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New bid to honour 700 fallen heroes of RAF Downham Market

PUBLISHED: 09:17 10 March 2017 | UPDATED: 09:17 10 March 2017

The Battle or Britain Flight's Lancaster bomber - one of just two still flying in the world. Picture: Chris Bishop

The Battle or Britain Flight's Lancaster bomber - one of just two still flying in the world. Picture: Chris Bishop

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A new campaign is being launched to build a memorial for Norfolk’s forgotten heroes.
More than 700 air crew who flew from RAF Downham Market were shot down and killed in the Second World War.

The RAF Victoria Cross Memorial at St Mary's Church in Bexwell, Picture: Matthew Usher The RAF Victoria Cross Memorial at St Mary's Church in Bexwell, Picture: Matthew Usher

Today little remains of the bomber base, which stood beside the A10 at Bexwell.

And just two of the 705 who died are remembered on a plaque at the village church.

Ann Brownsell is a trustee of the RAF Downham Market Memorial Trust, which hopes to raise £250,000 to build a more fitting memorial.

“My great-great uncle, Victor Leonard Twydell, flew with 218 Squadron in a Stirling,” she said. “He was flight sergeant, engineer.

One of the few buildings which survives at Bexwell. Picture: Chris Bishop One of the few buildings which survives at Bexwell. Picture: Chris Bishop

“On February 20, 1944, he took off from Downham Market at 6pm but failed to return.

“They were on their way back from Kiel but instead of coming back on the normal flight route, they were coming back over Germany and Holland. I’m led to believe their plane came down in the sea.”

Downham was home to the Pathfinders - elite crews who flew ahead of the main bomber force to drop flares marking their intended target.

They flew low to increase the accuracy of their markers. But this increased the risk of being hit by anti-aircraft fire, or ambushed by German night fighters.

Writing on a door of a former crew building at Bexwell. Picture: Chris Bishop Writing on a door of a former crew building at Bexwell. Picture: Chris Bishop

Mrs Brownsell said land had been donated for a memorial near Downham Home and Garden Store, on the Stone Cross industrial estate off the A10, by farmer and trust treasurer Nicholas Martin.

The group is holding open days at the store on Saturday, April 15 and Monday, April 17.

A model of the memorial, which will carry the name of every fallen airman, will be on show.

Mrs Brownsell said: “By keeping their memory alive we will enable both young and old alike to understand the importance of the airfield to the local area, economy and people of Downham Market and the surrounding villages during its time as an operational Airfield and the bravery of the air crews.”

Casualty numbers are made all the more remarkable by the fact the airfield, with its three-mile-long runways, was operational for just two years between 1942 - 44.

Most air crew were aged between 18 and 24. Bomber Command had the highest loss rate of any of the armed services, with 55,000 killed in its strategic bombing campaign against Germany, which began in 1942. Few survived a “tour” of 30 missions.

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