Cyril Joe Barton VC

b. 05/06/1921 Elveden, Suffolk. d. 31/03/1944 Ryhope, Durham.

Cyril Joe Barton (1921-1944) was born on 5th June 1921 in Elveden, Suffolk, son of Frederick James Barton and Ethel May (nee Edwards). He had a younger brother called Kenneth George, born in 1923. Cyril was brought up in Surrey, and after attending studies at Kingston-upon-Thames Technical College, became apprenticed as a draughtsman in an aircraft factory at Tolworth. He was brought up as a committed Christian, attending bible classes, and on occasions, giving talks and lectures on Christian principles. He was a committed teetotaller and non-smoker throughout his short life.

Cyril J Barton VC

Volunteering for aircrew duties with the RAF, he was eventually enlisted on 16th April 1941 and, after basic training, he was promoted to Leading Aircraftman (LAC) on 1st November, and then sailed to the USA to commence pilot instruction. Arriving at Darr Aero Technical School, Albany, Georgia on 17th January 1942, he made his first-ever flight two days later in a PT17 trainer, and flew “solo” for the first time on 20th February. Completing his preliminary training at Darr Aero on 4th July, he moved to Cochran Field, Macon for basic instruction until 7th September; on which date he again moved, to Napier Field, Duthan, Alabama, for advanced training.

Graduating as a Sergeant Pilot on 10th November 1942, Cy Barton returned to England, and was posted to No 6 (P) AFU, Chipping Norton on 15th March 1943, before joining No 19 OTU, Kinloss, Morayshire on 4th May. At Kinloss, Barton began to select the members of his future bomber crew. As navigator he chose Sergeant Len Lambert, and then “recruited” Pilot Officer Jack Kay as wireless operator, and Flying Officer Wally Crate, a Canadian, as bomb aimer. The fourth member was an air gunner, Sergeant Freddie Brice, from Devon.

The crew first flew together in a Whitley, on 1st June, and for the next four weeks began to get used to each other, both in the air and on the ground. Leaving Kinloss on 3rd July for a 14-days’ leave, Barton and his crew next reported to No 1663 Heavy Conversion Unit (HCU), Rufforth in Yorkshire on 17th July, and quickly completed the crew establishment by persuading Sergeant Maurice Trousdale, flight engineer, and Sergeant Harry Wood, air gunner, to join them.

Whilst at Rufforth, he undertook his first two operational sorties over Germany, without his as yet untested crew. On 24th July he became second pilot to the crew of a 76 Squadron Halifax for an attack on Hamburg; and three nights later, again as second pilot, returned to Hamburg. On 1st August he made his first conversion flight in a Halifax with his complete crew – still as second pilot – and then settled down as skipper to train his crew to operational standard. On 5th September 1943, the crew moved to Breighton airfield to join their first operational unit, 78 Squadron; with Barton promoted to Flight Sergeant on the same day, and commissioned as Pilot Officer on 26th September.

On 11th November, the crew had a narrow escape when the aircraft was damaged by flak during a raid on Leverkusen, and had to make an emergency landing at RAF Woodbridge. After a quick turnaround, they were back in the air, raiding Berlin on 22nd November, Frankfurt on the 25th, and Stuttgart on the 26th.

On 15th January 1944, Barton and his crew moved to Snaith airfield, where a new squadron, 578, was officially formed the same day from C Flight of 51 Squadron. On 24th March he made his fourth raid on Berlin, without incident, and two nights later bombed Essen. Unknown to Barton when he took off that night, 26th March, his promotion to Flying Officer had been officially promulgated.

On 30th March 1944 in an attack on Nuremberg, Germany and while 70 miles (110 km) from the target, Pilot Officer Barton’s Handley Page Halifax bomber (serial LK797) was badly damaged by two night fighters, and two fuel tanks were punctured, both the radio and rear turret disabled, the starboard inner engine was on fire and the intercom lines were cut. Despite several determined attacks by a Junkers Ju 88 night fighter, and with the aid of his crew, Barton managed to avoid further attacks. A misinterpreted signal resulted in three of the crew bailing out, and Barton was left with no navigator, bombardier or wireless operator. He pressed on with the attack however, releasing the bombs himself. On the return journey as he crossed the English coast the fuel ran out and with only one engine working he crashed trying to avoid the houses and pit head workings of the village of Ryhope, near Sunderland. He was pulled alive from the wreckage but died before reaching the hospital. One miner died, when he was hit by part of the crippled plane, but the remaining three crew members survived.

On 6th April 1944, Cy Barton was laid to rest in Bonner Hill Road Cemetery, Kingston-upon-Thames, but on 27th June, came the posthumous award of a Victoria Cross. In a fitting tribute by one of his surviving crew, Freddie Brice, “How can words portray a true picture of such a man as Cy?” His Victoria Cross was later donated to the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon.





Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map

Thomas Stewart – VC Medal on display at RAF Museum, Hendon and the image of Barton’s grave taken in July 2023.

John Sharrock – the images of New Malden War Memorial, the blue plaque in New Malden, and Barton Green road sign in New Malden.