Heroes Return Blog – Stories from Second World War veterans’ trips

Relieved to be alive!

Leslie Temple used his Heroes Return 2 grant to travel to Canada to pay his respects to his commanding officer whose bravery and ingenuity saved an entire bomber crew

“The BIG grant helped me pay my respects to the man who saved my life”

RAF veteran Leslie Temple from Ilford in London travelled to British Columbia to remember his skipper Erik Nielsen who later became Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister and was brother to Airplane actor Leslie Neilsen. Leslie joined the RAF in 1943 to train as an aircrew wireless operator and later trained on B-17s – the famous Flying Fortress bombers.

“On the night of 30 March 1944 my life took a dramatic turn because that was the night of the RAF Bomber Command raid on Nuremberg, which saw 96 aircraft lost in one night – the single highest loss of the entire war. While it was still easy to replace aircrafts it was not so easy to find personnel that spoke German.

“Next day the Station Officer asked for German-speaking volunteers and I was one of few who knew the language.

“On 23 July 1944, we were bound for the naval base at Kiel in northern Germany for a bombing mission.

“Just after dropping its load our bomber was picked up by German radars and came under heavy gunfire. Out of the four engines in the aircraft two were hit and caught fire. Although we managed to put it out we were still under massive attack. It felt as if this was the end.

“Our skipper Erik ordered the remaining two engines to be switched off making the plane drop from 23,000 feet to 10,000 feet and disappearing from the enemy radar screens.

“We made our escape over the North Sea by the skin of our teeth. However the fire had destroyed the navigation system and we had to use the stars to find our way home.

“This was not the end of our troubles as liquid in the hydraulic system, which is used to get the wheels out in preparations for landing, had been lost during the escape.”

In an inspired moment Erik ordered his crew members to urinate in the hydraulic tank enabling the bomber for a hairraising, bumpy but safe landing.

“Without Erik’s prompt action we would have been lost that day.

“Every year we have a reunion at Ludford Magna, Lincolnshire, home of Squadron 101.”

In 2008, Erik passed away in Canada but none of the three living crew members were able to attend his funeral.

“I am very appreciative of the Big Lottery Fund grant which helped me pay my respects to the man who saved my life.”

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