He went down in the history books as an RAF hero.
But until now experts had never been able to trace the family of Hugh Campbell, a Belfast airman who was buried on a remote island after being killed in the final months of the Second World War.
Now, after an appeal by the Belfast Telegraph, the relatives of this long-forgotten war hero can finally bring home his remains.
To James Campbell and Hugh McKenna, Warrant Officer Hugh Campbell was just their Uncle Hughie — a distant relative who sent postcards from exotic locations where he was stationed during the war.
After his death in May 1945 Mr Campbell was buried in a mass grave on the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean, marking the spot his bomber was shot down by Japanese forces.
The grave site, which had been lost in the remote jungle, was recently brought to the attention of the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) by an amateur World War Two researcher, who launched an urgent appeal for surviving relatives of Mr Campbell.
Nearly 66 years after his death, the Belfast Telegraph has tracked down two descendants of our local hero, nephews James and Hugh, who said they were “stunned” to read about their uncle’s exploits.
“Everyone’s called Hugh in our family,” explained Hugh. “But I knew as soon as I read the article that it was him. We knew he |was shot down somewhere near there and the name rang a bell. I didn’t know much about him because I was only a child when he died, but I did know that he was an interesting guy.
“There is family folklore that the last message they got from him was that he was going in the plane that day. I always thought ‘poor sod’ — he made it so close to the end of the war and then he died.”
The two cousins, now retired and living in Finaghy and Holywood, rarely see each other and said it was “amazing” to be reunited over their Uncle Hughie’s bravery.
James said: “It’s incredible after all these years to hear what happened to him. I always knew his name — we got sent a scroll to commemorate his death and I remember that scroll was the first thing to go up on the wall in our living room any time it got repainted.” As the two shared |family mementos, they reminisced about their heroic uncle who lived in Clonard Gardens in Belfast in the early 1930s with his parents and five siblings, one of whom, Hugh’s mother Kathleen, is still alive.
A yellowed photo stands on the windowsill showing 33-year-old Hugh Campbell in his military uniform. “He’s a handsome fellow, isn’t he?” laughed James.”
Mr Campbell’s family said they would be delighted to see his grave exhumed, returning their uncle’s remains to Northern Ireland where they belong.
“We would absolutely be interested in getting him properly buried,” said Hugh. “If we could bring his remains back I assume they would go to the military cemetery. His mother is buried up in Milltown, so maybe somewhere near there.”