IN The Northern Echo, the Object of the Week column featured an object from Whitby Museum which was connected to February 3, 1940, when a German Heinkel plane attacking trawlers was shot down by Flight-Lieutenant Peter Townsend. It crashlanded onto Bannial Flatts two miles north of Whitby and it was, we said, “the first enemy aircraft to be shot down on British soil during the war”.

David Robertson is one of several people to have got in touch to point out that this was the first one downed on English soil – which is very different to British soil.

“I can distinctly remember when I was at school, in Port Seton on the south bank of the Firth of Forth on the edge of Edinburgh, that the lesson on October 16, 1939, was interrupted by an unusual sound,” he says. “When school finished we learned that the sound had been machine-gun fire! Spitfires were chasing a German bomber.”

Six weeks after the start of the war, this is said to be the first Luftwaffe raid over the UK mainland. The pilots were seeking warships in the firth, and were under instructions not to bomb targets that were onshore.

A Spitfire flown by Flight-Lieutenant Pat Gifford is credited with hitting the Junkers.

“It came down in the sea some distance offshore and a local fishing boat picked up the survivors,” says David. “Mr Stevenson, the village policeman took them in custody till a military escort took them to Edinburgh Castle.” One airman died but three survived.

If you want to be picky and point out that this crashed into the Scottish sea whereas our article said “British soil”, on October 28, 1939, a Heinkel bomber was brought down into a field east of Dalkeith, near Edinburgh.

“While I applaud Fl-Lt Townsend’s exploits over Whitby,” says David, “I would like to remind the good folk of Whitby that British soil extends beyond Berwick-upon-Tweed!”

A point well made, but it is not advisable to enrage Whitby folk too much. On February 3, 1940, when Fl-Lt Townsend, who went on to have an affair with Princess Margaret, brought the Heinkel down near Whitby, two of its four man crew were killed. However, the seafaring folk of the fishing port were so angered that the airmen had been attacking trawlers that it was considered unsafe to bury Observer Rudolph Lenshacke and Flight Engineer Johann Meyer in the town.

The Northern Echo:

British airmen carry the two German airmen to their graves in Catterick Cemetery in February 1940

Their bodies were sent to Catterick, as it was the nearest airbase cemetery, where they were interred on February 6. They remained there until 1960 when they were taken to the newly-opened Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.