He poses proudly in his RAF uniform and also looks down from the cockpit of his Second World War fighter plane, perhaps ready for a mission against the Desert Fox himself, Erwin Rommel.
These are the first pictures of 24-year-old Flight Sergeant Denis Copping, the wartime pilot who crash-landed his plane in the Sahara and then walked off across the sands to his death.
His story came to light last week when pictures of his Kittyhawk P-40 were published. The battered but well-preserved wreckage was found in the Western Sahara – 70 years after the plane came to grief. It was believed that Flt Sgt Copping had no surviving relatives, but The Mail on Sunday found his nephew, whose family album contains these poignant photographs.
William Pryor-Bennett revealed that, until now, the fate of his uncle had been a mystery because all the family had been told officially was that he was ‘missing in action’.
‘The discovery of my uncle’s plane has been more of a shock than I thought it would be after all this time,’ said Mr Pryor-Bennett, 62, whose mother Edna was Flt Sgt Copping’s sister.
‘Our generation all speculated whether he was still alive somewhere. Obviously the answer was no.
‘Looking down into the cockpit and seeing the joystick, thinking that Uncle Denis was actually manipulating that and sitting in there, is very moving.’
He added: ‘My mother used to call him her darling little brother. She said he was a very nice, quiet boy, not at all boisterous. They were amazed when he signed up.
‘Even though I was born after he had died, we used to talk about him a lot. We used to have a photograph on the mantelpiece and flowers were placed next to it at Christmas and on his birthday.’
In 1942 Flt Sgt Copping was a member of the RAF’s 260 Squadron, a fighter unit based in Egypt during the North Africa campaign. By June that year the Allies were retreating from Rommel’s German forces.
On June 28, Flt Sgt Copping and another airman were ordered to fly two damaged Kittyhawks from one British airbase in northern Egypt to another for repair, but he lost his bearings, went off course and was never seen again.
It is thought he survived the crash and used his parachute for shelter before making a doomed attempt to find help – but he was about 200 miles from the nearest town.
The American-made fighter was discovered earlier this year by a Polish oil worker. The RAF Museum at Hendon, North London, is now trying to recover the plane.
Mr Pryor-Bennett, who runs a cafe in Kinsale, Co Cork, said he hoped his uncle’s remains would be found and brought to Britain for burial.
Flt Sgt Copping is thought to have taken what little he could from the plane and then wandered into the emptiness. From that day, the mystery of what happened to the dentist’s son from Southend was lost, in every sense, in the sands of time.
Like a time capsule that could provide the key to his disappearance, the Kittyhawk has lain intact alongside a makeshift shelter the pilot appears to have made as he waited, hopelessly, for rescue.
Now a search is to begin for the airman’s remains – as aviation experts and historians begin an operation to recover and display the P-40 aircraft in his memory.
The chance find was made by an oil worker exploring a remote region of the Western Desert. Remarkably, the plane has remained almost untouched – right down to the guns and ammunition found with it. Most of the cockpit instruments are intact, and the twisted propeller lies a few feet from the…