Nearly 66-years after his plane was shot down it is hoped that Belfast airman Hugh Campbell’s remains could be reunited with his family after the 2004 tsunami uncovered a mass grave once hidden by the jungle.
Hugh Campbell (33) was serving as a radio operator for the RAF. It was the final months of the Second World War and British, American and Chinese force had defeated the Japanese in northern Burma.
Campbell and 11 other men were shot down in their 355 Squadron B-24 Liberator bomber which was involved in a low-altitude attack on Port Blair, South Andaman Island, on May 17, 1945.
It is believed that the Japanese buried the airmen in a mass grave close to the crash site.
Sergeant Harold Wynne, one of the crew escaped the attack after a successful parachute jump. Sadly he was later captured and injected with poison by a Japanese medical officer shortly after Emperor Hirohito announced his surrender.
The mass grave was discovered by the British in October 1945 when they reoccupied the island. Instead of exhuming the bodies the British army erected a plaque at the site dedicated to the brave flyers. However, over the next 60 years the jungle swallowed their grave up.
In 2004 the St. Stephen’s Day tsunami disturbed the land and huge amounts of the nearby coastline disappeared. As a result the grave was rediscovered by the local people.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission are now planning a site visit with the families of the other crew. They hope to exhume their bodies and bury them in the war cemetery.
Unfortunately Hugh Campbell’s family remain unknown. The Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) are appealing to Mr Campbell’s relatives to come forward. They explained that an official search for his next-of-kin would take place after his exhumation but it could take some time.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Matt Poole, a researcher with the RAF 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.”
It has been suggested that he is originally from Oranmore Street in the Falls Road area of west Belfast, near Clonard monastery. His parents were Hugh and Elizabeth Campbell of Belfast and he had two brothers and a sister, John, William and Elizabeth.
Anyone with any information is asked to contact the Belfast branch of RAFA on +44 028 9032 5718.