06 May 2008

Sister sees war hero brother laid to rest

By Isabel Conway, The Hague

It was her mother’s dying wish. Peggy Kehoe, 88, fought for decades to find the remains of her war hero brother — killed when an RAF bomber ploughed into a Dutch potato field in 1941 — and have him brought home to Ireland for burial in consecrated ground, which is what their mother always wanted for her beloved son.

Yesterday, Mrs Kehoe arrived in Holland to see at least part of that wish granted. Her brother Sgt John (Jack) Kehoe was just 20 when his Hampden bomber was shot down by a German night fighter in 1941. He will be laid to rest at last, together with an English-born comrade Stanley Mullenger, whose remains also lay in the deeply buried wreckage, undisturbed for more than 66 years.

Instead of being interred in the Kehoe family grave in Tullamore, Co Offaly, Jack Kehoe will be buried with full military honours in one of Holland’s many military cemeteries tomorrow.

Mrs Kehoe, determined to honour their mother’s deathbed plea to have Jack returned to Ireland, said: “it would have been wonderful to get him home and buried in our family grave with my mother, but we have the next best thing, he will rest in peace now in consecrated ground with his comrades”.

Last September, following a long search for the crash site, and years of negotiations to have the remains recovered, the bomber Sgt Kehoe was aboard was raised in a 1 million excavation, outside the north Holland village of Berkhout.

Hopes were high that his remains could eventually be repatriated. But the cost and feasibility of doing so appeared to rule that out.

An estimated 11,000 British planes came down in the Netherlands during the Second World War, more than half of them in north Holland, where remains have been left undisturbed in field graves, or when found are interred in one of the many war cemeteries. After the remains were exhumed outside the village of Berkhout in late September, further investigation showed that the excavated bones were badly deteriorated and the Dutch authorities said that it would be impossible, without years of further examination, to separate the two sets of remains. It was then decided to have both airmen interred at a nearby Commonwealth military war cemetery, re-uniting them with the other crew members — buried in Bergen in 1941.

“Getting him home to Ireland would have been a dream come true, but I am still delighted that we managed to find my brother after all those years and he will have a Christian burial and be laid to rest with his comrades,” said Mrs Kehoe.

“It was a long search, with many false leads and disappointments, but I am more than satisfied and our mother would also be so happy.”

Source: Irish Examiner.com, Irish Times, The Star and Irish Daily Mail, May 6, 2008