Search for Belfast war hero’s family after jungle gives up its dead 65 years on
Published 07/01/2011 | 17:00
It was the final months of the Second World War. British, American and Chinese forces had defeated the Japanese in northern Burma in March 1945.
As this was happening, 33-year-old Belfast airman Hugh Campbell was doing his bit, serving far from home as a wireless operator for the RAF.
He was one of 11 men flying in a 355 Squadron B-24 Liberator bomber involved in a low-altitude attack on Port Blair, South Andaman Island, on May 17, 1945.
Tragically, the men didn’t live to see the Allied victory as their plane was shot down by anti-aircraft fire during the raid, and Hugh Campbell and his comrades never came home.
Nearly 66 years later, the Belfast man’s remains could be reunited with his descendants with the possible exhumation of his grave on the tropical island paradise.
The Japanese are believed to have buried the airmen in a mass grave close to the crash site.
Only one of the crew, Sergeant Harold Wynne, escaped the attack after a successful parachute jump. Sadly, Sergeant Wynne was later captured and injected with poison by a sadistic Japanese medical officer shortly after Emperor Hirohito had announced the surrender.
British forces were said to have discovered the grave when they reoccupied the Andaman Islands in early October 1945.
They took the unusual decision at the time not to exhume the bodies and instead chose to mark the location with an engraved plaque detailing the names of the men.
For almost 60 years the mass grave of the brave flyers was visited only by natives and gradually the jungle swallowed it up and it was forgotten.
However, in a bizarre twist of fate, the airmen’s resting place was disturbed by the massive impact of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which saw huge swathes of the nearby coastline disappear.
As a result the jungle gravesite was routinely flooded by high tides, washing away the scrub, and was rediscovered by local people.
Eventually, it came to the attention of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The commission is now planning a site visit and the families of the other crew are hoping this will lead to an exhumation and that the remains will be reburied in a war cemetery.
However, the Belfast war hero’s family remain a mystery.
Now the Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) is appealing for relatives of Mr Campbell to contact it.
The organisation, which supports serving and former RAF personnel, explained that an official search for next-of-kin will only take place after an exhumation, which may take some time.
Matt Poole, an amateur RAF researcher who initially brought the case to light, said: “Time is the enemy here when trying to find elderly kin.
“Certainly, at 33 years old in 1945, Warrant Officer Campbell was older than most airmen.
“If he had siblings they would likely be very elderly, if they are alive still. But there could be nieces and nephews alive and living in the Belfast area. Finding any relative of Warrant Officer Campbell would be a great victory.”
Geneologists have suggested that he was originally from Oranmore Street in the Falls Road area of west Belfast, near Clonard monastery.
His parents were listed as Hugh and Elizabeth Campbell of Belfast and he had at least two brothers and a sister, John, William and Elizabeth.
Anyone who knows Mr Campbell’s family or has any information about possible descendants are urged to get in touch with the Belfast branch of RAFA on 028 9032 5718.