ON SUNDAY, January 13, at 8.30pm, a group of stalwarts will gather in what will undoubtedly be a sharp snow-wind and pay tribute to the pilot who, 74 years ago to the minute, sacrificed his own live to save the town of Darlington.

On January 13, 1945, Pilot Officer William McMullen was at the controls of a Lancaster bomber that was returning to RAF Middleton St George when, at 8.35pm over Acklam, a fault developed in the outer port engine, which burst into flames.

McMullen kept control of the plane long enough for his six Canadian crewmates to bail out – they landed in a neat line from Elton to Sadberge. The last to jump was his engineer, and before he leaped, he shouted to McMullen in the cockpit that he needed to prepare to leave.

McMullen is said to have replied above the noise of the plane: “No, there’s only me for it, there are thousands down below.”

The stricken plane was now approaching the east end of Darlington – the town’s population was about 80,000. The wing was now well alight, but those on the ground said the pilot seemed to be deliberately steering it away from the houses.

Until, at 8.49pm, the circling stopped and from a couple of hundred feet the plane dropped out of the sky onto a field off Lingfield Lane. It cartwheeled across the soil, with bits of flaming fuselage breaking off. McMullen was dead, killed on impact – his body catapulted through the cockpit windshield although his flying boots were still attached to the pedals.

He left a widow and five-year-old daughter back home in Canada.

The townspeople christened him “the gallant airman” and raised money for his family. His widow sent the money back so it could endow a cot in the Memorial Hospital.

The town mayor wrote to her: "For sheer self-sacrificing heroism, your husband's action will be remembered and honoured by the people of Darlington for years to come.”

And so on Sunday, people will gather to remember him on the road – McMullen Road – which now bears his name. There will be photographs and pieces of the plane to see. Please feel free to join us at the little memorial at the junction with Allington Way at 8.30pm.

Read the full story of McMullen's bravery here

ON January 11, 1919 – 100 years ago this week – the Darlington & Stockton Times reported that “since the armistice, football has attained a popularity hitherto unequalled in France”, and the 18th Durham Light Infantry team was top of the league.

18DLI had been formed in 1914 as a “pals” regiment with volunteers from across the county, and although many of them had been killed on the Somme, it retained its Durham feel.

In its first game, the team lost narrowly to the Inland Water Transport, which featured a Welsh international called Davies, and then beat the York & Lancaster Regiment, which included professionals from Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry, ibn a game “crammed full of clean, scientific football”.

Then the pals took on Brigade HQ. “Despite the fact that an ex-Lincoln City goalie treated the onlookers to a wonderful display between the ‘sticks’, the Brigade defence was unable to cope with the light elusive Durham forwards, and they were beaten four goals to nil.”

The Durhams had won two matches and were now top dogs in their district.

MANY people were surprised by last week’s story about Mary Nicholson, the orphan servant girl from Little Stainton who was hanged in 1799 for murder – even though she had accidentally killed the mother of her master who had “taken very great liberties with her”, and even though the Lord himself seemed to be intervening to prevent the hanging.

Compare Mary’s brutal execution with a story told by the Darlington & Stockton Times of 150 years ago this week – January 9, 1869 – where another servant girl, 13-year-old Isabel Seales, had been charged with maliciously poisoning the family of her master, John Dodsworth of Pickering Marshes.

A court in Northallerton told how Isabel had mixed tartaric emetic and nitre – farm chemicals – into the family sugar bowl, and all five Dodsworths had fallen “alarmingly ill” after breakfast. She had wanted to get back at the Dodsworths’ two sons who had “plagued” her, but Isabel herself had suffered, as she had had a cup of camomile tea sweetened with the contaminated sugar.

Medical intervention ensured everyone recovered.

Isabel was found guilty, but the jury “expressed their opinion that the girl had not been sensible of the serious nature of the act. The bench, therefore, merely ordered her to be imprisoned for a day.”

IN the same paper was the news that the notorious hotel swindler – a man named Harris – had been apprehended after receiving board and lodgings under false pretences at the Fleece Hotel in Bishop Auckland.

Mr Harris arrived at the hotel with fake letters of introduction from well known local people saying that he was a travelling brewmaster giving instructions to brewers in the art of brewing. Having been given the best room, he would then feign to fall in, and the hotelier would give him the best food and the most tender care until he fled, leaving the bill unpaid.

When he appeared at Bishop Auckland magistrates, hoteliers from Spennymoor and Tow Law said he had perpetrated similar swindles on them and now, said the paper, police in Durham and Middlesbrough wanted to question him about identical outrages.