DOUGLAS Charlton Hedley died aged 97 on October 26.

Born in Bishop Auckland, he lived his life in Darlington, in Bracken Road, West Auckland Road, Tower Road and most recently, Hartford Road.

The husband of Dorothea, Mr Hedley and his wife have two sons, Christopher and Stephen, and six grandchildren.

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A former finance director at Darchem Engineering and past captain of Dinsdale Golf Club, he saw distinguished service in the Armed Forces, flying Hampden Bombers during World War Two.

He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for low-level machine gun runs and bomb attacks on searchlight and anti-aircraft batteries.

On his penultimate mission, Mr Hedley, an old boy of Darlington Grammar School, was shot down and, with his aircraft on fire, crashed into the Zuider Zee in Holland. He spent the next three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war.

What follows is Mr Hedley's account of what happened.

“We went through heavy flak at about 10,000 feet and, when over the Zuider Zee, we suffered terrific bangs - I later learned it was a night fighter- not flak," he said.

"One engine caught fire and the other vibrated badly. My Rear called out over the intercom that one of the 500lb bombs hadn't dropped off over the target, but was hanging down under the port wing near to the engine on fire.

"I operated the fire extinguisher system and the fire went out.

"After being hit, I told the Wireless Op to send out an SOS. When struggling to regain the height we had lost, the aircraft stalled and turned on its back and went into steep spin. It was known that you couldn't get a Hampden out of a spin even in the daylight, never mind at night.

"I called 'bail out' over the intercom, but immediately realised that the Wireless Op wouldn't hear me as he was on radio transmission sending out the SOS.

"I therefore went through the drill to try and recover from the spin and it came out. But when I opened the throttle on the 'good engine' the aircraft turned on its back again and went into another spin. I repeated the drill and, after a struggle, it came out of the spin again.

"Realising that we couldn't have any height left, I switched on the wing headlight and saw the waves about 50ft below. Hoping the bomb had fallen off during the two spins and not daring to open the engine again I crashed it into the sea.”

A funeral service was held for Mr Hedley on November 10 at All Saints Church, Blackwell, prior to cremation at Darlington Crematorium. David Railton officiated and James Tindall of Seaton Leng organised the proceedings.