Bomber crash site set to be excavated
THE family of a missing Second World War airman have won a battle against German property developers planning to bulldoze the site where his plane crashed more than 70 years ago.
Flight engineer Ronald Barton, 34, and his comrades, are believed to be lying in the wreckage of their Lancaster bomber beneath a farmer’s field in Germany.
The eight men of Lancaster PD214 were flying home from their 30th and final bombing mission over Germany in 1944 when they crashed.
Their final resting place was only re-discovered this month, after an epic search by surviving relatives of Sgt Barton.
His granddaughters, Julie Barton, 52, and Debbie Bartlett, 48, tracked down the field, near the town of Cloppenburg, in northern Germany two weeks ago.
They also discovered the field had been sold to a housing developer, which planned to dig up the ground with mechanical diggers on Monday.
After tense negotiations with the German authorities, Sgt Barton’s family won their battle to stop the bulldozers for an archaeological excavation before building work begins.
The granddaughters made an emotional visit to the crash site a fortnight ago and met eyewitnesses who, as children, saw the plane’s burning wreckage set fire to their farm.
The bodies of two Bomber Command airmen were recovered by German soldiers after the crash and the six others who perished, including one from Hayes End, are believed to be among the wreckage.
Ms Barton said: “The eyewitnesses are convinced there are still people in the ground and lots of the plane. The German authorities were planning on taking groundpenetrating sonar readings to make sure there are no unexploded bombs before allowing the bulldozers and mechanical diggers to move in.
“We have been imploring them to do a proper archaeological excavation to stop human remains being desecrated.
“After a lot of negotiation we have confirmation the Germans will do a proper investigation on Monday and Tuesday with representatives from the German War Graves Commission.
“My sister and I will be there and we want any remains treated with dignity and respect. The Ministry of Defence told us it will carry out DNA testing if substantial remains are recovered.”
On October 6, 1944, Lancaster PD214 set off from RAF Metheringham, in Lincolnshire, on the crew’s last operational mission – a massive bombing raid on the German industrial city of Bremen.
No more was heard from the plane after takeoff, and the crew was listed as missing. The International Red Cross reported it crashed and the Germans recovered two bodies.
In 1946, an RAF investigation team exhumed the two bodies and identified them as Australian trainee pilot flight lieutenant John Colclough Barlow, 35, and rear gunner sergeant Ronald James Paul, 20. They are both buried in Becklingen War Cemetery.
The other six men who were on board that night were all listed as having “no known grave” and are remembered at the RAF memorial in Runnymede.
One of the missing men was mid upper gunner flt. sgt James Anthony Fell, 21, who was married to Phyllis Beatrice Fell, of Hayes End.
n MIXED EMOTIONS: The family of a missing World War Two airman from Hayes End found the site where his plane crashed – only to learn it is set to be destroyed by German property developers this week
n CRASH SITE: Flight engineer Ronald Barton, 34, and his seven comrades were flying their final mission over Germany in 1944 when they crashed while heading for home