On the 29th of October, 1944 during the last throes of World War II, Halifax (JP244S-S) crashed into a mountainside in Biza, Albania.
A part of the No.148 Squadron in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, the squadron took off from RAF Brindisi in Italy with the intention of dropping supplies to Special Operations Executives in Albania. These operatives were fighting side by side with Albanian partisan forces who were attempting to halt the advancement of the invading fascist forces. Codenamed ‘Operation Tinker’ the mission was doomed as after take-off, nothing further was ever heard from the seven crew members on board. As such, all were recorded as Killed in Action and commemorated upon the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s Malta memorial.
The applicable entry in the Secret Operations Record Book noted:
“Nothing further was heard from this aircraft and must be presumed lost. It was seen to drop its load on the target.”
Then in the 2017s, the crash site of Halifax JP244 was discovered near Biza, Tirana County by the Defence Section at the British Embassy Tirana. Amongst the remnants of the aircraft were the remains of all seven crew members- the mystery of their whereabouts finally being solved after almost 75 years. A positive identification of the crew was able to be made due to the discovery of the wedding ring belonging to Flight Sergeant John Thompson. The ring had been discovered in 1960 by Jaho Cala but he had kept it out of fear due to the wrath of the communist authorities at the time. The ring was returned to Flt Sgt Thompson’s sister, Dorothy Webster in 2015.
The British Embassy in Tirana, headed up by His Excellency Mr Duncan Norman MBE, in conjunction with the Uk Ministry of Defence’s Joint Casualty & Compassionate Centre held a funeral service on the 24th of October 2018. The service was held at the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery where a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone was laid as a sign of respect.
Eleni Kakkava from the CWGC said in a statement:
“The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is honoured to commemorate by name those airmen of 148 Squadron who flew and died together on 29 October 1944, on the Malta Air Forces Memorial. Today we are deeply moved to be able to lay members of the Crew of Halifax JP244 to rest in the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery and mark their grave with a CWGC headstone. We remember their sacrifice and that of all those who served and will care for their graves and their memory with dedication, forever.”
The funeral service was well attended by family members of the crew, British Defence Staff, RAF representatives, and staff from the CWGC.Follow The Balkanista!