The family of a young British soldier killed as he stormed a German-held hill in southern Italy during the Second World War have spoken of their “euphoria” at finally being able to lay him to rest.
Lance Corporal Ronald George Blackham, of the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, was killed during a fierce battle on 25 September, 1943 as he fought to take Hill 270 near Salerno.
Just 22 when he died, his remains were found in February 2014 in a shallow grave near the village of Capezzano by a group of voluntary military historians.
Yesterday, more than 73 years on from his death, 19 members of his family – including younger sister Alma Williams, 80, nephew Michael Blackham, 63, and two-year-old great-grand-nephew Conan O’Grady – paid their final respects during a funeral at the Salerno War Cemetery, arranged by the MoD’s joint casualty and compassionate centre.
Speaking after the service, Mr Blackham said his uncle “couldn’t be in a better place” and that it was a relief for the family.
For Mrs Williams, from Weaverham in Cheshire – L/Cpl Blackham’s only living sibling well enough to attend – the long-awaited service brought euphoria, along with mixed feelings.
She said: “All these years it’s been part of my life and now it’s being laid to rest, thank God. He gave his life, he gave his ultimate for it – you can’t give more than he gave.”
She said: “He had come to tell us what he wanted and we have given him what he wanted. There is no other thing we could have done for him.”
The young soldier was laid to rest alongside two unknown soldiers from the same regiment and killed on the same day, taking the number of Second World War burials at the cemetery to 1,849.
Against a backdrop of the Salerno mountains where their forebears lost their lives, six young Coldstream Guardsmen carried their fallen brothers to their final resting places.
Draped in Union flags and adorned with regimental caps, belts and poppy wreaths – L/Cpl Blackham’s also carrying a display of his medals – the pallbearers gently laid the three coffins in front of the cemetery’s cross.
Coldstream Guards’ padre the Rev Jacob Caldwell lauded the men.
He said: “These three soldiers fought in difficult circumstances with courage and strength, and as we remember the sacrifice of them we call to mind the lives of all those who fought during the Second World War.”
During the battle the Guards suffered 120 casualties.