John Henry Coates is one of the names engraved on the Malta War Memorial, commemorating the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives around the Mediterranean. But for more than 70 years, Warrant Officer John Henry “Harry” Coates was listed only as missing in action.
Now Coates, who was then a 24-year-old Warrant Officer with RAF 111 Squadron, has finally been laid to rest after his remains were found nearly 75 years after he was shot down over Italy. This week he was given a burial with full military honours after the discovery and identification of his remains
Coates, from York, died after his fighter plane was hit by flak during a raid on shipping south of Venice in March 1945 – just two months before VE Day. His remains, and that of his Spitfire – PT 410 – were found by local enthusiasts from a group called Romagna Air Finders in 2017. His identity was confirmed through DNA tests. But before that his immediate family, including his mother, all died without knowing where or how he had lost his life.
Finally after all the identification procedures were finalised by the UK’s Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), on Wednesday, Coates was given a full military funeral, with his coffin was carried by serving RAF personnel, at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the city of Padua, close to where his Spitfire crashed in March 1945.
Several relatives attended the ceremony, with the Italian town’s residents coming out to pay their respects as his coffin was carried into the little church at Cavarzere on the outskirts of Venice, and then to the Padua War Cemetery, where 488 other service personnel are buried.