ON November 27, 1997, workers laying sewers for a business park at South Bank, near Middlesbrough, uncovered the wreckage of a German Dornier bomber, which had been brought down in 1942.

Because the plane had crashed on a railway line, important for the war effort, only the main wreckage had been cleared before the crater was bulldozed level.

Three burned corpses were recovered.

But the Dornier's fourth crew member remained "missing" until discovered among the newlyunearthed wreckage. His uniform and other evidence proved him to have been Heinrich Richter, the mechanic-gunner, who had been believed to be one of the corpses. A new headstone was made for the airman buried in Richter's name and, in a moving ceremony in 1998, Richter, under his moved headstone, joined his comrades in a cemetery at Thornaby, Teesside.

Bill Norman, a gifted aviation historian, has pieced together the full, fascinating story of this wreck. It even involved a dramatic night-time sea rescue, to save the crew of a merchant ship attacked by the Dornier. The vessel's own guns disabled the bomber, causing it to strike the cable of a barrage balloon (named Annie) protecting Smith's Dock shipyard.

Bill obtained first-hand accounts from the chief steward of the ship and the commander of the barrage balloon station, amazingly both still living in the North-East. The absorbing narrative he weaves around these and the events following the unearthing of the wreck, is distinguished by the keen feeling for the tragedy of war that Bill brings to all his wartime researches.

The rediscovery of the wreck aroused enormous interest in South Bank, whose residents packed the funeral church.

Speculating on why so many wanted to pay homage to "a former enemy, a complete stranger from a foreign land", Bill reflects: "No doubt the nature of the discovery, as well as the association of the wreckage with more dramatic times had some effect. But one hopes that common humanity also played its part."

He clearly believes it did, noting the contrast between the compassionate response on Teesside and the virtual indifference in Germany, whose unease about the war left the wreck's discovery largely unreported.

A nephew of Richter remarked sadly that "honouring a soldier in Germany is taboo". At the funeral, the German Consul- General expressed his surprise - and appreciation - of the "sympathy"

demonstrated on Teesside. A former Junkers pilot also later wrote in gratitude for "the honour and respect shown by the people of South Bank and the veterans...

It was very honourable to see veterans take down their flags when the body was lowered into the grave. British soldiers with caps and medals and their flags England has done it. Germany has not done it".

One of three brothers who were all killed in the war, 30-year-old Richter had flown at least 60 war sorties, been wounded in action and awarded two Iron Crosses.

Bill comments: "The men who fought in the skies over England some 60 years ago faced death and destruction on an almost daily basis. They were all brave men, irrespective of their nationality."

He augments his account with details of the numerous Luftwaffe graves in the Thornaby cemetery, a five-page summary of the 14 Luftwaffe crashes in the Cleveland area and a tabulated list of the 72 or so Luftwaffe losses over the whole of Yorkshire.

Teesside is fortunate to have such a dedicated and generous-spirited chronicler of its wartime air history.