A moving ceremony has taken place in a French war graves cemetery after the final resting place of a Hartlepool war hero was identified for the first time after more than 70 years.
Leading Aircraftman (LAC) Ernest Neptune Edwards, who lived in Straker Street, died when the Bristol Blenheim aeroplane he and two comrades were flying in was shot down during a sortie over France on May 14, 1940.
After the crash the three crew, including Ernest, were buried locally, then re-interred after the war in Choloy War Cemetery, where they had lain as unknown airmen ever since.
But following recent research Ernest and his crew were identified, solving a 76-year mystery.
Several different branches of Ernest’s family were traced and attended a service at Choloy War Cemetery in France, organised by the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) on Tuesday.
The graves of six brave RAF crew, including three men from another shot-down Blenheim aircraft, were rededicated during the service, conducted by the Reverend (Wing Commander) Ruth Hake, MBE.
Reverend Hake said: “In all my years in military chaplaincy this is the first opportunity I’ve had to take part in a ceremony like this.
“It is an absolute privilege to walk this final stage of their long journey with these families.”
Ernest, who was 23, and his crew, Pilot Officer Stephen Gregory Rose and Sergeant David Allan Ashton, were finally identified after research into Commonwealth War Graves Commission data about three unknown aircrew revealed that one held the rank of Pilot Officer and another was found with a cigarette lighter engraved with the initials “D.A”.
The only aircraft lost in May 1940 with both a Pilot Officer and a crew member with the initials D.A was Ernest’s Blenheim N6210.
Louise Dorr, from the JCCC, said: “It has been wonderful to be able to reunite these five families with their lost relatives.
“The fact that so many of them are here with us today has made this morning’s service particularly poignant.”
New headstones bearing the names of the six RAF crew men have been provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, who will care for their final resting place from now on.
Ernest’s niece Elsie Moor, of Wingate, said after learning of her uncle’s identification: “Mam always had his photograph on the wall when we were growing up.
“The family can’t believe what is happening, to have found out where he is.
“It is like a part of history, it’s fantastic.”