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Remembering the crew of the Lady Jane

PUBLISHED: 13:32 03 December 2010

Sheriff of Norwich, Derek James, and the Sheriff's Lady, Bridgette James, at a service to remember the crew of a Liberator killed when it crashed near Freeman Square in Norwich in 1944.

Sheriff of Norwich, Derek James, and the Sheriff's Lady, Bridgette James, at a service to remember the crew of a Liberator killed when it crashed near Freeman Square in Norwich in 1944.

Archant Norfolk 2010

Derek James attends a memorial service in honour of the young men who lost their lives when the Liberator Lady Jane crashed in Norwich in 1944.

Nine white roses, each representing a young life, were laid on a cold day near a busy road in Norwich.

As the traffic sped past us we stood in quiet reflection to remember the young men who lost their lives on the same day in 1944.

Since then this part of Norwich, Heigham Street, has completely changed and has been re-developed with new homes and industrial developments.

But as we put the roses on the memorial in Freeman Square our thoughts went back to that terrible November day as pilot Ralph Dooley struggled with the controls of his stricken Liberator, looking for a way to avoid crashing on houses.

While we could imagine what it would have been like, eye-witnesses from that day have never forgotten watching from the ground as the mighty bomber – named the Lady Jane – fell out of the sky.

The people gathered for this short and moving service, conducted by the Rev Elsie Hutcheon of St Barnabas Church, where there is a memorial to the men, all had their reasons for attending... and remembering.

As sheriff and sheriff’s lady, my wife and I, were representing you at this special service. Among the congregation was author Richard Clements who wrote a book In Search of the Lady Jane and artist Mike Bailey who painted the tragedy.

Others remember the incident as if it were yesterday. The huge bomber was in trouble when it flew in, low over the city, on November 24 1944, narrowly missing St John’s Cathedral – a landmark for American planes.

People, children at the time, said the noise was deafening. The Lady Jane was almost on its side as pilot Dooley, aged just 20, fought the controls, searching for waste ground. The plane then clipped the top of the old St Philips Church. The pilot brought it down on one of the few areas without houses – the corporation yard – and it exploded in a ball of fire. The crew didn’t stand a chance.

The boys in the Lady Jane, all in their early 20s, will never be forgotten.

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