A memorial to a Second World War Halifax bomber crew has been unveiled, 68 years after it was shot down by a Luftwaffe ace over a North Yorkshire village. Stuart Minting reports.

IN the early hours of March 4, 1945, eight weeks before the war ended, 16-year-old Arnold Moss was awoken by the sound of machine gun fire.

Hours earlier, more than 400 Bomber Command planes had attacked Germany and a diversionary force of 95 bomber aircraft was dispatched to confuse the enemy.

On the same night, the Luftwaffe launched Operation Gisela, in which 100 German fighters followed Allied bombers back to their bases, picking off planes as navigation lights were turned on to land.

The trainee crew of Halifax NA612, which included six Canadians aged 19 to 27 and flight engineer Sergeant Sidney Forster, from Newcastle, was preparing to land at RAF Dishforth, near Thirsk, at 1am after one of the diversionary flights to Germany when it was severely damaged by a hail of bullets.

Battle of Stalingrad veteran Lt Arnold Doring, who had minutes earlier shot down another Halifax and badly damaged a third bomber, watched on as Halifax NA612 turned on its back and dived into a field beside the River Swale, yards from the village of Helperby-Brafferton.

Lt Doring, who was later awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, then opened fire on a car and a stock passenger train near Helmsley, killing its sole occupant, guard Thomas Inman, 34, of Gilling East, Ampleforth, before using his remaining ammunition on the streets of Scarborough.

After being awoken by the gunfire, Helperby-Brafferton residents’ homes shook as Halifax NA612 hit the ground.

Minutes later, teenagers Dennis Scaife and Arnold Moss arrived first at the site and found a bloody scene, from which police were later only able to identify four bodies.

Mr Moss, now an 83-year-old great grandfather, said: “I was hit by the smell of aviation fuel and the sound of crackling and while we we went there to try and help, we couldn’t get near it due to the flames. “Nothing could be done. The plane had gone right into the ground.”

Mr Moss said the horrific scene had been unforgettable and he had campaigned for a memorial for 50 years.

Following a drive by ex-RAF officer Earl Pick and Nigel Denison, a former senior officer at the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick Garrison, it was agreed to install a plaque overlooking the crash site.

Among the others attending a service of dedication to the memorial outside St Peter’s Church, Helperby-Brafferton yesterday (Sunday, May 12), was Lena Brown, whose brother 21-year-old brother Sidney, died in the crash.

Before a fly-past by a Lancaster bomber and Lieutenant Colonel Peter Holst, of the Royal Canadian Air Force, unveiling the memorial, Mr Denison told a crowd of 200 people the unstinting courage of the bomber crews should not be forgotten.

He said: “The tragedy was a narrow escape. If Halifax NA612 had been attacked moments earlier it would have hit the village.”

Mrs Brown, 75, said she had been overwhelmed by the support of the villagers for the memorial and the tributes to the bravery of her brother, who she described as fun-loving and laid-back.