Warrant Officer Coates is laid to rest during a ceremony in Italy (Picture: MOD).
WWII

WWII Spitfire Pilot Given Military Burial In Italy

RAF Warrant Officer John Henry “Harry” Coates has been laid to rest more than 70 years after he died serving his country.

Warrant Officer Coates is laid to rest during a ceremony in Italy (Picture: MOD).

Warrant Officer Harry Coates was laid to rest during a ceremony in Italy (Picture: MOD).

A Spitfire pilot has been given a ceremonial burial with full military honours 74 years after crashing near the town of Cavarzere, in northern Italy.

The aircraft being flown by Warrant Officer (WO) John Henry 'Harry' Coates came down in March 1945 and was discovered in 2017.

On Wednesday, WO Coates was honoured at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Padua War Cemetery.

The Ministry of Defence (MOD)'s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) organised the service, which was led by the Reverend (Dr) Group Captain Giles Legood, Deputy Chaplain in Chief (Operations), RAF.

Personnel from RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire carried his coffin.

The graveside ceremony was attended by family members, including niece Shelagh Coates from Stamford in Lincolnshire.

A church service followed at the Cathedral of San Mauro in Cavarzere.

The graveside ceremony was attended by family members (Picture: MOD).
The graveside ceremony was attended by family members (Picture: MOD).

The crash site of what was believed to be Spitfire PT 410 was excavated, and human remains were found in October 2017.

An RAF pilot's wings and Warrant Officer rank insignia were among the artefacts recovered.

The JCCC conducted research and proved the only pilot and Warrant Officer missing who died over land was Harry Coates.

Additional evidence was provided by parts of his Spitfire, on which could be seen remnants of the serial number (PT 410).

Supermarine Spitfires of 111 Squadron undergoing maintenance at Comiso, Sicily, in July 1943 CREDIT MOD
Supermarine Spitfires of 111 Squadron undergoing maintenance at Comiso, Sicily, in July 1943 (Picture: MOD).

A DNA match with a profile from a member of Harry's family was proven after forensic samples were taken from his remains in November 2018.

Louise Dorr of the JCCC said: “It is a great privilege to be here today to see WO Coates finally laid to rest, particularly in the presence of so many of his family.

"I’m delighted that we have been able to identify him and bring his particular story to an end.”

The Revd Dr Giles Legood said:

“All of us chosen to represent the RAF have an important part to play in this significant occasion.

"I am honoured to be able to show, through the words of the funeral service and through our actions, that every member of the RAF is remembered and valued as a child of God”.

Personnel from RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire carried his coffin (Picture: MOD).
Personnel from RAF Halton in Buckinghamshire carried his coffin (Picture: MOD).

Ms Coates 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 in March 1945.

"It is a great honour for us to finally put him 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.”

The Revd Dr Giles Legood conducted the service (Picture: MOD).
The Revd Dr Giles Legood conducted the service (Picture: MOD).

Harry Coates was born in York on 15 July 1920, to John and Eliza Coates.

As a civilian, he was a railway draughtsman and enlisted into the RAF Volunteer Reserve in March 1941, and was recommended for training as a pilot/observer.

At the time of his death, he was serving with 111 Squadron in Italy.

Early on the morning of 5 March 1945, he formed part of a sortie targeting 20 barges on the canal just north of Cavarzere, with the intention of helping to destroy the enemy’s supply chain.

Historical records indicate his aircraft was reported to have been hit by flak and exploded, causing it to disintegrate over a large area.

The engine and fuselage landed in soft ground by the Adige river and the deep crater it created filled up with water, making recovery impossible.

The Romagna Air Finders excavated the crash site in October 2017.