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Case Study: Spitfire Pilot Identified

British Second World War Spitfire Pilot Identified and Reburied with Full Military Honours after DNA Testing at Cellmark

Warrant Officer John Henry ’Harry’ Coates died in Italy in 1945 after his fighter plane was shot down by anti-aircraft gunfire. The Spitfire and WO Coates’ remains were discovered in 2017 by local enthusiasts from a group called Romagna Air Finders.

After the number on the Spitfire (PT 410) matched that of the records for WO Coates, the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC), which traces and identifies British servicemen from both world wars and other conflicts, contacted Cellmark.   Cellmark was provided with samples from the pilot’s remains together with DNA samples from his surviving relatives.  Cellmark was able to obtain DNA profile information over 70 years after the incident, enabling the remains of WO Coates to be formally identified and reburied.

WO Coates, who came from York was given a funeral with full military honours at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery in the city of Padua, close to where his Spitfire crashed. His niece and several other relatives attended the ceremony in March 2019.

Cellmark forensics
Cellmark forensics

David Hartshorne, Managing Director at Cellmark commented “It was a great privilege to be able to support the JCCC by using our forensic DNA expertise to confirm the identification of this pilot, so that 74 years after his death he could be given a full military funeral”. 

The story of Warrant Officer John Henry Coates was well documented in the UK press in March 2019, including a feature in the Telegraph.


Published on 17/06/2019