JANUARY 13 marked the 73rd anniversary of the death of Pilot Office William McMullen, the “gallant airman” who stayed with his burning Lancaster bomber to steer it away from the houses at the east end of Darlington.

He could have jumped to safety as all his crew did, but he was killed on impact on farmland off what is now called McMullen Road.

“I was living with my parents in the last house in Harris Street, which had unobstructed views of open countryside to the east of the town,” writes Ken Thurlbeck, of Stockton.

“I have vivid memories of that night in 1945 as I was getting coal from the bunker at the rear of our house.

“I had a clear view of the stricken Lancaster bomber as it circled away from the houses. I also saw crew members leaving the aircraft by parachute.

“The crash site was no more than half-a-mile away and I rushed into the house to tell my father. His reaction was to tell me to close the back door to keep the cold out!

“As an excited 13-year-old schoolboy, I ran towards the scene, eager to salvage souvenirs.

“When I reached the site, horror quickly exceeded excitement as I was met with a huge area of devastation, intense fire, exploding ammunition and frightened horses running wild.

“Wisely I joined other sightseers in keeping my distance but to this day I shudder to think what might have happened had I foolishly gone closer.”