THE story of how a Canadian airman was shot down over Berlin will be centre stage tomorrow at the annual act of remembrance for the 1,266 fliers who died operating from a North East airfield during the Second World War.

It will be an international commemoration as top brass from the Canadian squadron which was based at RAF Middleton St George return to pay their tributes for the first time since the pandemic struck.

The event, to which everyone is invited, is held each year close to June 13, which was the date in 1944 on which Pilot Officer Andrew Mynarski won a posthumous Victoria Cross for his valiant efforts to save a crew member trapped in a stricken Lancaster bomber.

But thoughts will also be with for Hank Bullis, whose son, who is now a colonel in his father’s old squadron, will scatter his ashes on the airfield where he served until he was captured.

Darlington and Stockton Times: Hank Bullis, when he served at Middleton St George during the war

Hank (above) was born in Ontario in 1918, and came to Britain with the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1941 as a fighter pilot.

“As a fighter pilot, you’re all alone in an aircraft with one engine and you depended on shooting your targets with your guns,” he said shortly before his death in 2016 as he explained why he switched from the one-man planes and became a bomber pilot. “You had a seven-man crew, four engine aircraft and you carried up to two tons of explosives. And you were dependent on your bomb aimer who did the spotting and directed you to turn left or right.”

After completing 13 successful bombing missions, on January 20, 1944, he was shot down over Berlin.

“My plane was shot at by at least two different aircraft, both Messerschmitt 109s, as well as ground-based fire,” he said. “My aircraft was on fire and then blew up, but I can’t remember whether I opened the parachute or whether it blew open.

“I was hiding out in a farmer’s barn when his dogs found me, and the farmer gave me up.”

He ended up in Stalag Luft III, in Poland, which was the camp where the film The Great Escape, was based.

“It was cold in the winter, and we were always hungry,” he said. “In January 1945, the Germans started us on the Great Death March in order to keep us away from the Allies. They kept moving us westward to stop the Russians from liberating us, but eventually the British Army picked us up.”


Darlington and Stockton Times: Remembrance service at Teesside Airport War Memorial Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTLast year's ceremony beneath the Mynarski memorial at Teesside Airport

Geoff Hill, of the Middleton St George Memorial Association which organizes the event, said: “It will be very poignant with his son scattering the ashes, and his story helps us make that direction connection to all those young people who did such extraordinary things from this airfield 80 years ago.”

The event is due to be attended by MPs, mayors and dignitaries, including the commanding officer from RAF Leeming, and the commanding officer of RCAF’s 419 Squadron, in which Mynarski and Hank Bullis served.

Last year’s memorial was attended by 100-year-old Norman Bell, from Liverpool, who was making his first return to the airfield where he was a mechanic during the war. Mr Bell, the oldest known RAF Middleton St George survivor, was this year going to fly to his former base in Scotland and then back down to Teesside Airport to attend the service but, sadly, in the last week it has been decided he is not well enough.

People should gather at 10.15am at the Mynarski statue at the old St George hotel – once the officers’ mess – for the service.

Darlington and Stockton Times: