Village honours its wartime hero

RYHOPE has paid homage to the gallant young wartime pilot who saved the lives of villagers by flying his crippled Halifax bomber away from their homes.

Cyril Joe Barton, aged 22, was the only Halifax pilot to be posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military award for gallantry.

He died at dawn on March 31 1944. And yesterday, the 60th anniversary of his death, a service of remembrance was held on the village green at Ryhope to remember the night the village was spared appalling devastation, thanks to the skill and courage of the young pilot.

Wreaths were laid by his navigator, Len Lambert, and, on behalf of Barton's sisters, by Alan Mitcheson, who as a schoolboy watched the aircraft circle and then crash, and who for years campaigned for a memorial to the pilot.

The service was led by the vicar of Ryhope, the Rev David Meakin, and was attended by service and ex-service personnel as well as villagers.

Barton's last mission was an extraordinary feat of skill and courage. En route to a bombing raid on Nuremberg, German fighters took out one of his engines, the machine guns and the intercom system, and part of the aircraft caught fire.

Three aircrew baled out, including Len the navigator, because of a breakdown in communications.

Barton pressed on and released his bombs .

On the way home, a propeller flew off , two petrol tanks sprung leaks and with no navigational aids and no wireless, Cyril had only the stars to guide him home.

Instead of East Anglia, the barrage balloons over Sunderland were his first sight of Britain. With fuel low, he decided to force-land at Ryhope .

He ordered his three remaining crewmen to take up crash positions, but at the last moment, he saw a row of miners' cottages and banked away.

He finally landed in the nearby colliery yard. Tragically, a miner called George Heads was killed, but the crew members survived.

Now a housing estate named Barton Park after the pilot marks the spot where the Halifax crashed.