70-year search for missing airman could be over

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The sister of a long lost World War Two airman was ‘shocked’ to discover his final resting place may have been found after 70 years.

Dorothy Webster, aged 91, had given up hope of ever hearing anything about her brother Flight Sergeant John Thompson, after he was declared ‘missing in action’ following a mission over the Balkans on October 29, 1944 – until she saw an appeal for information about him in last week’s Mercury.

The 23–year–old was believed to be a flight engineer on an RAF Halifax Ml11 of the 148 Squadron.

Chris Casey of the US Embassy in Tirana, Albania, contacted the paper after a crash site of an aeroplane was recently discovered in the Albanian mountains, with a wedding ring nearby with the names ‘John and Joyce’ inscribed in it.

Now it seems the wedding ring may indicate the last resting place of John Thompson, of Darley Dale.

Dorothy, who lives in Matlock Green, said when her brother went missing her father James Thompson never gave up hope of finding him and travelled to the War Office in London on numerous occasions to ask for information, but without any success.

“My mother (Elizabeth) always kept the back door open just in case John came home,” she added.

Dorothy said her brother married a girl called Joyce, from Hackney, in London, who he met while she was at St Elphin’s School, in Darley Dale.

The pair married only a short time before he disappeared and Dorothy never got to meet her sister–in–law, but when her father attempted to give her John’s personal affects after he went missing she wouldn’t take them.

“He was a great brother – very clever,” she remembered.

Wray–Emma Jones, of Matlock Bath, is John’s great niece, and said John’s disappearance has been remembered throughout the generations of the family.

“All of us know about it – the story has been passed down from generation to generation,” she said.

John Thompson was one of 11 children and three of his sisters are still living – Sadie, Dorothy and Mary.

Another member of the family, Kevin Thompson, said John was his uncle.

He said: “He was a flight sergeant and moved into he RAF and his accent changed from North Derbyshire to a posh accent apparently.

The family lived in Lime Tree Avenue, Darley Dale, and John Thompson’s name is on the cenotaph in Whitworth Park.

Kevin added that his name also appears on a war memorial in Malta, where he was based at one point.

Arthur Gilbert, who is originally from Darley Dale, but now lives in Youlgrave, grew up with John Thompson.

“We were in the same class and Darley Churchtown School and we were drafted at about the same time,” the 91–year–old said.

He said that he even has a video footage of John Thompson performing in a film made by the choir master at Darley Dale Church.

“He was a cheery little lad and he came from a big family,” Arthur remembered.

“It was very sad to hear that he had never returned from war.”