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.

The bodies of flight engineer Ronald Barton, 34, and his comrades are believed to be lying in the wreckage of their Lancaster bomber, below a farmer's field earmarked for development.

The eight men, of Lancaster PD214, were flying home from their 30th - and final - bombing mission over Germany in 1944 when they crashed.

The location of their final resting place was lost after the war – until it was re-discovered in February following an epic search by surviving relatives of Sgt Barton.

His granddaughters, Julie Barton, 52, and Debbie Bartlett, 48, tracked down the farmer's field, near the town of Cloppenburg, in northern Germany, where the bomber crew perished.

To their horror, they discovered the field had been sold to housing developers, who planned to dig up the ground with mechanical diggers – without allowing archaeologists to search for bodies and wreckage.

But after tense and lengthy negotiations with the German authorities, Sgt Barton's family have won their battle to stop the bulldozers and allow an archaeological excavation to take place before building work begins.

They made an emotional visit to the crash site last month and met eyewitnesses who saw the plane's burning wreckage set fire to their farm as children.


The bodies of two Bomber Command airmen were recovered from the plane by German soldiers after the crash, but the six others who perished, including one from Hayes End, are still believed to be in the ground, along with the wreckage.

Ms Barton said: "The eye witnesses we met are convinced there are still people in the ground and lots of the plane.

"The German authorities were planning on taking ground-penetrating sonar readings of the field to make sure there are no unexploded bombs in the ground before allowing the bulldozers and mechanical diggers to move in.

"We have been trying to implore them to do a proper archaeological excavation of the site to stop any human remains from being desecrated.

"After a lot of negotiation we now have confirmation that the Germans will do a proper investigation of the site on Monday and Tuesday [and] there will be representatives from the German War Graves Commission present.

"My sister and I will be there and we just want any potential human remains to be treated with dignity and respect.

"The Ministry of Defence have told us they 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.

Nothing was heard from the plane after take off and the crew was listed as missing. The International Red Cross reported that the plane had crashed and that the Germans had 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.

Final mission

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 Runneymede.

Julie, from Beddau, South Wales, said: "It was their 30th and final bombing mission as a crew. As far as we know they dropped their bombs and were on their way home when they crashed.

"Eye witnesses at the crash site said they could hear the bombing from their farm 40 miles away and then it went quiet.

"Then they heard this odd engine noise and in the pitch black a bomber suddenly dropped out of nowhere and exploded – creating four large burning craters.

"Children nearby came and played on the site in the days after.

"They found an embroidered handkerchief with Barlow stitched on it and a flying boot with my grandfather's name on it."

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.

The others include pilot Flt Lt Douglas Stewart, 29, who was the son of John and Ada Mary Stewart and husband of Vera Elizabeth Stewart, of Shrewsbury; navigator Flt Sgt George Bowering Kirby, 22, who was the son of Bertie and Evelyn Dorcas Kirby and husband of Rose Eileen Violet Kirby, of West Norwood, London; wireless operator Gordon Stuart Grogan, age unknown, son of Robert and Bertha Grogan and husband of Terry Grogan, of Frimley Green, Surrey; and Canadian bomb aimer pilot officer Clyde James Royal, 31, son of William and Margaret Service, of Vancouver, Canada.