Man who saw fatal WWII bomber crash as a boy makes final annual pilgrimage to site after decades

A man who witnessed a fatal WWII plane crash as a boy has made his final annual pilgrimage to the site after forty years of visits.

Alan Mitcheson was just 11 when looked out the window to see a Halifax bomber crash land in his home village of Ryhope.

"It knocked a few chimney pots off the houses on a row of houses," he remembers. "It hit the end house of West Terrace... and it completely demolished the house.

"The aircraft broke up into numerous parts. The front fuel lodge, which contained Cyril in the cockpit, was torn off and the fuselage came to rest on the top of a hill."

Officer Cyril Barton

Officer Cyril Barton, who was pulled from the wreckage alive, succumbed to his injuries on arrival at hospital.

Local miner George Head was also killed - struck by a piece of debris during the explosion.

Twenty-two-year-old Cyril was returning from an attack on the city of Nuremberg at the time of the crash.

During the air battle, two of the aircraft's fuel tanks had been punctured, one of the engines had exploded, and three of the seven crew had bailed out due to a communication error.

Rather than turning back immediately, Cyril continued towards his target and dropped the bomb payload. He then guided the aircraft home without navigation equipment until it ultimately ran out of fuel near Sunderland.

The wreckage

In the last letter to his younger brother shortly before his death, Cyril wrote: "I am quite prepared to die, death holds no terrors for me. I have done nothing to merit glory."

Besides Cyril, all the aircraft's remaining occupants survived.

Cyril was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery just months after his death. But Alan found himself wondering: "How come nothing's been done here in Ryhope?"

He approached the local council who eventually agreed to put a bronze plaque on the local war memorial in 1980. Since this date, he has made a pilgrimage every year to the crash site.

Alan keeps a memorial book dedicated to Cyril

"I just go up there to think back on what happened," he tells ITV News Tyne Tees. "I remember him all the more because exactly 10 weeks after Cyril died, my brother died during the D-Day landings.

"It might sound strange, but at the time I looked upon them as though I'd lost two brothers. That's what it felt like."

An old man now, Alan has made his last journey to the crash site. But the memory of that day will never leave him.

"I'd have liked to have carried on going across to the crash site but my age is creeping up on me," he says. "It's something I'll never, ever forget."