A York war hero who was killed when his Spitfire was shot down over Italy is to finally be laid to rest 74 years later – after archaeologists discovered his body.

John Henry Coates, 24, took off in one of six RAF Spitfires from 111 Squadron from Rimini Airfield on March 5, 1945.

They were on a bombing mission, with barges moored on a canal close to Venice their target.

His plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire and crashed close to the village of Cavarzere in north east Italy.

Volunteered for action


WO Coates was reported missing in action, and his immediate family died without knowing how or where he had died.

But in October 2017 his remains and the wreckage of his plane were discovered by members of the Romagna Air Finders, an organisation which recovers Second World War aircraft.

WO Coates will be laid to rest at Padua War Cemetery on March 27.

He was born in 1921 and had worked as a draughtsman in York while living at home with his parents John and Eliza Coates.


WO Coates seen standing on the wing of the Spitfire. Photograph: Romagna Air Finders on Facebook

He was in a reserved occupation but volunteered for the RAF and he trained as a pilot.

By early 1945 he was flying Spitfire Mark 1Xs with 111 Squadron. He was based near Rimini supporting operations to drive the German forces out of Italy.

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

Hero’s burial

WO Coates was flying a Spitfire Mk IX like this one. Photograph: Chowellson Wikipedia
His plane was excavated after the Romagna Air Finders were told by locals an aircraft had crashed near Cavarzere village in the 1940s.

An appeal to find his family was launched and his niece, Helen Watts, 65, told the Mail:

  • Myself and my siblings grew up knowing that our uncle had gone missing towards the end of World War II.

    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.

    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.

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