RAF crew shot down in WWII buried in Italian war cemetery

(l-r) David Raikes, David Perkins, Alexander Bostock, and John Hunt The crew's final flight was from Forli near Rimini in April 1945

The crew of an RAF Boston bomber have been buried in a war cemetery in Italy, 68 years after their deaths.

The crew took off from Forli in northern Italy in the final days of World War II, but never returned and were thought to have been shot down.

The location of the remains of the three Britons and an Australian was unknown until an Italian team of amateur archaeologists discovered them near the city of Ferrara in 2011.

The burial had military honours.

Several dozen people attended the ceremony at Padua War Cemetery, including relatives of the men, some from as far away as New South Wales, Australia.

Representatives of the RAF, the Royal Australian Air Force, and the British embassy's navy and air attache were also present, as were those who excavated the crash site.

After all these years there were few remains of the young crewmen, and they were all contained in just a single coffin draped in a union jack.

Very slowly, RAF pallbearers brought it across the lawns of the cemetery where the relatives of the dead had gathered.

As the padre overseeing the funeral put it, these men had flown together, they had died together, and now they will lie together.

For the closest relatives of the flyers, the discovery of their remains resolved a mystery that had haunted them for nearly 70 years.

Now they know how and where these men died.

And from today onwards they know where the crew lies; in the sad but rather beautiful surroundings of a perfectly kept graveyard, shaded by poplar trees.

The plane's pilot, Sergeant David Raikes, from Redhill in Surrey, was 20 years old when he led the ill-fated mission to attack a bridge on the River Po.

Navigator Flight Sergeant David Millard Perkins, from Honor Oak in London, and wireless operator and air gunner Flight Sergeant Alexander Thomas Bostock, from Forest Row in Sussex, were both also 20.

Air gunner Warrant Officer John Penboss Hunt, from Shoalhaven in New South Wales, Australia, was 21.

During the ceremony, the nephew of Sgt Raikes, who was an aspiring poet, read out one of his poems and a band played the Last Post.

There were so few remains of the young crewmen, they were all contained in a single coffin draped in a union jack.

Sgt Raikes's brother Tim Raikes, 79, described him as "a big kind older brother" who was "fun-loving".

He said: "I've been waiting all these years and thought he would never be found. There are so many emotions, it was a joy to hear that his plane had been found."

Relatives of Flt Sgt Perkins were unable to attend the service, but the family of Warrant Officer Hunt travelled from the Shoalhaven region of New South Wales, Australia.

Glenice Hoffman, cousin to Flt Sgt Bostock, said it had been very difficult for his mother to cope with losing her son in the final few weeks of the war, when others were celebrating.

David Raikes, aspiring poet

The poems of David Raikes

An extract from his poem, Let it be hushed:

These men knew moments you have never known,

Nor ever will; we knew those moments too,

And talked of them in whispers late at night;

Such confidence was born of danger shared.

She said: "My memory is seeing the heartache that his mother was living through and did live through for the rest of her life.

"For me, being the only surviving relative, hearing so much about him all my life, it's a privilege and an honour to be here to bring some peace."

Personnel from the RAF's 18 Squadron, the unit the men served in, acted as pallbearers.

Wing Commander Lee Turner said: "It is a privilege to pay our respects to our colleagues and remember the ultimate sacrifice that the crew made for their country."

The aircraft was unearthed by Italian amateur archaeological society Archeologi dell'Aria, which searches for the remains of aircraft from World War II.

The day before the service, the families visited a museum in Felonica, to the south of Padua, which houses a display dedicated to the crashed Boston bomber.

Fabio Raimondi, who led the team that excavated the crash site, presented Warrant Officer Hunt's family with his watch, inscribed with his name and service number.

The ring of Flt Sgt Perkins, which had also been recovered, was to be returned to his family who had been unable not attend, officials said.

Ceremony for RAF bomber crew in Padua, Italy The men were buried in Padua War Cemetery, 68 years after their deaths
Ceremony for RAF bomber crew in Padua, Italy The burial of the men took place with military honours
Ceremony for RAF bomber crew in Padua, Italy There were few remains of the young crewmen. They were all contained in a single coffin draped in a union jack
Ceremony for RAF bomber crew in Padua, Italy Relatives of the men attended the ceremony, including the nephew of Sergeant Raikes who read out one of his poems

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