British WWII pilot's wedding ring returned to family 70 years on

TIRANA (AFP) - The wedding ring of a British airman who disappeared during World War II was returned to his family Monday 70 years after his plane crashed in the mountains of Albania.

Aeronautical engineer John Thompson's Royal Air Force plane vanished in October 1944 and for decades his family, including his bride, knew nothing of his fate.

"Today, my brother came home," Dorothy Webster, 93, said through tears at a ceremony at Albania's defence ministry.

She held a small box containing her brother's ring, a stone from the crash site as well as a piece of the plane's wreckage.

Albanian Xhemil Cala (left) puts the ring of the British flight engineer Sergeant John Thompson, onto the finger of his sister Dorothy Webster, 92, during a ceremony held at the Ministry of Defence in Tirana on Monday. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

"We just knew he was serving somewhere in Libya or Italy but nothing more. One day he came to us presenting his bride and he soon left again," said Thompson's nephew Alan Webster, 63.

The airman's wife Joyce, who remarried two years after he disappeared, died of cancer in 1993 at age 70. The couple had only been married six months when Thompson, from Derbyshire in northern England, went missing.

His Royal Air Force Halifax bomber crashed in the mountains near Martanesh, some 60 kilometres southeast of Albania's capital Tirana. Its seven crew members were never heard from again.

The fate of the aircraft and crew remained a complete mystery until the summer of 1960.

At the time a villager named Jaho Cala, from the area where the plane went missing, was chopping wood and found a finger and a ring bearing the initials J&J, his son Xhemil Cala, 63, said.

"A bit further away there were some parts, probably of a plane, but we did not dare to talk (about it), it was the period of dictatorship" of late communist leader Enver Hoxha, Cala added. "My father carefully kept this ring and before dying begged me to find its owner."

Cala was faithful to his father's last wishes, which led him to contact the British embassy and start the process that led to the return of the ring.

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