A PIECE of a Second World War bomber shot down over Germany is to return to the region, almost 70 years after the plane took off from a North-East airfield.
The Lancaster bomber left RAF Middleton St George, now Durham Tees Valley Airport, near Darlington, on the evening of February 20, 1945, never to return.
It was shot down over Dortmund, killing two of the seven-man crew. Those who survived were captured and spent the next two months as prisoners of war.
Among them was flight engineer Stan Instone, who was flying his final mission with 419 Squadron. Now aged 89, he is one of only two of the seven still alive today.
Mr Instone was presented with a piece of the wreckage from his Lancaster when he travelled to Germany to visit the crash site last summer.
He will bring that fragment of the Lancaster to the Middleton St George memorial weekend at the end of the month, so it can finally ‘touch down’ back at the airfield set off from back in February 1945.
In what are sure to be emotional scenes at the memorial weekend, Mr Instone will be joined by his son Mark and grandson Sam, who were both with him on his trip to Germany last year.
It remains to be seen whether a Lancaster named after celebrated Canadian airman Andrew Mynarski, who is memorialised at the airport, will be coming to Middleton St George when it visits the UK in August.
But thanks to the Instones, who live in Berkshire, a small, yet significant piece of the North-East’s wartime heritage will be returning to the region and put on display during the memorial weekend.
The recovery of the piece of Mr Instone’s Lancaster came about after his son contacted a local history society in Germany, seeking information about where the plane crashed.
Mark Instone said: “The society did an archaeological dig and did not find very much at the crash site.
“But the farmer who owned the land remembered a lot of aluminium being used to mend hen houses.
“The piece Dad was given was identified by its serial number as being part of his Lancaster.”
Mr Instone and his crewmates were hit by flak in the early hours of February 21, 1945, just a few minutes before they were due to reach their intended target.
The starboard fuel tanks were set alight, causing a fire in the bomb bay. Captain Larry Blaney gave the order to abandon, but had no time to jump himself.
He and warrant officer Don Hanna, both of the Royal Canadian Air Force, were killed and are buried at the Reichswald Forest war cemetery, in Germany.
Mark Instone said: “Dad was badly wounded in the crash. He was in the aircraft when it exploded and it took him a few years after the war to get back on his feet.
“He spent most of his working life as a technology teacher and retired at the age of 84.
“There are only two members of the crew left, Dad and a man in Canada called Phil Owen, who he has kept in touch with over the years.”
:: The memorial weekend runs from May 30 to June 1 and includes a memorial service at the airport on Saturday, May 31.