RAF pilot to be remembered after ten-year campaign

Heroic RAF pilot Russell Lyon. Pic: contributed

Heroic RAF pilot Russell Lyon. Pic: contributed

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A NAMED headstone will mark the grave of an RAF pilot shot down by German gunners during the Second World War following a decade-long campaign.

Flying Officer Ernest Russell Lyon, 21, crashed into a farmer’s field in occupied France in July 1944, and his body was buried two days later at Guidel Communal Cemetery.

When the war ended, his grave was marked by a simple headstone inscribed with the words “An Airman of the 1939-45 War, Royal Air Force, 29th July, 1944, Known unto God”.

For years, Russell’s nephew, Richard Lyon, from Cambridge, has spearheaded a drive to see this anonymous grave inscribed with the war hero’s name to preserve his memory.

Now, after almost ten years, an engraved headstone will be erected at the burial during a ceremony next year.

Ernest Russell Lyon, who grew up in Colinton and attended George Heriot’s and George Watson’s College, was 18 years old when he volunteered to join the RAF in 1941.

He had served with 234 Squadron for more than a year before being shot down and his boyish good looks had earned him the nickname “Ben Lyon” after the Hollywood actor of the same name.

In 2006, Richard decided to track down the body of his fallen uncle – a search that eventually led him to the French grave.

But strict rules surrounding identifying graves meant the 66-year-old had to prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the burial pit was Russell’s last resting place – something that proved next to impossible. It was only after the Ministry of Defence was persuaded to overhaul its rules in 2012 to allow for “convincing evidence” that the site was formally accepted.

Mr Lyon said: “There was my uncle with no known grave and I just personally thought it was my duty to try to get the grave positively identified. Little did I know the path I would go down. If someone had said to me ten years ago that I would change MoD procedure I would have been speechless.

“But it’s absolutely satisfying, we are absolutely chuffed that it has ended this way. It’s going to be marvellous next year when we have the ceremony at the grave side. The only sad thing is my grandfather and my father will not be around to see it.”

An MoD spokeswoman said: “The MoD is committed to ensuring those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country have a dignified final resting place, wherever possible marked with their name.

“We are pleased that we have now been able to agree to a memorial to FO Lyon stating he is ‘buried near this spot’.”

alistair.grant@edinburghnews.com