing in action.

“His story now has an ending.”

Harry will be laid to rest at Padua War Cemetery on Wednesday, March 27.

Shelagh Coates, 70, another of Harry's nieces, of South Lincolnshire, said:

“We are very grateful to Romagna Air Finders for finding the missing plane of

our Uncle, John Henry Coates, otherwise known to family as Uncle Harry, and the

remains of his body after he went missing.

“It is a great honour for us to finally put him to rest in the Padua War


“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 will be attended by many of his relatives from great, great nephews and nieces through to nephews and nieces.”

It is intended to have the page in the LNER memorial book at the National Railway Museum in York opened to display the entry for W/O (Pilot) Coates on the day of the military funeral and for the rest of the week.