Relatives and eye witness to gather in woodland near Cromer at site of bomber crash tragedy in 1940

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

It was an incident that brought a bitter taste of Second World War tragedy to a quiet north Norfolk village.

But the bomber crash in November 1940 at Northrepps has never been given much attention - until now.

For on Saturday - 75 years and one day since the crash that claimed three lives - a memorial ceremony will be held where it came down.

The ceremony is the brainchild of local archaeologist James Mindham, who has carried out painstaking research into the incident.

It happened just before dawn on a Wednesday morning when the bomber was returning from an aborted raid in Germany and crashed just after arriving back in Norfolk.

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The pilot and two of the other three crew members were killed, but quickly became simply a footnote in history for 75 years – just one of many similar events that happened during the war.

The Handley Page Hampden bomber crashed at about 6.30am on November 20, 1940 in Northrepps, and Mr Mindham has put together an account of what happened.

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He said: 'The weather that night was simply dreadful. The RAF night fighters were grounded, but that was never an option for Bomber Command – scores of men and aircraft were lost to the weather during the war as crews were encouraged to press on regardless.'

The pilot of X3023, part of 44 Squadron, was Norwich man Sgt Jack Ottaway, whose direct descendants will be at the ceremony this weekend.

The plane had taken off from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire at 1.15am and had made its way over the Dutch coast on its way to attack an oil refinery at Lutzkendorf, deep in German territory, but it was an aborted mission and it returned early.

Those on board knew the risks. Pilot officer Archie Kerr, the navigator, had survived a ditching off Lowestoft earlier in the year, and gunner Sgt Stanley Hird had also recently been in a Hampden crash-landing – and the pilot on that occasion had, in an eerie coincidence, successfully brought his plane down in Northrepps.

On this occasion, though, Sgt Hird – who was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and died 10 years ago in Canada – was the only survivor. Sgt Ottaway and pilot officer Kerr were killed immediately, as was wireless operator and gunner Sgt Stanley Elliott.

Sgt Ottaway, who was 25, left a widow, Barbara, and a two-year-old daughter, Virginia – named after her father's favourite brand of tobacco.

After his death, Barbara joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and was based at RAF Shipdham, where the USAF airmen took Virginia to their hearts and made her their mascot. Virginia's two daughters will be at Saturday's ceremony – Rachel lives in Happisburgh while Joanna lives in Bury St Edmunds.

Meanwhile, three quarters of a century later, Sgt Ottaway's family remains well-known locally. His brother, Herbert, was the Ottaway half of Hadley & Ottaway, the Watton-based removals firm.

The ceremony isat Templewood, Northrepps NR27 0LJ, at 11am. Organisers advise those attending to arrive in good time due to site access.

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