AIR Force veterans gathered for a grand reunion and emotional memorial service to pay tribute to colleagues lost in action.

Old comrades who were based at Middleton St George, near Darlington, during the Second World War, returned to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Royal Canadian Airforce on Saturday.

The veterans who were at the RAF base, now Teesside International Airport, served in the 419, 420 and 428 Squadrons.

The reunion has been held every year since 1985, but the 60th anniversary gave this one added significance and several veterans made the long trip from Canada to be there.

Among them was Ken Gregson, 78, from Sidney, near Vancouver, who travelled with his wife, Nancy.

He was the youngest pilot in the Canadian Airforce and spent seven weeks at the base towards the end of the war.

Mr Gregson said: "It's very moving to be here because I lost many friends, and it has a lot of meaning, especially this memorial service.

"There's no one here I actually know from my squadron, but the bond that exists between all of us, from all squadrons, is very strong."

Jim Eddy, 81, from Toronto, attended the reunion with his son Michael. A navigator, Mr Eddy was based at Middleton St George from September 1944 until the following January, when he was shot down over Leipzig, Germany.

He said: "When I came back the first time, in 1985, I couldn't recognise anything, but gradually things start to fall into place.

"Of course it was a different world then. Things were moving very quickly and you didn't have too much time to smell the roses.

"This is really a remembrance, more than anything. All my crew were killed and they were all chums of mine, so it's a bit sad in that respect."

Ena Bullement, from Penrith, Cumbria, who was one of the reunion organisers, was in the signals section during the war and she recalled being strafed by machine gun fire from a German plane.

Although the reunion was chiefly a time to recall fallen colleagues, there were some happy memories.

Robbie Robson, 79, from Gloucester, recalled Father Lardie, who used to hand out chewing gum and a water bottle laced with rum to air crew being marshalled before an operation.

Fr Lardie also flew on four "unofficial" operations to get an idea of what the crew had to endure, before being grounded.

Mr Robson said: "He was a great man and we think about these sort of things.

"It's very important that people come here and recall that particular period of their lives. For some it was quite a stressful time, while others seemed to just sail through it."