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Dublin People helps solve mystery of Irish pilot lost in World War 2

The mystery story of a Dublin born airman killed in World War II was finally solved with a little help from Dublin People.

On July 30 1941 Irish fighter pilot Edmund Seymour Burke’s plane went down near Norway.

The Dubliner had been based on HMS Furious protecting Russian ships from Nazi attacks as they brought food and military supplies through the Baltic Sea just off the Norwegian coast.

The Nazis had several naval bases in the fjords nearby which made any attempts to rescue sub-lieutenant Burke and his co-pilot, leading airman James Beardsley, almost impossible.

Even though their colleagues on HMS Furious saw the two airmen getting into a dingy they were sadly forced to leave them for dead due to the presence of Nazi planes and submarines.

Burke’s family never found out what happened to their eldest son.

All they knew was that he had died in the war.

And that was where the story ended for almost 80 years.

Until 2017 when a Russian journalist informed staff at the British Consulate in Moscow of his discovery of two unmarked graves on the Rybachy Peninsula in Northern Russia.

The graves simply noted that “two unknown English airmen” were buried there.

The Consulate and the Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) set about identifying the two airmen.

Following much painstaking research, they eventually concluded the two graves belonged to Burke and Beardsley.

The two young pilots had drifted along the coast of Norway before their dingy beached in Rybachy, a bleak and desolate peninsula jutting out from the northernmost part of continental European Russia.

Nomadic travelers on the peninsula reportedly found the men’s dead bodies in the dingy when it washed ashore.

Despite pitching into the sea in the middle of summer, conditions were still bitterly cold and the two young pilots are thought to have died from hypothermia.

Now that the Consulate and the JCCC had put names to the two unmarked graves in this barren corner of Russia, the next task was to find the men’s relatives, however distant they may be.

Edmund Seymour Burke’s grave on the Rybachy Peninsula in in Northern Russia. Picture credit Robbie Fry.

The Ministry of Defence and the JCCC were holding a re-dedication ceremony at Lee-on-Solent in south England in August 2017 to commemorate the two airmen and were hopeful that some descendants could represent Burke and Beardsley.

The JCCC placed an advert in Dublin People to find the long-lost relatives of Edmund Seymour Burke, and the story was ultimately picked up by the Ryan Tubridy Show.

Maureen Hayes, whose mother was Burke’s maternal first cousin, heard the JCCC’s plea on the Ryan Tubridy Show and came forward as one of Burke’s relatives.

Hayes told IrishCentral that she had heard stories of Burke growing up and that she knew he had died during the war but said that she didn’t know any more of his story.

“Even his mother and father didn’t know how died.

“They never knew anything other than the fact that he was shot down,” Hayes said.

Hayes attended the re-dedication ceremony in Lee-on-Solent, near Portsmouth, and said that the service helped to bring closure.

“They had never been properly commemorated, so it was lovely,” she said.

Meanwhile, Finders International, a genealogy company that tracks down long-lost heirs and beneficiaries. also heard the JCCC’s plea on the Ryan Tubridy Show and set about locating Burke’s relatives.

Maeve Mullin, a senior researcher at Finders International, tracked down Robbie Fry – one of Burke’s relatives on his father’s side.

Fry’s father was Burke’s first cousin and he had learned about the airman from very old family photographs.

Fry told IrishCentral that three of Burke’s first cousins were still alive when his body was discovered and that he had to ring each of them to tell them the news.

He said all three cousins were naturally surprised when he told them the news.

“It was almost like hearing the news again for them,” Fry said.

Two of Burke’s first cousins attended the re-decoration service at Lee-on-Solent.

Fry didn’t attend the ceremony in Lee-on-Solent, but he did inform Andrew Furlong – a distant relative of his – who subsequently attended a special ceremony at the Vaida Bay Military Cemetery on the Rybachy Peninsula, where Burke and Beardsley are buried.

Furlong extensively researched Burke’s life and discovered that the tragic pilot wanted to be an actor when the war was over.

He had been studying at Pembroke College in Oxford when the war broke out but never got to complete his studies.

In a further devastating blow for his family, Burke’s younger brother Ian Campbell Burke was shot down and killed while returning from a bombing raid over Germany just two months after Edmund went missing off the coast of Norway.

With thanks to

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