Memorial to be built for second world war airmen killed in Mosquito crash
- Credit: IAN BURT
For almost 70 years the military history of a roadside spot in a mid Norfolk village has been as unknown and unassuming as its location.
But it is the place where two pilots died after their Mosquito aircraft nose-dived and went up in flames on their way back to their Swanton Morley base during the Second World War.
And now after a chance conversation and endless research by keen local historian, a war memorial will be built in North Elmham, near Dereham, to remember the fallen heroes.
Janet Woodhouse, a keen researcher from North Elmham, has been given permission to have a memorial between the King's Head pub and the old railway station on Back Lane in the village.
Hoping to be unveiled in April 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary, the memorial will mark the lives of Flight Lieutenant John Paterson, 24, from New Zealand and English-man Flight Lieutenant John Mellar, 29, who died on April 27 1944 when their Mosquito aircraft crashed.
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The pilot, John Paterson, lost control and the plane nose-dived into the piece of land just off, what is now, a main road through the village.
Mrs Woodhouse, a retired teacher with a interest in military history, first discovered the village crash after talking to neighbour Ray Snowling, 87, about the war.
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She said: 'Just after Christmas last year Ray, who was born and brought up in North Elmham, said to me 'you should do something about that Mosquito crash'.
'We then had this back-and-forth conversation – what crash, where it was, and when it was.
'I had never heard about it and I couldn't believe that this terrible accident had happened right on the edge of the village and no one had ever talked about it in my presence.'
Mrs Woodhouse started digging around for more information about the men who died in the village she had lived in for almost all her life.
She started in Swanton Morley church, hoping to find the men's graves, but had no luck.
A letter was later sent to the New Zealand high commission, and, to Mrs Woodhouse's surprise, a full military history was returned.
She discovered the men, from 487 Squadron of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, had been based at Swanton Morley for just two days when they were killed.
It remains unclear why the Englishman was serving with New Zealand but Mrs Woodhouse did also track down his son in France.
'The whole thing captured my imagination,' she said. 'I spent all my life in the village, so I am interested in its social history and military history too.
She said the timber-framed Mosquito plane would have 'gone up like a matchbox' and she wanted to do something to remember the men who died inside it.
Mr Snowling, whose family has lived in North Elmham for five generations, was the first at the scene of the crash.
He said he campaigned in the 1950s for the men to be honoured but in the post-war days got nowhere.
But he said he was overjoyed with the work Mrs Woodhouse has done for plans for the war memorial, which will be made by a local builder.
'It's something that has been on my mind for years, it's part of the history of the village,' he said.
'It's a part of Elmham, something people should realise what actually happened there.'