Second World War bomber pilots to be remembered, 80 years after fatal crash

The memorial plaque for the crew of the Handley Page Hampden bomber, which crashed in Northrepps woo

The memorial plaque for the crew of the Handley Page Hampden bomber, which crashed in Northrepps woodland during the Second World War. Insets, two of the crew members who lost their lives in the crash, left, Stan Elliot, and right, Jack Ottaway. Pictures: MARK BULLIMORE/SUPPLIED - Credit: Archant

Eight decades have passed since the early morning peace in a north Norfolk village was shattered by the crash of a Handley Page Hampden bomber.

A file photo from a 2015 service to mark the 75th anniversary of teh Handley Page Hampden bomber cr

A file photo from a 2015 service to mark the 75th anniversary of teh Handley Page Hampden bomber crashed in Northrepps. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

But despite the lockdown restrictions, a small group of people are determined that this important milestone of the Second World War tragedy does not go unremembered.

November 20 will be the 80th anniversary of the day the aircraft designed aircraft designated X3023 crashed at around 6.20am in the grounds of Templewood House at Northrepps.

Because of the coronavirus restrictions just two people will be able to attend a memorial service at the crash site on the day - David Russell, from Roughton, and Rachel Elkin from Happsiburgh, who is the granddaughter of one of the three airmen who died.

Mrs Elkin, whose grandfather, Sergeant Jack Ottaway, 25, of Watton, was the pilot, said the crash was a devastating blow to his wife, Barbara, and their family.

Jack Ottaway, his wife Barbara and daughter Virginia. Jack was killed when the bomber he was flying

Jack Ottaway, his wife Barbara and daughter Virginia. Jack was killed when the bomber he was flying crashed at Northrepps in November 1940. - Credit: Archant


You may also want to watch:


She said was proud her grandfather was among those who had helped defeat Hitler’s forces.

Mrs Elkin said: “Their courage and their selflessness is mind blowing and extremely humbling.

Most Read

“But we should spare a thought, also, for those they left behind. I often imagine how Barbara must have felt when Jack volunteered for what proved to be his final mission.

“Eighty years is but a chapter in a history book, but when I picture Jack and his chums in the mess, string band in the background, enjoying a few beers before the next insane raid, it is a world away from our lives today.

Rachel Elkin, granddaughter of the Handley Page Hampden's pilot Jack Ottaway, at a memorial service

Rachel Elkin, granddaughter of the Handley Page Hampden's pilot Jack Ottaway, at a memorial service at the Northrepps crash site at the 2015 service. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

“55,400 young men died flying with Bomber Command, many in their late teens.

“Their courage and fortitude was outstanding, enduring cold, dark, cramped conditions as they took the fight to Germany, exposed to night fighters, anti-aircraft fire, mid-air collisions, difficult weather conditions

and bleak prospects.”

Mr Russell said the aircrew, from the RAF Volunteer Reserve, had exhibited “the finest qualities of their generation”.

Sergeant Jack Ottaway, who was the pilot on the Handley Page Hampden that crashed at Northrepps on N

Sergeant Jack Ottaway, who was the pilot on the Handley Page Hampden that crashed at Northrepps on November 20, 1940. Picture: Supplied by David Russell - Credit: Archant

He said: “These men shouldn’t be forgotten, because they were volunteers, fighting for the freedom of this country.”

James Mindham, from Dilham, who carried out research into the bomber and its crew, said the bomber never reached its target after taking off from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire.

He said it was probably attacked shortly after crossing the Dutch coast.

Mr Mindham said: “It’s likely that they lost the starboard engine soon afterwards and decided to turn back into the increasingly poor weather and across the North Sea.

A Handley Page Hampden. Picture: PUBLIC DOMAIN

A Handley Page Hampden. Picture: PUBLIC DOMAIN - Credit: Archant

“Jack would have had to trade height for airspeed now that he had only one engine, so by the time they crossed the Norfolk coast the remaining engine was beginning to fail and there was no height to bale out.

“The only option was to crash land in the dark.”

MORE: Relatives and eye witness to gather in woodland near Cromer at site of bomber crash tragedy in 1940The other airmen who died were navigator Pilot Officer Archie Kerr and wireless operator/air gunner Sergeant Stanley Elliott. A further air gunner, Sergeant Stanley Hir,d survived the crash and served to the end of the war, later emigrating to Canada.

Mr Mindham added: “It is incredibly important that we also remember the loved ones of those killed.

Sergeant Stanley Elliott, who was the wireless operator/air gunner on the Handley Page Hampden that

Sergeant Stanley Elliott, who was the wireless operator/air gunner on the Handley Page Hampden that crashed at Northrepps on November 20, 1940. Picture: Supplied by David Russell - Credit: Archant

“For the wives of bomber crew life was just so brutal, one minute you were having dinner with your husband, the next you were waving him goodbye as he shut the garden gate behind him and strolled from the married quarters to the airfield.”

At the time of the crash, the Ottaways had a two-year-old daughter called Virginia, Mrs Elkin’s mother.

Mrs Ottaway later volunteered as a WAAF at a US airbase, and Virginia became its mascot.

A memorial plaque for the airmen was installed on a tree stump at the site around five years ago, and that is where the upcoming memorial service will be held.

The memorial plaque for the crew of the Handley Page Hampden bomber, which crashed in Northrepps woo

The memorial plaque for the crew of the Handley Page Hampden bomber, which crashed in Northrepps woodland during the Second World War. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Mr Russell will lay a wreath on behalf Patricia Le-May, sister of Sgt Elliot, and he is co-ordinating the event for Jack Broughton, of the Royal Air Forces Association.

Mrs Elkin said she also wanted to thank Eddie Anderson, who owns Templewood, for opening his grounds so they could hold the service.

The village church will also be commemorating the event by flying the RAF Ensign.

Viriginia Ottaway as a child, touching the propeller of an aircraft. Her father, Sergeant Jack Ottaw

Viriginia Ottaway as a child, touching the propeller of an aircraft. Her father, Sergeant Jack Ottaway, from Watton was one of three airmen who lost their lives in the bomber crash at Northrepps. Virginia later became a mascot of a US airbase her mother, Barbara, volunteered at as a WAAF. Image: Supplied by James Mindham - Credit: Archant

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus