A mystery of the final resting place of a Hartlepool airman who disappeared during the Second World War has been solved after 76 years.
Ernest Edwards, who was 23, and the crew of his plane went missing during a mission over France in 1940.
His descendants were shocked to receive official notification from the Ministry of Defence that Ernest had been identified in an unmarked grave in a war cemetery in France.
It follows research carried out by a French historian.
A military funeral is due to be held in France in October and Ernest’s family, including nieces Elsie Moore and Pamela Mason, of Wingate, hope to attend.
Elsie, 70, said of the news: “I just received a letter out of the blue. It was an absolute shock, we couldn’t believe it after 76 years.”
We couldn’t believe it after 76 yearsElsie Moore, niece of Ernest Edwards
Ernest, who was from Straker Street, West Hartlepool, was one of three crew on a Blenheim aircraft that failed to return to base after a sortie over the Sedan area of northern France in May 1940.
An article appeared in the Northern Daily Mail at the time of Ernest’s disappearance headlined ‘Presumed Lost’.
It read: “Mr and Mrs Ernest Edwards of 16 Straker Street, West Hartlepool have received official intimation that their eldest son. Leading Aircraftman Ernest N Edwards (23) who has been missing since May 24 is presumed to have lost his life.”
Ernest’s parentis also received a letter of consolation signed by King George the Sixth which said: “The Queen and I offer you our heartfelt sympathy in your great sorrow.
“We pray that your country’s gratitude for a life so nobly given in its service may bring you some measure of consolation.”
Ernest and his two comrades’ names are recorded on the Runnymede Air Forces memorial in Surrey as having no known grave.
But the historian in France has identified three unmarked graves at Choloy war cemetery in France as being Ernest and his crew.
A letter from the Ministry of Defence to Elsie stated: “We have now concluded that by the process of elimination these graves can be accepted as being those of your uncle and his two crew mates.”
Ernest died before marrying or having children but he still has descendants across the North East.
Elsie, whose mother Phyllis Mason was Ernest’s sister, added: “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.”