IT was a simple but moving service. One by one school children stepped forward to read out a name, before solemnly placing a single red rose on a memorial. There were 19 names in all. Each one a life claimed in one of the region’s worst road tragedies.

The generations of Blackhall Colliery had come together to mark the 50th anniversary of the Crawleyside Bank bus crash, near Stanhope, on August 14, 1969. Eighteen members of the Blackhall Colliery Veterans’ Bowls Club and their relatives were killed, along with the bus driver’s 12-year-old daughter.

Under a leaden sky in the village’s Blackhall Welfare Park on Wednesday, children from Blackhall Primary School and St Joseph’s RC Primary School formed a central part of the service.

Among them were Isla Sarginson, the great-great granddaughter of Henry Chapman and Joseph Degnan and Grace Haggar, the great-great grandson and great-great granddaughter, respectively, of James Weetman.

Blackhall Primary School head teacher Joanna Clark said: “Today, 50 years ago, had such a huge impact on the community. People lost so many loved ones.

“And I think it’s important for us to remember that, because those families still live in Blackhall today.

“So the children are learning empathy and about what happened in their community. I think it is lovely to pull together and to remember, yes, a sad occasion but one that has left a legacy and still lives on today.”

Among those attending the event was James Vipond, who witnessed the aftermath of the crash as a seven-year-old.

He said: “I was at home and we were having our tea at about 6pm, when we heard what sounded like a low flying aircraft coming in and then a bang and silence.”

He added: “It was eerie when I left home this morning to come to the service. The weather was exactly the same as the day the crash happened. It was damp and drizzly. I felt it important to be here to pay my respects.”

Harry Irwin, 86, was a young retained firefighter on the first appliance that arrived on the scene on the fateful day.

He said: “It was traumatic. It was horrendous to see. We helped those people that we could.

“You didn’t have any thoughts. You just got on with the job rescuing people. I think its very important they have held this event and that we have come to pay our respects. It means a lot to the relatives and those still here. And it is something that should be remembered by the young people.”

Ann Pickering, 78, of Seaburn, Sunderland, whose parents William and Florence Henderson died in the crash, said: “Today’s event was very organised. It was very touching. Specially with the children reading out the names and laying the flowers. It has left a good memory. A happy memory.”

Audrey Mason, 78, of Blackhall Colliery, earlier recalled the heartbreaking moment her father William Nash Gee died as she sat in hospital holding his hand – and then the pain of having to give the awful news to her mother who lay injured in a ward nearby.

She said: “I am very proud that Blackhall has been able to put on something like this.

“It has brought back a lot of memories. I feel as though it has just happened last week. Attending this event has helped. I just feel so pleased how people have remembered . . . and that it is still thought of. It has been emotional.”

Alan Smith,64, of Hartlepool, who is the last living survivor of the crash, which claimed the life of his grandfather William Smith, said: “I am grateful to the organisers, who have done a good job. Getting the school children to read out the names was a nice touch – and the fact that some of them were related.

“Time moves on. Its all about the young kids now. I am pleased the event is over. It’s not something I want to look back on too frequently. The next few days may be difficult, but life will go back to normality. “

The day was rounded off by 40 bowlers, four from each team in the East Durham Veterans’ Bowling League, taking part in the annual match for the Linda Watts Trophy, which is named after the bus driver’s daughter. It was won by Shotton Colliery Bowls Club.

Father Kyle McNeil, who along with Methodist lay preacher Paula Caswell presided over the service said: “This event says something about the sense of community that survives in these villages, despite all that’s changed. It says something about this community and its hope for the future.”