Home News Bodies Of Two WWII Airman Found After More Than 70 Years

Bodies Of Two WWII Airman Found After More Than 70 Years

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The graves of two naval aviators lost in one of the most disastrous air attacks in history have finally been found.

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76 years ago the two men were seen climbing into a dinghy, and were never spotted again.

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The final resting place of pilot Sub Lt Edward ‘Seymour’ Burke and his gunner Leading Airman James Beardsley has now been located in Russia.

Since its discovery, it has been dedicated as the newest and most northerly Commonwealth War Graves’ ‘cemetery’ in the world.

The two men crewed a Fairey Fulmar fighter, launched from the aircraft carrier HMS Furious.

The Royal Navy dispatched a task force to strike at German forces in two key ports in Nazi-occupied Norway close to the Soviet border: Petsamo and Kirkenes.

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Although a challenging task for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, they have ensured that the two airmen’s grave is now properly dedicated and marked.

During the operation, 13 of the 29 aircraft launched were shot down, and nothing accomplished for the British forces.

The two-dozen aircraft launched by Furious found the harbour at Petsamo almost empty of shipping.

One Albacore bomber and two Fulmars were lost – including Burke and Beardsley’s.

Whilst the men survived the crash, and were witnessed scrambling into a dinghy, they were then lost.

Now, more than seven decades late, the fate of the two missing men has finally been discovered.

70 years ago, their bodies were washed up at Vaida Bay on the Rybachy Peninsula – about 70 miles northwest of Murmansk and 30 miles from Petsamo.

Here, locals buried them in an unmarked grave.

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Seven decades later and the Russian military alerted the British authorities to the presence of the unidentified graves.

This lead to a three-year investigation to find the bodies, and then identify them.

And finally, a formal gravestone has been erected.

The Royal Navy’s senior clergyman the Venerable Ian Wheatley, Chaplain of the Fleet, headed to the tip of European Russia with CWGC officials, senior Russian Navy officers and Andrew Furlong, one of Sub Lt Burke’s relatives.

Ven Wheatley said:

“There is no way of knowing how they died, but even in July, Vaida Bay is the harshest of environments.”

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“The challenge of the restoration project undertaken by the Russian Northern Fleet and the War Graves Commission should not be underestimated, but the end result is that their grave is properly and honourably marked, and their sacrifice recorded, in the remote beauty of the Arctic tundra.”

He led a joint ceremony with a Russian Orthodox priest who blessed the Soviet dead buried in the now-restored cemetery.

Capt Chris Connolly, Britain’s Deputy Defence Attaché in Moscow, made the 150-mile round trip from Murmansk 12 months ago to inspect the then overgrown graveyard:

“We are immensely grateful to the Northern Fleet for their assistance, facilitating access to this remote site, transporting the memorial stone and refurbishing the graveyard.”

“It is un-recognisable from our visit last year, a huge amount of work has been done in the most difficult of conditions.”

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