A YOUNG war hero who was killed when his Spitfire was shot down by enemy fire is to be laid to rest 74-years after he perished in a foreign land.

Warrant Officer John Henry Coates of 111 Squadron was declared missing in action after the RAF aircraft he was piloting crashed close to the village of Cavarzere on the outskirts of Venice, Italy, in March 1945.

But more than seven decades later he is set to be given a military funeral which will be attended by around 22 relatives after his body was discovered by Italian aviation archaeologists.

His immediate family all died without knowing how or where the 24-year-old solider, of York, was killed.

But it has now be revealed that WO Coates, known as Harry, had been taking part in the dawn bombing of barges moored on a canal when his plane was targeted by anti-aircraft fire and exploded on impact with the ground.

His name was engraved on the Malta War Memorial, a 49ft column commemorating the 2,298 Commonwealth aircrew who lost their lives around the Mediterranean and who have no known grave.

It was in October 2017 that WO Coates' remains were discovered by members of the Romagna Air Finders, an organisation which recovers WWII aircraft.

An appeal to find his descendants was launched and after one of his relatives spotted a story in a local newspaper his family finally learnt of his resting place.

WO Coates' 65-year-old niece Helen Watts, whose mother Molly Dearlove was the hero's younger sister, said: "Myself and my siblings grew up knowing that our uncle had gone missing towards the end of WWII.

"It is absolutely amazing that he has been found all these years later. This is the kind of thing that only ever happens to someone else.

"We had always thought his plane had gone down close to Lake Como, so it was a surprise he was discovered elsewhere.

"Sadly none of his siblings, including my mother, lived to see the day. They would have been thrilled by the news.

"My mother didn't even realise his name was on the Malta War Memorial.

"The whole family is delighted that he will now be given a hero's burial. We are expecting the funeral to be a very moving and special ceremony."

WO Coates, who had no children but three brothers and three sisters, will be laid to rest at Padua War Cemetery on Wednesday, March 27.

He was born in 1921 and had worked as a draughtsman in the Civil Engineers Department of The London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) in York while living at home with his parents John and Eliza Coates.

Although in a reserved occupation he chose to volunteer for the RAF and he trained as a pilot.

By early 1945 he was flying Spitfire Mark 1Xs with 111 Squadron. He was based near Rimini supporting operations to drive the German forces out of Italy.

On the day of his death he should have been on leave but tragically swapped duties to fly with a team of 6 RAF Spitfires on a mission to target barges.

He never married or had children and had no direct descendants but there are at least 62 known blood relatives.

The Romagna Air Finder are a group of Italian aviation archaeologists who have recovered various WWII aircraft.

WO Coates' plane was discovered at a site near Cavarzere, which was excavated by the organisation after they were told by locals an aircraft had crashed there in the 1940s.

48-year-old Alessandro Voltolina, of Romagna Air Finder, said: "We were working on the excavation of a different WWII aircraft when when the son of an eyewitness told me where another had crashed.

"As a result I started a search for that unknown plane. It is always a matter of great satisfaction when you find the location and all your efforts are rewarded.

"WO Coates is the 6th or 7th pilot I have found. His discovery means he may now rest with all the other youngsters who lost their lives in Italy and are too often forgotten.

"I hope it means much happiness for his family as now they know where he rests. He has become a pilot killed in action rather than a pilot missing in action. His story now has an ending."

Shelagh Coates, 70, another niece of WO Coates, of South Lincolnshire, said: "We are very grateful to Romagna Air Finders for finding the missing plane of our uncle.

"It is a great honour for us to finally put him to rest in the Padua War cemetery.

"His burial will be attended by many of his nephews and nieces."