HUNDREDS descended on Durham Tees Valley Airport to witness the historic visit of the Mynarski Memorial Lancaster and the majestic bomber did not disappoint.
As it roared down the runway, as so many Lancasters had done before, many veterans among the watching crowd were transported back in time; back to a period of death-defying operations, back to the relentlessly dark battle against Hitler’s army and back to the camaraderie shared by the brave men of Bomber Command.
Stan Instone, a Squadron 419 veteran who was taken prisoner when his plane was shot down over Dortmund, was among those moved by the sight of a Lancaster back at Middleton St George.
“I must confess, I had tears in my eyes when I saw that Lancaster,” he said. “Not so much when it took off, but when it screamed down the runway, it was fantastic. The emotions and memories were such that I was almost overwhelmed. It was something I didn’t expect would evoke as much emotion as it did.”
Another poignant moment came for Mr Instone when fate saw fit to bring him into contact with a fellow Bomber Command veteran who flew out on the exact same mission that brought his plane down that fateful night of February 20, 1945.
During the commemoration service he found himself sat next to veteran Ernie Patterson who was delighted when a check on his log book confirmed that he had indeed flown on the same operation as Mr Instone, even though the pair had never met before.
Mr Patterson, who carried out 52 pathfinder missions, described the meeting as “wonderful”, adding that surviving Bomber Command was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
The visit of the Mynarski Lancaster to Middleton St George was quite literally a once in a lifetime event and the team at the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum said it was the stop-off they were most looking forward to.
Chief pilot Don Schofield said it had been a long-held ambition of his to bring the plane to England.
“A lot of years ago I looked at it as a strictly academic exercise planning long range trips,” he said. “Then as the years went by we examined it in more depth and the answer that kept coming up was there is no reason why not. We put a business plan together last February, and he we are.”
Although Mr Schofield admitted that the Lancaster was uncomfortable, noisy and cold, he said that flying it was a wonderful experience, and speaking after an impressively low flyover he said: “We don’t normally go so low, but if we can’t do it here, at the home of the RCAF, then where else can we do it?”
For Geoff Hill, chairman of the Middleton St George Memorial Association, the Lancaster’s visit and the celebratory events surrounding it, were the culmination of years of hoping and months of planning.
“It has exceeded my hopes and expectations,” he said. “Everything went off like clockwork and it has been very emotional, especially when Phil laid his mum’s ashes. They have talked about bringing the Lancaster here for the last 12 years and now it has happened it is a moment to savour.”
No doubt the hundreds lucky enough to witness the Lancaster’s flight will remember the moment forever, but veteran Ernie Patterson summed up the significance of the event with the utmost simplicity.
“There are not many of us left,” he said. “All the time we have our memories, but events like this are the only time you get people to listen to you.”