FOUNDERS of an annual commemoration for the more than 80 airmen killed in a notorious Durham dale have vowed the service will continue, despite uncertainty about the future location of their memorial garden.

The memorial site was opened in the grounds of Deerbolt Young Offenders Institute on the outskirts of Barnard Castle, County Durham, 18 years ago.

But now the land has been sold for housing with the founders of Teesdale Aviation Day uncertain about where they will move the garden to.

The aviation service has been held at the garden every year since 1996 and although its future location might not yet be clear, co-founder John Yarker insists the service will still be an annual event.

He said: “It’s important these people and their stories are remembered, the youngest was 18, the oldest 41, and I’m 73 which makes me think what would they have done with their lives if they had been allowed to live them?

“We must never forget these brave people.”

Mr Yarker believes about 54 aircraft have come down in Teesdale killing 86 airmen.

His fellow Teesdale Aviation Day founder Tony Galley said the dale is notorious in flying circles, especially among the RAF.

He said: “It is known as the Teesdale Gap, basically the land rises very quickly from sea level to 5,000 or so feet which, especially in poor weather, catches pilots out.

“Teesdale has a reputation for being a plane graveyard.”

The garden has two stones dedicated to two individual crashes as well as one main memorial to all those airmen killed in the dale.

One of the stones, which came from nearby Stainton Quarry, is in memory of a Blackburn Botha which came down on August 22, 1941, in the hills of Teesdale killing all four aboard.

The other is to the jet-engine Meteor which crashed on March 24, 1954, claiming the lives of its pilot and navigator.

Among the guests at the service were Barnard Castle School headteacher Alan Stevens, whose combined cadet force helped manage the event, Deerbolt governor Gabrielle Lee, Barnard Castle mayor John Blissett and Group Captain Steve Reeves, commanding officer at RAF Leeming.

The officer said: “That sense of duty and pride we have in the RAF today is the same as these men would have had in the past.

“We support this event every year because it is important we remember those who have died in service for their country.”

The service ended with a flypast from a Hawk from RAF Leeming’s 100 Squadron flown by flight-lieutenant Chris Linden-Smith.