Irish gunner to be laid to rest

An Irish gunner killed when his bomber crashed during World War II is to be laid to rest in the Netherlands later.

His sister, Margaret Walsh, 88, from Tullamore, County Offaly, will make the journey to Bergen on Wednesday for the funeral of her brother.

RAF Sergeant John Kehoe who was shot down in November 1941, is to be laid to rest with full military honours.

His mother Ellen, who passed away in 1947, had wanted to see her son buried on consecrated ground.

The 19-year-old, known as Jack, was part of a four-man Hampden bomber crew shot down near the occupied Dutch coast on November 8 1941 while on a mission to northern Germany.

The bodies of two of the men who bailed out seconds before the impact, Warrant Officer Christopher Saunders and Sergeant James D'Arcy, were recovered and buried at the time.

But Sgt Kehoe and crewmate Sgt Stanley Mullenger, from Barking, Essex, were trapped inside the plane when it crashed.

Their bodies remained inside the wreckage when the Germans had the crater filled in.

But following a long-running campaign spearheaded by Mrs Walsh and her daughter Margaret Tracey, from Naas, County Kildare, the plane was finally excavated by Dutch air force specialists last year.

Mrs Walsh once hoped to be able to bring her brother back to Ireland for burial.

But as the two men's remains were impossible to accurately separate after so many years they are to be buried in the same coffin alongside the bodies of WO Saunders and Sgt D'Arcy at Bergen General Cemetery.

Mrs Walsh, who will be accompanied by 16 members of her family, is planning to spend a few moments alone with the coffin to pay her respects before the ceremony takes place.

"I would like to say goodbye to him after all these years," she said.

"It will be the finish of a long fight and it is all thanks to my daughter Margaret, she did all the work."

Because his body was not found, Sgt Kehoe's family continued to hope he had been taken prisoner for several years until it was clear he was dead.

Their loss came at a time when Irishmen who had served the British Crown faced antagonism from their fellow countrymen.

But Mrs Tracey said: "Seventy years on it's about the people and not politics."

Mrs Walsh told how the family had been expecting an imminent visit from Sgt Kehoe to introduce his English fiancee Mary to the family when he was killed.

"He was three times coming and each time the leave was cancelled and then he was coming before Christmas, he was definitely coming and Mum said 'when you are on the road let us know'.

"Mum saw the telegraph boy at the gate and she went out and met him.

"She thought he was coming home. She brought the wire in, she couldn't find her glasses.

"She ripped it open and it said 'we deeply regret to announce that Sergeant John Kehoe is missing'.

"He was a nice boy, he was a well-loved boy."

Sgt Kehoe's then fiancee Mary Wrighton, 85, is still alive but too frail to travel although she will be represented by her daughter.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/05/07 08:09:21 GMT