Ryhope’s Unlikely World War II Hero: Cyril Barton

In 2022 a new village mural was created in Ryhope, celebrating the area’s history. Imagery on the mural focuses on the village’s mining history, but also depicts a World War II bomber and pilot. But just who is the man shown on the mural? And why is he revered in Ryhope? Here, we discuss the story of Cyril Barton, a RAF serviceman who effectively sacrificed himself to serve his country and then save the village.

Cyril Joe Barton was born far down south in Suffolk, in the year 1921. He began his working life as an apprentice at the Parnall Aircraft Factory, an occupation which was so critical that he was exempt from Wartime conscription. However, in 1941 Barton decided to voluntarily serve his country and opted to join the Royal Air Force. After receiving training far afield in the United States, he became a sergeant pilot and joined the Bomber Command’s No. 78 Squadron, piloting a Halifax Bomber.

Throughout the course of the war, Barton engaged in attacks against Nazi facilities in occupied France and even Berlin itself. On March 30th, 1944, he joined an attack against Nuremberg. However on his way to the target he was attacked by the Luftwaffe which punctured his fuel tanks, damaged his engine and destroyed his communications. Despite the odds stacking up against him, Barton decided to press on with the mission, even as other members of his crew bailed out. He successfully struck the target before turning back.

However, as he headed back to Britain, his starboard engine exploded. With diminishing fuel and no navigation, Barton managed to steer the struggling bomber back over the North Sea at night. As he reached the coast at dawn, his fuel run out entirely and the plane was too low an altitude to allow him to escape by parachute. This forced him to crash land it. Upon seeing a village and colliery below, Barton steered the bomber to avoid civilian casualties, but severely injured himself on landing.

Barton had landed in Ryhope, a colliery village in the south of Sunderland. The three remaining members of his crew survived the ordeal, but Barton ultimately died from the impact. He had nonetheless brought a tremendous act of heroism to the village, who would not forget his legacy. In honour of his actions, Barton was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. His body was returned to Surrey, where it was buried in Kingston Upon Thames Cemetery.

A street in Ryhope, Barton Park, is also named after him.