Les Rutherford

LES RUTHERFORD – British Army Dunkirk escapee, RAF Lancaster bomb aimer

Les Rutherford joined the British Army in 1938 and found himself as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) fighting with with 51st Highland Division at the port of Dunkirk in 1940 tasked with protecting the evacuation. Mr Rutherford eventually found himself trapped at the French port while fighting a rear-guard action against the enemy forces closing in.

He and a comrade used a door – blown off from a shed – to escape out to sea where they were picked up by a French trawler.

The place was being bombed to bits. There was absolutely no hope, so another chap and I decided to take this big door which had been blown off a shed and we put out to sea.

Mr Les Rutherford recalls in a BBC interview

After being picked up they were given a glass of rum and returned to England wearing only a blanket and socks.

Mr Rutherford later joined the RAF and became a bomb-aimer flying in Lancaster’s where his job was to lie flat in the nose of the aircraft, directing the pilot during a bombing-run as the bombs were released.

Les Rutherford back in a Lancaster at his 90th birthday
(Les Rutherford)

He completed 24 missions with Bomber Command’s 50 Squadron – but during on raid on Frankfurt on December 20th, 1943, the nose of his Lancaster was hit by enemy fire and sent the aircraft plummeting to the earth. The engines and bomb bay caught fire while Mr Rutherford scrambled to eject himself to avoid being engulfed by flames. As he was was about to evacuate the aircraft exploded knocking him unconscious – miraculously he woke up in time to safely deploy his parachute.

Mr Rutherford and the wireless operator were the only ones to survive the explosion, both were captured and marched to Stalag Luft III as POW’s. They arrived to the camp just before the notorious Great Escape, although he was not part of it and remained there until January 1945, when he and fellow prisoners were taken to a camp 30 miles south of Berlin as Russian forces advanced.

During his captivity, he traded three chocolate bars for a Canadian diary from a Red Cross parcel and used it to jot down his memories. Filled with humorous sketches and cartoons and details about the concerts Mr Rutherford played in with his guitar, the diary was revealed by the University of Lincoln in November.  It includes pictures of war planes, guards, fellow prisoners and even women.  

A good article on the diary is published by Daily Mail here:

All of the prisoners were eventually freed by the Russians, who handed them to the US. It wasn’t until June 1945 that Mr Rutherford was sent back home.

On February 20th, 2019, Mr Rutherford and his lovely wife Coralie signed The Log Book at the International Bomber Command Centre in Lincoln.

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