On Saturday, January 13, at 5.47pm, they took off from Goosepool, aboard Lancaster KB793, on a routine three-hour navigation exercise, carried out at 10,000ft over the North York Moors. At 8.35pm, exercise over, McMullen called Goosepool for “joining instructions”, and was told he’d be touching down within ten minutes. Engineer Sgt “Lew” Lewellin wrote in his log: “All temperatures and pressures normal. All four engines running evenly.”
But almost immediately a fault developed in the outer port Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which emitted a shower of sparks into the dark night. The shower quickly became a sheet of flame, and a red glow began spreading up the wing. At 2,500ft over Acklam, with three engines still working and McMullen still in control of the plane, he gave the order to abandon the aircraft. Jump, jump, jump... All six parachuted safely to earth, drifting downwards along what became the A66 between Elton and Sadberge. At 600ft, engineer Lewellin was last to leave. As he stood by the main door, he looked over to McMullen at the controls, and gestured for him to leave. But McMullen’s mind was already made up. According to the Air Ministry, over the roar of the developing catastrophe, he replied: “It’s only me for it. There are thousands down below.” He could have jumped to safety – Lewellin landed unscathed 500 yards from the crash site – but in that split second, McMullen chose to remain.
He would have seen Darlington – population 80,000 – laid out before him. In his last moments, McMullen fought to keep the plane away from the homes of the Yarm Road area and, at 8.49pm, its undercarriage skimmed the rooftops of the last of the houses and plunged to earth in a field belonging to Lingfield Farm. It cartwheeled 150 yards across the soil, losing various bits of flaming fuselage as it went, its fuel tanks exploding vividly and its bullets dancing like firecrackers. McMullen was dead, killed on impact. He’d been catapulted, still strapped to his seat, 120 yards out of the windscreen, but his flying boots were found later in the aircraft, still attached to the rubber pedals in the cockpit where he had remained in those dying seconds.
This led to the Gallant Airman Appeal, and the townspeople quickly donated £1,000 to be sent to McMullen's widow and five-year-old daughter. However, Thelma refused to accept the money, saying it would be best put to use in war-ravaged Britain. The appeal, run by the Twenty Club, used it to endow two children’s cots at the Memorial Hospital. In the days before the NHS, which started in 1948, hospitals relied on voluntary contributions, and in the 1930s and 1940s, groups, firms and individuals in the Darlington area collected money to sponsor a bed or a cot. Plaques with the sponsors' names on were screwed to the wall above the bed their contributions paid for. As time has moved on, those plaques have been taken down and only one appears to survive. Appropriately, it is the Gallant Airman plaque, and it is now on the wall inside the entrance to the memorial hall at the hospital.
The cache can be located at N54 31.ABC W001 31.DEF, the numbers can be obtained from the plaque on the memorial....
A = 9th number on the plaque
B = 2nd number on the plaque
C = 5th number - 4th number on the plaque
D = 6th number on the plaque
E = How many maple leafs are on the crest ?
F = How many crewmen parachuted to safety ?
Checksum = 17