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Remains of British Burma and Korean War fighter ace handed over by North Korea

The Daily Telegraph reports (05 May 2011) that the presumed remains of Flight Lieutenant Desmond Hinton DFC, who lay buried in an unmarked grave outside the North Korean capital Pyongyang for more than 50 years, have been handed over to British diplomats.

Flt Lt Desmond Hinton, then 29, was shot down on January 2 1952 as he attempted to strafe a column of trucks north of Pyongyang during the 1950-53 Korean War where he was one of 41 RAF officers seconded to serve with the US Air Force.

His body was discovered in 2002 buried in a field near where his F84e "Thunderjet" crashed to earth after being hit by anti-aircraft fire during the engagement outside the village of Sunan, close to what is now Pyongyang's international airport.

RAF archives from the time offered hope that F/Lt Hinton - who won a Distinguished Flying Cross for shooting down two Japanese Mitsubishi Zero fighters over Burma during WWII - might have successfully ejected from the aircraft, but these proved false.

"He called that his plane was hit and he would have to bail out. He jettisoned his canopy and two pilots saw the seat was empty which makes me beleive [sic] that Des got clear of the seat," wrote Col. Paul Mitchell, his commanding officer.

"His parachute was not seen, however, he was wearing an all white shute and the ground was completely covered with snow. This would have made it difficult to see the opened parachute.

"The other pilots circled the area for some time and the could not locate Des. I personally feel that he made it O.K. and I feel he will be held until the cease fire talks become a reality ..."

In 2004 Flt Lt Hinton's younger brother, David, was allowed to visit the gravesite in North Korea, laying flowers on the grave. Photos show a mound of earth behind a neat white picket fence in the corner of a maize field.

As a souvenir, Mr Hinton was given a scrap of the flying suit that his brother, who left a widow and two small children, was wearing at the time of his death.

"I was very close to my brother who was very much my role model and a father figure to me. I have never stopped missing him every single one of the 57 years since he died," he told Michael Rank, a retired journalist and member of the Anglo-Korean Society, in 2009.

"A tour lasted about three months. They were short of replacements, so Desmond offered to do a second tour and it was on his second tour that he was shot down and killed," added Mr Hinton, himself a retired RAF pilot, "There's an old maxim in the armed forces, 'Never volunteer.'"

The handover of the remains is a rare piece of positive news in North Korea's relations with the outside world, as the bankrupt Stalinist dictatorship labours under punitive UN sanctions imposed after a series of illegal missile and nuclear bomb tests in 2009.

KCNA, the official North Korean news agency, said Britain had expressed "deep gratitude" to North Korea, adding that "such cooperation would mark a good occasion in developing the relations between the two countries".

A British Embassy spokeswoman in Seoul said that the British government had been "very pleased" with the level of co-operation from Pyongyang.

The remains will now be sent to a US forensics laboratory in Hawaii for DNA testing to confirm they were those of Flt Lt Hinton, she added, with results expected with two to three months.

If confirmed, the body would finally be laid to rest in the UN Memorial Cemetery in the South Korean city of Busan, unless relatives requested repatriation to Britain.

In all, some 58,000 British servicemen served during the war as part of United Nations forces defending South Korea, and 1,109 of them were killed.

The only other British remains to be repatriated from the North Korean side were those of a private, in 1995, according to KCNA.

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