Albania: British WWII airman’s remains identified, reburied

TIRANA, Albania (AP) — The few mortal remains of a World War II British air gunner were formally buried in a Tirana war cemetery Wednesday, following their discovery last year at the site where his bomber crashed in Albania and their subsequent identification.

Sergeant Peter Twiddy was laid to rest at the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery — a British war cemetery — on what would have been exactly his 100th birthday, and the 78th anniversary of the crash.

The British Embassy in Tirana organized a funeral service, also attended by a detachment from the Albanian army and a military band.

Twiddy died aged 22 when his Halifax bomber from the RAF’s 148 Squadron went down on Oct. 20, 1943 in Dukat commune, 200 kilometers (120 miles) southwest of Tirana. All nine people on board were killed in the crash, which was probably due to engine failure.

The bomber had set off from its base at Tocra in Libya as part of an operation code-named “Sapling 7” to drop supplies and agents for British special forces and resistance groups in Albania.

The aircraft crashed into a mountain near Dukat.

“The exact cause of the crash is not known. But we believe that one of the engines may have failed,” U.K. ambassador Alastair King-Smith said.

Seven aircrew and two special operation members who were to have been parachuted in with the supplies died. “Sapling 7” leader Maj. Gerry Field later landed and buried all nine in shallow graves around the aircraft.

After the war, three graves were found and the remains taken to the local graveyard, and later reburied at the Tirana Park Memorial Cemetery. The other six bodies remained lost and the men’s names are inscribed at the Alamein Memorial in Egypt.

Last year a local Albanian farmer found a bone at the site and notified a local archaeologist who in turn informed the embassy.

Further excavation recovered bones, as well as pieces of the plane and old ammunition.

A bone sample was taken to the U.K. to be tested and compared against DNA from living relatives of the missing six, and was identified as belonging to Twiddy.

Twiddy was born Oct. 20, 1921 in Stockwell, Surrey and lost his life on his 22nd birthday.

A clerk, Twiddy enlisted with the RAF in July 1940.

None of his close family members was present at the ceremony “due to health problems,” according to embassy staff.

“Sergeant Twiddy, on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen and all our armed forces, I salute you for your sacrifice,” King-Smith said at the ceremony. “You are the exemplar of all the young British, Albanian and other allied nations who give their lives to liberate others and to protect us all.”

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