SIBLINGS who waited for years in the hope their brother had been taken prisoner and would eventually return to them alive have learned of his final resting place, 69 years after his bomber plane was brought down in Germany.
Freda Shave and Norman White, who now live in Fordingbridge but who were brought up in Ringwood, were just 13 and 20 when their devastated parents Victoria Doris and Charles Samuel White received the message their brother Raymond Charles, known as John, was missing, presumed killed, in April 1943.
The Air Ministry told the family, who were at the time living at 220 Christchurch Road in Ringwood, they thought Raymond’s plane had been lost over the North Sea near Holland.
Hopes Mr White said they all hoped for years Raymond had not been killed, and that he was a prisoner of war somewhere.
He had been too young to go to war, but Freda, who is now 90, had served with the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and his brother Percy, who died in his late 40s, had come back an amputee.
The family have been researching for decades to try to find out what happened to the 21-year-old wireless operator.
Now their search is over after the bomber, Lancaster ED427, was found by a team of German historians after a witness guided them to the site near Frankfurt.
A Rolls Royce engine and landing gear of the Lancaster bomber was found, and fragments of human bones in the cockpit.
Mr White, 82, who worked with his other brother Percy at Wellworthy’s in Ringwood years ago, said: “It’s very strange after all these years, because we never knew what happened exactly.
“It’s a relief in a way to know what actually happened. We were always told there was no known grave, but now my son Gary and Freda’s daughter Susan are planning to visit the grave once he’s buried.”
He added: “It did affect me. In those days you lived in hope, because there was no information.”
A man called Uwe Benkel led the search for the missing bomber. He said they felt obliged to find the missing men despite some opposition from the locals.
He told the Daily Telegraph: “A lot of people couldn't understand what we were doing and said things like why were we digging up British airmen who bombed our cities and killed our people?
“Our view is that this is past and history, it was 70 years ago. We are another generation. We do research on missing men who are still in the ground.
“It doesn't make a difference if they are German or British; they were young men who fought and died for their country for which they deserve a proper burial in a cemetery.”
Six other men, pilot Alex Bone, flight engineer Norman Foster, navigator Cyril Yelland, bomb aimer Raymond Rooney, air gunner Ronald Cope and air gunner Bruce Watt were also in the Lancaster, which was one of 327 bombers that took part in a raid on the Skoda armaments works at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
Returning to their base at RAF Fiskerton, Lincs, they came under fire from German anti-aircraft flak.
Eye-witness Peter Menges saw the plane on fire before it crashed into a field outside the village of Laumersheim, near Frankfurt, and exploded into a fireball. It was one of 36 bombers which failed to make it back to Britain that night.
The impact of the crash created a large crater in the ground. The German military recovered two of the bodies from the wreckage - thought to have been Sgt Cope and Canadian Pilot Officer Watt - and buried them.
After the war, the British Air Ministry tried to find the final resting place of the crew but with no success.
It was assumed their aircraft had crashed in the sea and their names were added to the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey dedicated to 20,000 servicemen with no known grave.
The British Embassy in Berlin has been made aware of the discovery. It is thought the remains of the men will be buried in the same coffin in a single grave at a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Germany.
Mr Benkel said: "I think it is right they share the same grave. These men flew together and died together. They should now rest together."