Norman Payne, DFC: Norwich hotelier, college bursar, helped secure return of SS Great Britain

Norman Payne . Photo: Tangerine Creative

Norman Payne . Photo: Tangerine Creative - Credit: Tangerine Creative

A former Norwich hotelier, Norman Payne, who has died aged 91, was awarded the DFC during the second world war.

Having served for 25 years in the Royal Air Force, he retired in 1966 and was bursar at Cawston College for six years.

He was also involved in the fund-raising to secure the return of the SS Great Britain from the Falkland Islands, the vessel built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and launched in 1843. The hulk of what had once been the world's largest steamship was successfully returned to Bristol in July 1970 – more than 125 years after it had been launched.

Born in Bristol, Norman George Payne left a reserved occupation working for an aircraft manufacturer in his native city to join the RAF. His older brother, who had been a Spitfire pilot, had been killed in action.

He volunteered for the RAF as a rear gunner/wireless operator and trained in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Posted to RAF Attlebridge and 88 Squadron, flying Bostons and Blenheims, he completed three full tours of more than 500 operational hours, mostly on daylight bombing operations between 1941 and 1944. Other significant actions included laying smoke over the D-Day beaches.


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He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross following an action in late August 1942 when his Boston bomber was returning to Norfolk from a mission to bomb the Comines power station in north-eastern occupied France. When the plane was hit by accurate flak, the pilot, assisted by Sgt Payne, managed a crash landing at Ipswich. Fortunately, despite firing 'friendly' flares over the port, they were missed by Royal Navy flak and the other two crew members of the bomber, which was flying on a single engine, survived.

Flt Lt Payne had met his wife-to-be, Joan Copplestone, who was a farmer's daughter at Church Farm, Alderford. She was just 16 when, together with fellow RAF officers, they had been invited for a treat of bacon and eggs when food was strictly rationed. He flew operationally between 1941 and 1944 and was then posted to Burma for the final stages of the war.

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Married in 1947, the couple celebrated their diamond jubilee and were sent congratulations by the Queen.

Mr Payne then served with the Air Ministry in London, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Cyprus, and retired to Norfolk, partly because his sons were then at school at Framlingham College, Suffolk.

He was also involved in amateur dramatics and during his RAF career he had produced an award-winning version of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, in Cyprus.

In a later career, he owned and operated the Annesley Hotel, Norwich, the Sir Alfred Munnings Country Hotel at Mendham, near Harleston, and later the Town House, Norwich. He was instrumental in the formation of the Norwich and District Hoteliers' Association in the late 1970s.

A keen Mason and Rotarian, he was a long-standing member of the Royal Air Force Association. He also became a community liaison officer, working with St Andrew's and Hellesdon hospitals.

His wife, Joan, died two years ago. He leaves two sons, Dave and Drew, five grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.

A service of thanksgiving will take place at All Saints Church, Weston Longville, on November 5..

Michael Pollitt

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