Coates crew grave marker. Courtesy of David Chapman.

After an RAF grave had been identified and registered by an Army Graves Registration unit, a temporary wooden (or sometimes steel) cross was erected.

If the grave was a communal one (because the inhabitants of it had not yet been individually identified), a communal marking was made.

The picture above of the communal marker for the COATES crew in Woensel cemetery, Eindhoven, Holland, was taken before the Imperial War Graves Commission replaced the temporary wooden crosses seen in the background with the permanent headstones that give the cemetery such a different appearance today.

The Coates crew were members of 97 Squadron of THE PATHFINDERS who were all killed on 25 March 1944 after their Lancaster was shot down.

Before the permanent markers were erected, the RAF Missing Research search officers had clearly managed to identify all the crew individually except William Chapman and John Baldwin, who today share a joint tombstone with the intertwined ensignia of both the RCAF and the RAF.

chapman and baldwin joint grave
Joint grave for Baldwin and Chapman, December 2014. Courtesy of Glyn Elston.

During the post-war work by the RAF to verify the crew’s identity, the local Dutch people gave testimony to the search officers about rings and a watch which had once belonged to the crew, together with the initials which had been engraved upon them. Description was the only evidence available because unfortunately all the items had subsequently been lost.

In addition, a local man gave the search officers pieces of the aircraft wreckage, amongst which was part of the starboard fin. This had a a plate with a number on it, which could be cross-referenced back to the aircraft’s manufacture, and which confirmed beyond doubt that this was Coates’s aircraft.

Notifying Coates’s family in 1946 of the confirmation of the crew’s grave, the Air Ministry Casualty Branch told them it had been established by means of a signet ring and the number on the aircraft wreckage. It may be that around that point the families of all the crew members received the above photograph of the communal grave marker. The one shown here is the one which was sent to the Chapman family.

Coates crew graves
Coates crew graves in December 2014. Courtesy of Glyn Elston.