THE Crawleyside Bank bus disaster and its aftermath remains etched in the collective memory of a County Durham village.

Blackhall Colliery will gather today to remember 19 people who died when a bus carrying a group on a bowls club trip crashed on August 14, 1969.

The tragedy happened on Crawleyside Bank, near Stanhope, on 14 August 1969. Eighteen members of the Blackhall Colliery Veterans’ Bowls Club were killed, along with the bus driver’s 12-year-old daughter.

Nearly everyone in the community knew someone involved.

Six of the victims were married couples and nearly all who died were grandparents.

The Northern Echo: BLACKHALL MEMORIAL: Dedicated to the victims of the Crawleyside bus disasterBLACKHALL MEMORIAL: Dedicated to the victims of the Crawleyside bus disaster

About 24 relatives and 30 invited guests will attend the short open service at the memorial in Blackhall Welfare Park at 12.30pm. Among those present will be Alan Smith, now 64, the only living survivor of the crash, whose grandfather William Smith died, as well as Ann Pickering, 78, whose parents William and Florence Henderson died.

Organiser Stan Gray said: “We will have 20 children, ten from Blackhall Primary School and ten from St Joseph’s RC Primary School who will each walk up, read out a name out and lay a red rose on the memorial. “Two of the children are related to Arthur Wheetman, who died in the crash, and each will read out his name.”

The event will see the inclusion, for the first time, of the name of victim Hilda Sargeant on the memorial stone.

The gathering will be addressed by Durham County Council chairman Katie Corrigan and Jack Scullion of the East Durham Veterans’ Bowling League, with the service led by Father Kyle McNeil and Methodist lay preacher Pauline Caswell.

At 1.30pm, 40 bowlers – four from each team in the league – will take part in the annual match for the Linda Watts Trophy, which is named after the bus driver’s daughter.

Mr Gray said: “As a bowls club we remember member of this bus crash every year with annual bowls match involving all teams in the league. We normally hold it in Houghton-le-Spring, but because it is in 50th anniversary we will be having it in Blackhall.

“Myself and three members of sub-committee are very proud to have organised this day.

“It is something we always have to remember. That is why we have got the children involved, so they can keep the memory alive.”