THE family of a heroic Glaswegian sailor who died during World War Two when his ship was sunk by a German U-boat have paid an emotional first visit to his grave - almost 80 years after his death.

John Lee, 22, who grew up on Alexandra Parade in Townhead, was a gunner serving aboard British troop transporter The President Doumer when he was killed in the attack.

He was buried in the Villa de Mazo cemetery in after his body was found on a beach in Playa de las Goteras in March 1943.

Relatives, including his niece Mary Hastie, finally got the chance to visit the Canary isle of La Palma to pay their respects, thanks to support from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Glasgow Times: Mary Hastie with historian Óscar Fumero & Consul General Charmaine Arbouin

Mary, from Bearsden, said: “I found it very emotional, as I have found everything that I have got to know about my uncle’s story.

“I wasn’t born until after the war and it was not something that was spoken about in my home.

“Both my parents died young and I thought I would never find out the real story or anything about which island John was buried on.

“So, it was a surprise when I was contacted by a distant and unknown relative telling me the Consul’s office in Spain was looking for me.”

Glasgow Times: Mary Hastie

Mary, the last surviving member of the Lee family, said: “The local historian, Oscar Fumero, knows so much about John and has an eye-witness account of what happened the day the ship was torpedoed. He told me John was a hero, having refused to get into the lifeboats until everyone else was in. He then misjudged the distance when he jumped and was crushed between the lifeboat and the ship.”

She added: “I am sure my grandparents would have been devastated by it, but it was a very different world then.

“My granny was no stranger to tragedy – she lost two daughters, when they were very young, and my grandpa lost a foot in the first war. My father was rescued from Dunkirk.”

John was one of more than 72,000 seamen who lost their lives during the Battle of the Atlantic – the longest continuous military campaign of World War II.

On the day of his death, German U-boats sunk or damaged seven ships in the convoy – killing 344 people.

Since 1943, the Scot’s remains have rested in a corner of the municipal cemetery of Villa de Mazo. His grave is officially considered British soil after it was acquired by the British Consulate for 100 pesetas in 1951.

There have been several tributes paid to the soldier over the years, most recently in 2018 to mark the 75th anniversary of the discovery of his body.

A giant ceramic poppy from the Tower of London’s famous moat display in 2014, which was purchased by Mary’s daughter Ruth, will now be mounted on the wall behind John’s grave.

Last week’s long-awaited reunion was attended by Spanish dignitaries, as well as Charmaine Arbouin, the British Consul and Regional Operations Manager for Andalusia, Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla.

READ MORE: Tribute from family of Glasgow soldier who got hero's welcome in Guernsey

She said: “It was a privilege to witness such a long-awaited reunion. I was honoured to attend the ceremony to mark 75 years since the discovery of John Lee’s body and Mary’s visit feels like this touching story has now come full circle.

“I would like to pay tribute to local historian Oscar Fumero for his incredible research and the people of Villa de Mazo, who have looked after John’s remains for so long, as well as to my consular colleagues who played a part in the tracking down of John’s relatives, which allowed this day to finally happen.”

Mary added: “This place is very beautiful and the people here are wonderful.

“They took John to their hearts all those years ago and he is now part of the history of this little town. I can’t thank everyone one enough for what was an incredibly poignant memorial service for our family.”