Memory of Sunderland wartime tragedy

Alan Mitcheson, of Crossways, Silksworth, who has been researching the crash of an RAF Hawker Hurricane fighter in Ryhope during World War Two.

Alan Mitcheson, of Crossways, Silksworth, who has been researching the crash of an RAF Hawker Hurricane fighter in Ryhope during World War Two.

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A PENSIONER’S dramatic wartime account of a plane crash on Wearside features in a new book.

Alan Mitcheson, who watched the RAF Halifax bomber come down as a 12-year-old schoolboy in Ryhope, appears in The Red Line.

Remains of fuselage.

Remains of fuselage.

Written by former navigator John Nichol, who was shot down over Iraq and held as a prisoner-of-war, it covers the RAF’s bloodiest raid on Hitler’s Germany, which claimed the lives of more than 700 airmen.

“It was good to work on the book,” said 81-year-old Alan, from Silksworth. “It turned out really well.”

Dozens of Ryhope villagers owed their lives to Pilot Officer Cyril Joe Barton.

On March 30, 1944, Mr Barton, who was awarded the Victoria Cross, was piloting his bomber back to base after a raid on Nuremberg, Germany.

Enemy fire had damaged the plane, which ran out of fuel as it limped above Ryhope.

With only one engine working, the 22-year-old flew the plane clear of houses in the village and crash landed in a field.

Although three crew members survived, Mr Barton, from Suffolk, died in the tragedy.

“I still remember the crash as if it happened last week,” said retired printer Alan.

“The plane came over our house twice, about 100ft above us.”

John said Alan’s account helped give his book a “human touch”.

“Cyril’s actions that night were incredible,” he said. “He undoubtedly saved the lives of his crew, but had to sacrifice his own to do so.

“I really was amazed and touched to hear about his courage and sacrifice.

“I’m very grateful to Alan for helping me trace the story of the last moments of the flight and for telling me his own memories so I could put a ‘human’ touch to the action from those on the ground that night.”