AN Ilkley man who rushed to the scene of a fatal wartime plane crash has ended more than 50 years of anguish for a Scotsman.

John Reilly, 76, of Lanarkshire, lost his best friend, Felix Byrne, in the crash on moorland between Ilkley and Addingham on January 31, 1944.

Mr Reilly has spent 56 years trying to find out where his friend was killed. An appeal through the Ilkley Gazette has finally allowed Mr Reilly to lay the memory of his friend to rest.

Len Hudson, 70, of River View, was only 14 on the night the Halifax Bomber crashed, killing the seven-strong crew. Six Canadians also died in the crash, along with Felix Byrne.

The obsession of finding the truth passed from Mr Reilly to his son, Paul, who wrote to the Ilkley Gazette in December last year. He hoped someone could explain what had happened and show his father the exact crash site.

Mr Hudson spotted the letter and contacted Mr Reilly junior. Father and son visited Ilkley on Tuesday to meet Mr Hudson.

John Reilly said: "For me, this has been the end of a very long journey. Felix and I were inseparable pals. There hasn't been a day gone by that I haven't thought about him. It will allow me to close the book once and for all."

Mr Reilly said he regularly tended his friend's grave back in Scotland and he said meeting Mr Hudson and viewing the scene of the tragedy had been extremely emotional.

Mr Hudson said: "I remember the night very well. It was a real pea souper. I remember seeing the flash and hearing the crunch of metal. I think one member of the crew was still alive when they pulled him out of the wreckage, but he died later in hospital."

Mr Hudson cycled all the way to the scene after spotting the plane from the Addingham farm he was living on at the time.

"The tail and wings had been smashed off the plane and I can still see the flames," said Mr Hudson. "I am pleased to have been able to solve the mystery for Mr Reilly. I know it really means a lot to him," he said.

The Halifax bomber is believed to have been on a training flight from RAF Dishforth when it struck high ground, on Netherwood moor according to Mr Hudson.

Mr Reilly and his friend, who was 20 when he died, had met up only two days before the fatal crash.

"I have never forgotten him and I do now feel a sense of profound relief," said Mr Reilly.

John Reilly said: "We are so very grateful to Len Hudson for helping end my father's search and also to the Ilkley Gazette for printing my initial appeal."

He said: "I would be happy to hear from anyone else who reads this story and remembers the night in question."

Mr Reilly can be contacted at Strathyre, 1 Oaktree Gardens, Dumbarton. He is also anxious to trace records or information about the Halifax bomber's unit, 1664 Heavy Conversion Unit, RAF Dishforth.

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