WW2 Dunkirk & Lancaster explosion survivor dies peacefully aged 101

Published on 4 December 2019

WW2 Dunkirk & Lancaster explosion survivor dies peacefully aged 101

Les Rutherford, from North Hykeham, died peacefully in his sleep in hospital on Sunday, December 1, surrounded by his family.

He was one of the UK's oldest Bomber Command veterans.

During the Second World War he fled the Nazis at Dunkirk and even survived after the nose of his Lancaster was blown off at 20,000ft over Germany.

Mr Rutherford had first served in the Army during the Second World War, when he was rescued at Dunkirk in 1940 after he paddled out to sea on a door. 

He then transferred to the RAF and became a bomb aimer with 50 Squadron, which was based at RAF Skellingthorpe.

He miraculously survived when his Lancaster was shot up by a German nightfighter over Frankfurt on December 20, 1943.

One of the engines and the bomb bay were on fire and the pilot gave the order to bale out because they couldn't jettison the bombs.

Mr Rutherford went to clip his parachute on in the dark and got one hook fastened, but the second hook slipped off.

Then the aircraft exploded and the nose began falling with him in it. After regaining consciousness, he pulled the rip cord of his parachute and it pulled him out.

Only he and the wireless operator made it - but they were captured by the Germans.

Mr Rutherford was sent to Stalag Luft III – the officers’ camp 100 miles south-east of Berlin made famous by the Great Escape.

In January 1945, the Germans force-marched Mr Rutherford and his fellow prisoners to a camp 30 miles south of Berlin as the Russians advanced.

Thankfully, the Russians handed the prisoners to the Americans and Mr Rutherford was finally repatriated to England in June 1945.

Nicky van der Drift, chief executive of the International Bomber Command Centre, said: "This is a very sad day for us all. 

"It has been my great privilege to know this wonderful kind, funny and modest man for the last eight years.

"I loved spending time with him - he could regale you with tales of derring-do that would have you laughing aloud but never dwelt on the acts of courage that saw him through the war.

"An afternoon with Les and Coral always made me feel more determined to get the job done and the twinkle in his eyes could cheer up the gloomiest of days.

"The IBCC was very important to him and he generously gave us the publishing rights of his book 'My War' to help raise the funds to build the centre. 

"He also supported our signing events and attended many other events, some as the guest of honour. 

"We were delighted to be able to host the celebrations for his 100 birthday.

"We are all poorer for his passing."


Article accredited to: Lincolnshire Live 03/12/19

Find Out More About Veterans Raffle

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website, please view our cookie page to see which cookies we store and why.