‘It’s been 75 years and I remember it like it was yesterday’ - Ryhope man tells the tale of when a Second World War bomber crashed in Sunderland
Alan Mitcheson, who was 11 at the time of the crash, watched the smoking plane plummet - missing his house by no more than 100ft.
What he saw that morning has had a lasting impact on the 86-year-old who has dedicated his time and effort to have a memorial plaque installed at the site of the crash.
Now a great grandfather, Mr Mitcheson is retelling the story of pilot officer Cyril Barton.
Mr Mitcheson said: “The air raid siren sounded roughly about 5am in the morning.
“My mother got me and my sister out of bed to go down to the air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden.
“We were in there for no more than about half an hour and nothing happened, there was no activity whatsoever.
“The all clear sounded so we went back into the house.”
Mr Mitcheson, who had to be up for school in a few hours, headed back to bed and it was just as he was drifting off to sleep that he heard the sound of an aircraft in the distance.
He says that was followed but two or three rounds of anti aircraft fire from the gun battery at the top of his street.
“I got up and looked out the window, it was still fairly dark but you could make out the engine.
“The search light was on and it looked straight at it then it switched off, I think thats when it realised it must have been friendly.”
The plane then flew out of view but ten minutes later Mr Mitcheson heard the sound of the engine again.
“I heard it coming again only this time it sounded different,” said Mr Mitcheson.
“It was coming directly towards where I lived in Hewitt Avenue, smoke coming out of one of the engines.
“I jumped out of bed and ran into my parents room just in time to see it come across the rooftop by no more than 100ft.
“As it flew towards the houses in front of me it banked to the left and went down and then I just heard this sound like an explosion.”
It was the next day that young Alan got close the the wreckage. The plane had crashed into the Richardson home but thankfully the family had survived.
A miner called George Head was killed by the falling debris and his name also appears on the war memorial in Ryhope.
Pilot officer Cyril Barton, returning from an ill-fated raid on Nuremberg in a crippled Halifax bomber plane, had been forced to crash land after running out of fuel.
The 22-year-old, who died after being taken to a nearby hospital, was posthumously awarded a Victoria across for his bravery and attempts to avoid the houses of Ryhope.
Three crew members aboard survived the crash and the other three had misunderstood a signal and thought they had been ordered to bail out over Germany. They were captured and kept as prisoners of war until the end of the Second World War the following year.
What Mr Mitcheson saw that morning has had a lasting impact on his life. And he dedicate five years to campaign for a memorial at Ryhope.
When Sunderland City Council decided against a memorial for Cyril Barton because he didn’t have any direct connection to the area Mr Mitcheson said he was livid.
He wrote to his local MP and launched a major campaign to ensure the pilot, who lost his life doing all he could to protect others, received the recognition he deserved.
Five years later, on Remembrance Sunday 1985 a plaque was unveiled on the Ryhope memorial.
“I was over the moon,” said Mr Mitcheson, who is married to Jean. “I’ve never seen Ryhope as busy as the day of the unveiling.
“It’s 75 years ago and I can remember that day as if it was yesterday.
“I’m sure there will still be a lot of people in Ryhope that remember what happened.
“This will probably be the last big anniversary I see but I want to continue to tell Cyril’s story while I can.”