Sunday, 3 February 2013

Christian Heroes: Cyril Barton's Heroism

            On 30 March 1944, no fewer than ninety-six bombers were reported missing from the night’s raid on Germany.  It was one of the Allies’ heaviest losses in a bomber raid.  Cyril Barton was captain and pilot of a Halifax bomber detailed to attack Nuremburg.  Seventy miles short of the target, a Junkers 88 night fighter swooped on the aircraft.  The very first burst of fire from it put the entire intercom system out of action.  A Messerschmitt 210 night fighter joined in and damaged one engine.  The bombers machine guns went out of action so the gunners could not return the German fighter’s fire.
            Somehow Barton managed to keep his Halifax on course, covering those final seventy miles to Nuremburg, although fighters continued to attack him all the way to the target area.  But in the confusion caused by the failure of the intercom system at the height of the battle, a signal had been misinterpreted, and the navigator, bomb aimer, and wireless operator had all left the aircraft by parachute.
            Barton then faced a situation of dire peril.  His aircraft was damaged, his navigational team had gone, and he could not communicate with the rest of the crew.  If he continued his mission he could be at the mercy of hostile fighters, when silhouetted against the fires in the target area; and if he happened to survive that, he would have to make a four-and-a-half hour journey home on three engines across heavily defended enemy territory.  Barton determined to press on, however; he reached his target, and released the bombs himself.
            As he wrenched the Halifax round to aim for home, the propeller of the damaged engine, which had been vibrating badly, flew off.  Two of the bombers fuel tanks had also suffered damage and were leaking.  But Barton remained aloof from all these dangers and concentrated on the task of holding his course without any navigational aids and against strong headwinds.  Somehow he successfully avoided the most strongly defended areas on his return route.
            Using just his own judgement, he eventually crossed the English coast only ninety miles north of his base.  Now the worst part was about to begin.  As a result of the leaks in the petrol tanks, fuel was nearly non-existent.  The port (left) engines stopped with a sickening, intermittent cough.  Seeing a suitable landing place – for the aircraft was now too low to be abandoned successfully – Barton ordered the three remaining members of the Halifax crew to take up crash stations.  The bomber lost height rapidly.  With only one engine functioning, he struggled to land clear of a group of houses just below them.  The three members of the crew survived the crash – but Cyril Barton did not.  The three who bailed out over Germany were safe too, as Prisoners-of-War, so Barton alone died, while his friends and crew lived.
            Mrs. Barton read the letter Cyril had written in the case that this ever happened:

Dear Mum,

            I hope you never receive this, but I quite expect you will.  I’m expecting to do my first operational trip in a few days.  I know what ops over Germany mean, and I have no illusions about it.  By my own calculations the average life of a crew is 20 ops, and we have 30 to do in our first tour. 
            I’m writing this for two reasons.  One, to tell you how I would like my money spent that I have left behind me; two, to tell you how I feel about meeting my Maker.
1.         I intended, as you know, taking a university course with my savings.  Well, I would like it to be spent over the education of my brothers and sisters.
2.         All I can say about this is that I am quite prepared to die.  It holds no terror for me.
            At times I’ve wondered whether I’ve been right in believing what I do, and recently did doubt the veracity of the Bible, but in the little time I’ve had to sort out intellectual problems, I’ve been left in favour of the Bible. 
            Apart from all that, though, I have the inner conviction as I write, of a force outside myself, and my heart tells me I have not trusted in Him in vain.  All I am anxious about is that you and the rest of the family will also come to know Him.  Ken, I know, already does.  I commend my Saviour to you.
            I am writing to Doreen separately. I expect you will have guessed by now that we are quite in love with each other.
            Well, that’s covered everything now I guess, so love to Dad and all,
Your loving son,
                                    Cyril Barton

            Cyril Barton was awarded the Victoria Cross.
            The Victoria Cross, I might add, is the highest honour one can win in the British Commonwealth Forces.  

Written and Posted by William A Moore

            Story copied from British Aircraft of World War Two, John Frayn Turner, (Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd, 1975).

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