I saw first German bomber to be shot down in England

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A Sleights pensioner has 
recalled the time he saw a German bomber shot down near Whitby 75 years ago.

Eric Preston was just 12 when the Heinkel bomber landed in a field at Sleights road end, on February 3 1940, having been 
attacked by Group Captain Peter Townsend.

Mr Preston, of Birch Avenue, was out sledging in snow with some other boys when they heard the sound of machine gun fire from the direction of Whitby.

He told the Gazette this week he could remember the incident as if it was yesterday.

“Looking out towards the abbey, we could see a German bomber flying very low, being attacked by three British fighters,” he said.

“The bomber had a thin trail of black smoke coming from it as they gradually dropped from our sight.

“We thought it may have come down in the sea but we soon heard news that it had come down behind Bannial Flats Cottages that face the junction where Sleights road end joins the Guisborough road end – well before the roundabout was built.”

The boys discarded their bikes and raced to the scene where they saw the twin-engined bomber on its belly with one wing broken and a shattered perspex nose.

“To us boys and girls it seemed huge and many people were already clustered round it including the police and the army.

“As we got close there was something covered in a blanket which, it was speculated, was a body.

“The biggest impression on me was not the crash itself, but the large swastika and black German crosses on the body and wings which appeared very sinister to me.

“Our viewing was, however, short-lived as we were told to clear off in no uncertain terms by a sentry in a steel helmet and rifle with a fixed bayonet slung on his shoulder – but being keen on a few souvenirs, we were not to be put off.”

They turned their attention to a field Whitby side of the drive up to Bannial Flats Farm where the plane had scraped across the field covering the drive. “To our delight, the field was covered in small bits of debris and I managed to retrieve several pieces of perspex.

“This was in big demand as it was easily worked and people made brooches and rings out of it. Again, we were soon sent packing, the guards becoming very keen as they had found 250lb bombs under the wreckage which, if they had gone off, I might not have been writing this piece.”

At each side of Sleights road end where it joins the Guisborough road are short stone pillars that came from the old stone bridge at Sleights which was washed away in 1930.

The pillar at the top bears the words: “The first enemy aircraft to be shot down in England during the Second World War fell 80 yards opposite this tablet on 3 February 1940.”

l More memories from the shooting down of the bomber in the Gazette next Friday.