Family remember man’s St Valentine’s Day plane crash escape at Bircham Newton

The family of RAF navigator Owen Valentine Burns visited RAF Bircham Newton, on the 75th anniversary

The family of RAF navigator Owen Valentine Burns visited RAF Bircham Newton, on the 75th anniversary of a crash he survived in 1941 - His family with the memorial at RAF Bircham Newton, from left, Catherine Burns, Geoff Bailey, Graham Bell, Malcolm Gostick, Deborah Burns, Christine Power, Carmel Gostick, Anne Routledge, Liz Bell, Veronica Bradley and Joe Burns. Picture: Matthew Usher.

It is a St Valentine's Day story of a different kind.

The family of RAF navigator Owen Valentine Burns visited RAF Bircham Newton, on the 75th anniversary

The family of RAF navigator Owen Valentine Burns visited RAF Bircham Newton, on the 75th anniversary of a crash he survived in 1941 - Collect photos of Owen. Picture: Matthew Usher.

On that day 75 years ago Owen Valentine Burns escaped after the plane he was in crashed at Croxton, near Fulmodeston, having been diverted from RAF Bircham Newton, where he was based.

To mark the anniversary, six of his children, along with their partners and his wife, gathered at the former RAF station to celebrate his life and remember the lucky escape which led them to Norfolk.

With his tongue in his cheek, Mr Burns had credited his middle name for his good fortune to survive the events of February 14, 1941.

His Bristol Blenheim, a light bomber, had been out on a night patrol when it was caught up in an enemy raid.

As the crew headed for the safety of their home base, the lights at Bircham Newton were extinguished to prevent the enemy spotting the station meaning the plane had to divert towards Langham.

However, when they arrived there they found the same problem and it is believed the plane's wing caught a tree as the pilot looked to turn.

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Not everyone on board was as lucky as Mr Burns, who escaped with a broken collarbone, with the navigator, Pilot Officer Ernest Phillips losing his life, and pilot Joe Chamberlain spent eight months in hospital.

Mr Burns, who left the RAF as a Flight Lieutenant in 1948, died last year just a few months short of his 100th birthday and his family decided it was the right time to celebrate his memory with the visit.

They also took the time to visit the grave of Pilot Officer Phillips at St Mary's Church, Bircham Newton.

His wife, Deborah Burns, said: 'They were returning from a sortie and when they got back to Bircham Newton the lights were extinguished as they had the Germans just behind them so they diverted to Langham and tried to land.

'They hit a cold rutted field.

'The plane caught fire and Owen went back for Chamberlain apparently. Then local people, farmers and fire engines, arrived and helped them.'

His daughter, Liz Bell, said: 'Because they hadn't used all their ammunition there were lots of rounds going off, and I think dad thought he was quite lucky not to get hit.'

The family only heard the full story in recent years when Mrs Bell's son approached his grandfather for a school project and was given a copy of his memoirs.

After leaving the RAF Mr Burns brought up a large family and he left behind seven children, 16 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren. He also remained strongly linked to the air force and was part of the Battle of Britain Fighter Association.

His son, Joe, said: 'It is a celebratory day for us because he survived the crash. The whole family being here depended on his luck that night.

'So many lives, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, would not have existed if things had gone differently.'

The family were shown around the RAF Bircham Newton Heritage Centre by curator Ian Jacklin.

Mr Burns' daughter, Clare Hall, could not attend the visit as she lives in France.

The heritage centre is open from 11am to 5pm on bank holidays and the last Sunday of the month, starting from Easter.

Have you got an unusual Valentine's Day story? Write to doug.faulkner@archant.co.uk