Second World War bomber pilots to be remembered, 80 years after fatal crash
- 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.
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.
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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.
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“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.
“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”.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.