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Flight to disaster
Seventy years ago, a young Londoner evacuated to the region watched bewildered as a plane plummeted to the ground in County Durham.
DURING the Second World War, a young chap’s family living beneath the bombs that were raining down on south-east London thought it would be safer if he were evacuated to the quiet of rural County Durham, where a couple of uncles were blacksmiths in villages to the west of Darlington.
Little did they know that they were sending closer to danger because this was a place where aircraft fell out of the sky...
It was about 4pm on May 1, 1942.
“I was walking home from Denton school with two other lads, and had just passed a quarry on the Dere Street crossroads when a Lockheed Hudson plane crashed into it,” says our correspondent, who lives in Kent and wishes to remain anonymous.
“As I remember, two Lockheeds had been circling getting progressively lower. My recollection is that one flew very low indeed on the Darlington side of Dere Street, north from Piercebridge. As it approached the crossroads, it veered left suddenly, possibly catching telephone wires causing it to spin round so that it faced south as it plunged into the quarry, which was a series of mounds and grimy ponds.
“We ran home to Summerhouse to raise the alarm accompanied by stray tracer fire from the burning aircraft.”
The Lockheed was from No 6 (Coastal) Operational Training Unit based at RAF Thornaby.
The four crew members were part of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
“I believe only one member of the crew survived the crash, dying later in hospital,” says our informant.
The four members of the crew were:
Sergeant John Eric Walton, 20, of Clarkston, Lanarkshire.
A journalist as well as the pilot, he is buried in Thornaby, near Stockton.
Sergeant Reginald Ernest Russell, 20, of Hounslow, Middlesex.
He was the observer and is buried in Thornaby.
Sergeant Arthur Albert Henry Stafford, 29, of Catford, London. The wireless operator/ air gunner, he left a widow, Cissie, and is buried in Camberwell.
Sergeant John Edward Sketcher, 27, of Manchester.
Also a wireless operator/air gunner, he too left a widow, Beatrice, and is buried in Manchester.
Although the accident happened 70 years ago and our informant wasn’t out of short trousers, his memory is pretty accurate.
Philip Smith, founder member of the 55 Aircraft Accidents Research Group, has also been in touch since Memories 62 in December mentioned the crash.
“According to the RAF Air Ministry Form 1180 – or the aircraft accident card – the purpose of the flight was to practise formation flying and evasive tactics,” he says. “The cause of the crash was the aircraft hitting telegraph wires during unauthorised low flying.”
The summerhouse of the Neville family
SUMMERHOUSE is on the B6275 or, as the Romans marching from Piercebridge to Binchester knew it, Dere Street. Since Memories 62, several people have mentioned that maps indicate there are earthworks in a field, known as Castle Garth, to the south of the village.
It is believed that this earthwork is the remains of the summerhouse of the Neville family.
They built Raby Castle in the late 14th Century and held it until they backed the wrong horse in the 1569 Rising of the North when it was removed from them.
They appear to have spent their summer holidays a few miles to the east of Staindrop at Summerhouse.
Earl of Warwick pub
WHILE we’re here, let’s head north to West Auckland where, last week, we found the Earl of Warwick pub, where the landlord in the 1870s was John Warwick. Was the pub, which is now rather derelict, named after him, we wondered.
Others have a grander, historical suggestion. Richard Neville, who was related to the Raby Nevilles, acquired the title of the Earl of Warwick through his wife in 1449. Being one of the most powerful and influential men in the country with a hand in the downfall of two kings, he was known as “Warwick the Kingmaker”. It was certainly worth naming a pub in his honour.