Italians find remains of British soldiers thought to have died in WWII commando raid led by Duke of Wellington

Nick Squires
Researchers found human remains along with clips of bullets and military buckles in an area of countryside close to Salerno in southern Italy. - Salerno 1943

The remains of two British soldiers thought to have been killed in a Second World War commando assault led by a descendant of the Duke of Wellington have been found in Italy. 

The remains were found near a German stronghold that was nicknamed Pimple Hill by Allied forces, who encountered fierce resistance as they tried to take the position after landing at nearby Salerno in 1943.

The human bones were discovered after researchers equipped with metal detectors found bullet casings and metal buckles buried beneath the soil.

The researchers are members of a group called Salerno 1943, which specialises in searching for the remains of German and Allied soldiers who died in the campaign.

They believe the British soldiers were part of a commando unit, led by Captain Henry Valerian George Wellesley, the 6th Duke of Wellington, that attempted to take the hill. “In the attempt to take the position the British commandos, led by the Duke of Wellington, lost many men during several assaults,” the historians said in a statement.

In one of the assaults the 31-year-old duke , 31, was hit by a burst of Spandau machine gun fire and died of his wounds. He is buried in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Salerno.

The researchers said that while they thought it likely the remains belonged to two soldiers, there was a possibility that they belonged to just one man.  They were widely dispersed, suggesting he could have been blown up by an explosion from a shell or a mortar.

The amateur historians informed local police, who collected as many bones as they could find.

The Ministry of Defence has been notified of the discovery and has requested photos of the human remains. A spokesman said DNA testing could be used to identify the soldiers and the unit they were fighting with.

But it could take months or even years to positively identify the servicemen – as it did in the recent case of a Coldstream Guards soldier, Lance Corporal Ronald George Blackham.

Lance Corporal Ronald Blackham was killed near Salerno in 1943. His remains were only recently identified. - Credit: MoD

His remains were found in 2014 but it was only in January this year that he was positively identified, after DNA samples were taken from surviving relatives and army records were scrutinised.

L/Cpl Blackham, who was from Northwich in Cheshire, was just 22 when he was killed in September 1943. Around 20 of his relatives will attend a memorial service in Salerno on March 16.

The landings at Salerno, south of Naples, were part of the Allied invasion of mainland Italy and followed the successful invasion of Sicily from North Africa.