Very quickly local residents from nearby houses and the village of Castelnuovo
arrived at the crash site to try and help but all they found was a large black
hole and scattered debris. Soon a recovery team led by an army Major arrived to cordon
off the area and retrieve what they could-
Despite these difficulties though, the men who had to hand-
Desmond was initially listed as missing following news of the accident but soon his family was telegrammed by the War Office confirming his death in a flying accident. He was buried in Rivotorto military cemetery and his belongings returned to the family in Yorkshire. Just 6 months later the war was over.
And so Desmond and his exploits passed into history, his memory kept alive only by his family and one or two villagers in Castelnuovo who knew of the events of 19th November 1944.
In 2003 I started detailed research in to Desmond’s story following a series of interviews with Muriel. Her husband Jim had been a soldier in Italy and gone ashore during the landings at Salerno. He was eventually promoted to Captain and survived the war. His story and my conversations with Muriel led me to find out more about Desmond. In October 2006 I saw a post on the BBC’s commemorative website about a Spitfire (possibly Desmond’s) having been found in Italy by Romagna Air Finders. Eventually, having failed to find details of any relatives, a story broke in the press that led to the family’s contact with the M.o.D. A few months later, preparations were being made for Desmond’s re interment.
The commemoration ceremonies were scheduled to take place on the 9th of June 2007, a date agreed with the local authorities in Assisi who moved their annual liberation ceremony back to coincide with, and provide a back drop to, Desmond’s reburial. A special memorial stone had been commissioned and placed at the edge of the field where he died, ready to be formally unveiled on the morning of June 9th. The evening before though, while visiting the crash site alone, I met a stranger, an elderly gentleman in his early eighties who had not been at the press conference that afternoon with everyone else. Who was he and why did he claim to know about the accident?
Above: The Queen’s Colour Squadron at Desmond’s grave in Rivotorto attended by family and dignitaries from home and abroad
Left: Desmond’s headstone in Rivotorto Military Cemetery near Assisi.