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Saturday, 18 November, 2000, 18:42 GMT
Family's tears for Spitfire pilot
The Spitfire came down in northern Italy
Relatives of an RAF pilot killed during the Second World War have seen him laid to rest at an emotional service - 55 years after his death.

Flight Lieutenant Douglas Leitch, from Aberdeen, died instantly when his plane came down in northern Italy on 6 March 1945.

Only a few fragments of the 26-year-old's body and an identification disc were found in the aftermath of the crash at Medicina, near Bologna.

But in August this year, the rest of the pilot's remains - along with parts of his Spitfire fighter plane - were recovered from the soft clay of the River Po.

Flight Lieutenant Douglas Leitch
Flight Lieutenant Douglas Leitch died in 1945
His niece, Anne Pemberton from Hailsham, East Sussex, and nephew Michael Walsh, from Aberdeen, were among 200 mourners who paid their respects at a reburial and rededication ceremony at the British war cemetery in Ravenna on Saturday.

Sue Raftree, who helped trace the family and organise the trip for the Ministry of Defence, said it had been a fitting send-off.

"It was a very good tribute to a man who died fighting for his life," she said.

"His relatives, Anne and Michael, were moved to tears at times.

We are giving Flt Lt Leitch the honour that was due to him over 55 years ago

Group Captain James Grisdale
"It went extremely well. It was a sunny day, a lot of local people turned up and we were very lucky."

Group Captain James Grisdale, the Air Attache at the British Embassy in Rome, laid a wreath at the graveside. He said: "We are giving Flt Lt Leitch the honour that was due to him over 55 years ago.

"He died far from home, only two months before the final campaign to liberate Italy."

Flt Lt Leitch's Spitfire came down after it flew into an explosion as he attacked a supply line for Nazi German troops.

Most of his remains were left out of reach underwater when the Germans flooded the area.

Identification disc

The half-hour service was conducted in Italian and English, and accompanied by a bagpiper from Flt Lt Leitch's own 72 squadron.

His coffin, which contained the identification disc recovered from the scene of the crash, was carried by pallbearers from the 216 Squadron of the Brize Norton TriStar detachment at Ancona.

The discovery of the remains sparked huge interest in the community, with about 150 local people attending the ceremony.

A special exhibition was organised in honour of the pilot to show the sacrifices which were made in liberating Italy from Fascist rule.

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09 Sep 00 | UK
Spitfires regain the skies
02 May 98 | UK
Spitfires roar again
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