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Grave of German pilot has new headstone - 75 years on from death in Lowestoft

PUBLISHED: 10:00 24 November 2018 | UPDATED: 10:20 24 November 2018

Aviation historian Bob Collis at the new headstone in Lowestoft, which details Leutnant Eberhard Pleiss. Picture: Bob Collis

Aviation historian Bob Collis at the new headstone in Lowestoft, which details Leutnant Eberhard Pleiss. Picture: Bob Collis

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It is an “extraordinary story” that started in the wartime skies over Lowestoft and “has now come full circle.”

Leutnant Eberhard Pleiss. Picture: Pleiss familyLeutnant Eberhard Pleiss. Picture: Pleiss family

For 75 years ago the body of a young German pilot was washed ashore and buried in Lowestoft after his plane crashed in the sea while on a wartime minelaying mission.

Now a new headstone bearing his name and details has been unveiled – replacing the headstone that was previously marked “A German serviceman.”

The Pleiss family in 1942. Picture: Pleiss familyThe Pleiss family in 1942. Picture: Pleiss family

And local aviation historian Bob Collis, who has spent decades researching the story, admitted that the pilot’s family finally have closure.

Leutnant Eberhard Pleiss was on his very first operation when his Do 217 bomber was caught in a searchlight beam as it crashed into the sea off Ness Point at Lowestoft on May 11, 1943.

The headstone Ein Deutscher Soldat - A German serviceman - as it previously was in Lowestoft. Picture: Bob CollisThe headstone Ein Deutscher Soldat - A German serviceman - as it previously was in Lowestoft. Picture: Bob Collis

Later, two bodies were washed ashore, and one was identified as Willi Stocker, the Observer from Lt Pleiss’s bomber. However, the other body could not be positively identified.

In 1991 a chance remark by a builder working on a house in Hastings, Victoria in Australia brought local aviation historian Bob Collis into contact with Erica Slater, Eberhard’s sister. “

The new headstone in Lowestoft details Leutnant Eberhard Pleiss. Picture: Bob CollisThe new headstone in Lowestoft details Leutnant Eberhard Pleiss. Picture: Bob Collis

Mr Collis said: “Erica and her sister Gisela came to Lowestoft in 1993 and visited the graves. Like me they were convinced the man in grave 522 was their brother but the Commonwealth War Graves Commission took years of obbying before they finally agreed to replace the headstone with one bearing his name.”

In May, Nicky Frowen – a niece of the German pilot – who lives in Southampton, visited the grave for the 75th anniversary and was taken to Ness Point to see the area where her uncle’s plane went down.

Mr Collis said: “Nicky told me she felt her 89-year-old mother Erica was only holding on until this is done. The new headstone arrived on September 27 and I immediately emailed pictures to Nicky in Australia.

“Erica saw the pictures of her brother’s headstone and told all her family in Australia and Germany.

“Nicky messaged me on October 27 to tell me her mother had died. Her elder sister Gisela passed away in Germany on November 6 so all three siblings are now together again.”

Mr Collis added: “He may have been flying for Hitler and Nazi Germany but this young man has relatives now living in England, Australia and Germany, and for them this is the final chapter.

“It finally removes the doubt of not knowing what happened to Eberhard.

“The new headstone closes the book on an extraordinary story which began in the wartime skies over Lowestoft and has now come full circle.”

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