AN EX-Luftwaffe pilot has come to the North-East with a message of reconciliation.

Former German bomber pilot Heinz Mollenbrok, 80, told young air cadets at Redcar that the key to the future was friendship and cooperation with other countries.

The pensioner forged links with the area following the discovery a couple of years ago of the wreckage of a downed Dornier bomber at South Bank - and in it, the remains of one of the air crew, gunner Heinrich Richter.

The retired farmer attended Herr Richter's funeral at Thornaby Cemetery which he last night recalled as a "unique and wonderful act of reconciliation".

The two Germans had served in the same flight group based in Holland. Heinz was shot down while carrying out bombing raids on Battle of Britain airfields in the South-East, in August 1940. He has kept in touch with the family who still run the Kent farm where he landed and who tended to his wounds. Now he has traced the Hurricane pilot, "Taffy" Higginson, who shot him down.

That gesture has won him a VIP place at this month's Royal International Air Tattoo to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

A television documentary is also being made about the old man's dogged quest to find and shake the hand of Battle of Britain Ace "Taffy" Frederick William Higginson.

Herr Mollenbrok said: "There must be cooperation and reconciliation in Europe. This is so that those young men from both sides did not lose their lives in vain."

He added: "I think members of the younger generation should make more exchanges. There should be more exchanges between schools.''

He said he told the Redcar air cadets "they should visit Germany to learn that we also have a wonderful country, and to meet people".

Going to the Tattoo as his guest is his friend, respected Teesside wartime aviation historian Bill Norman from Guisborough. Bill said: "I have the highest regard for him because of the fact he is reaching out across the sea to former adversaries. It is his mission to establish reconciliation between Britons and Germans. His message has always been that the war was a great mistake. It should never have happened and should never be allowed to happen again."