Remember the young men who died to save others

A special service to honour the heroic crew of the Liberator Lady Jane is being held in Norwich. Derek James reports.

We will remember them – a special service to honour the crew of the Liberator Lady Jane, who lost their lives trying to save others, takes place in Norwich on Wednesday, November 24.

On that day in 1944 people on the ground watched in horror as pilot Ralph Dooley struggled to keep his stricken aircraft in the air until he could see some land without houses on it.

The mighty American bomber narrowly missed St John's Cathedral, flying almost sideways over Earlham Road and Dereham Road, before clipping the top of the old St Philips Church.

Witnesses could see the crew fighting to control the plane but there was no escape.

The brave pilot then came down on one of the few areas without houses, the old Corporation Yard. The Lady Jane exploded in a ball of fire and all nine members of the crew, mostly airmen in the 20s, were killed.

Eye-witness Brian Chatten said later: 'They paid the ultimate sacrifice but must have missed killing residents of the houses and cottages in and around Heigham Street.'

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The B24 Liberator had been returning to Horsham St Faith from a practice session when it got into trouble.

One man who went on to paint the plane is renowned aviation artist Mike Bailey, who said: 'I had just come home from school and was laying the fire for my mum when I heard an aircraft in trouble.'

He rushed outside and heard neighbours shouting.

'I just caught a glimpse of the last seconds of the flight.

'It was going down, over on its side, and then disappeared, followed up by a ball of flame which shot up into the air,' recalled Mike.

'Us kids all ran to the end of Barker Street where a wall and fence bordered on the Corporation yard.

'We got there before the firemen and I got my pals to pump me up the wall. I got my hands on top and looked over but I could only look for a second, the heat was so intense,' he added.

The young crew perished but I wonder how many other lives they saved on that fateful day all those years ago.

We will remember them.

You are all invited to attend a short service to remember the crew of the Lady Jane. It will be held at the memorial in Freeman Square near Heigham Street on Wednesday, November 24 at 2pm. The service will be conducted the Rev Elsie Hutcheon of St Barnabas Church. The crew are all named on the memorial in the church.