Tomorrow serving and retired police officers will come together for a memorial service to mark the 60th anniversary of the fatal shooting of one of their own.

Det Insp James O’Donnell was a celebrated war hero, who was shot and captured by the Nazis in Holland in May 1940 during Operation Harpoon - an ultimately successful mission which saw the Dutch Royal Family and government evacuated from the Hook of Holland and the Dutch gold and currency reserves brought to England.

After being taken from The Hague to a prisoner of war camp at Thorn, Polland, he made nine escape attempts, eventually winning his freedom in in April 1945 and rejoining advancing Allied troops in Bergen.

Born in April 1911and originally from Turton, DI O’Donnell had joined the Irish Guards in September 1929 and initially served for three years, carrying out ceremonial duties as a land sergeant. He joined the former Blackburn Borough Police Force in 1932, becoming a member of CID in 1936.

Despite being in a so-called ‘reserved occupation’ he took the decision to sign up with the 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, rising to the rank of Lance Sergeant. He was later awarded the Military Medal for his gallantry in fighting off the German Stuka aircraft attacking Harpoon Force. DI O’Donnell was subsequently awarded a Second Award Bar to his Military Medal for his remarkable escape attempts.

A CID colleague, who worked alongside DI O’Donnell for more than a decade, said: “Of his military service I know much, but can say little, except that even as a prisoner of war he contrived to assist his country’s war effort at great personal risk to himself and with complete disregard for the consequences of his activities.”

DI O’Donnell, who lived in Higher Croft Road, returned to Blackburn CID and rose to the rank of detective inspector in 1955.

During his police career, which saw him become head of CID, he received six commendations, and even earned two in one day.

Despite surviving the best the Nazis could throw at him, DI O’Donnell was tragically gunned down just 100 yards from Blackburn Police Station.

His killer Henry King, a labourer, finished his sixth whisky and dry ginger in Blackburn’s Dun Horse Hotel and announced he was going home to shoot his wife and baby.

He said: “Ta, ta, I won’t see you again. You’ll read about it in the papers tomorrow.”

Just over 12 hours later on Saturday, December 13, 1958, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph’s front page declared: “WIFE DEAD, DETECTIVES SHOT IN MIDNIGHT SIEGE.”

DI O’Donnell died later that day, aged 48.

It emerged during King’s murder trial that he was parted from his 20-year-old wife Sheila and went to her parents’ home in Brewery Street and barricaded himself him with a shotgun he had bought earlier that day.

At 11.04pm a taxi driver ran into the police station on Northgate shouting that someone with a gun was holding a family hostage.

King, who had been discharged from the RAF due to psychiatric problems, killed his wife and shot an unarmed police office in the groin without warning. PCs Jack Riley and Peter Helliwell helped him from the house.

Seconds later, another shot rang out when King blasted his wife in the back. She died instantly.

Mr O’Donnell, unarmed, went into the house and tried to talk to King. The officer knew King, having arrested him before, and was let into the back room. There he found King stood over the lifeless body of his wife.

King told Mr O’Donnell that he wanted to make a statement, but then fired without warning.

Mr O’Donnell was shot in the chest. He died in hospital the following day.

King served 18 years for manslaughter and was released in 1977, aged 47.

Following his death Mr O’Donnell was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for Gallantry.

His bravery has also been marked by the Police Roll of Honour Trust.

A memorial service marking the 60th anniversary of Mr O’Donnell’s death will take place at Pleasington Cemetery on Thursday at 1pm presided over by the Rev Anthony Ford, himself a former Blackburn detective.

The service has been organised by Dan Perkins, a 52-year-old retired former Blackburn detective, who came across Mr O’Donnell’s story in November 2008.

Mr Perkins, who lives in Buckshaw Village, said: “The commemorative plaque for DI Donnell is in the CID office at Blackburn and is a poignant reminder that on fortunately rare occasions officers come across violence and pay the ultimate price.

“It is important people know the story and know the man. It’s not just the police stuff but the military history as well.”