Priest following the trail of wartime hero

PUBLISHED: 12:39 27 July 2006 | UPDATED: 14:45 12 May 2010

Christer Grerot, right, and pilot Captain Jonny Nichol, at Bassingbourn - DSCOO759

Christer Grerot, right, and pilot Captain Jonny Nichol, at Bassingbourn - DSCOO759

A SWEDISH priest has visited Bassingbourn in his bid to piece together a story of wartime heroism. Christer Grerot, 51, has spent 10 years researching a B17-G Flying Fortress, which was at Bassingbourn airfield in May 1944 - then the base of the USAAF 91s

A SWEDISH priest has visited Bassingbourn in his bid to piece together a story of wartime heroism.

Christer Grerot, 51, has spent 10 years researching a B17-G Flying Fortress, which was at Bassingbourn airfield in May 1944 - then the base of the USAAF 91st Heavy Bomb Group.

He is trying to find out more about a mission which left to bomb Berlin with a crew of nine Americans aged 20-25.

A fire on board caused the intercom to burn out and the crew failed to hear the captain's order to bail out.

Frederick Neil, a crew member who had never flown before, had to take control of the plane and flew it to Sweden.

He nearly crashed into a school but at the last minute was able to lift the plane over the building to avoid the children.

"It was like a hand lifting the plane over the school," said Christer.

The plane crashed into the sea about 250ft away and Frederick's body was not found until three months later.

Christer said: "My father and uncle were fisherman in the village so they saw it.

"It was amazing what Frederick did because not only did he save the lives of crew members but also the school."

In 1990, Christer was assigned to the same village as a priest.

He said: "One rainy summer I started to wonder what happened during the crash. I searched deeper and I found a hero."

But a mix-up over dates made Christer's research harder.

"When I found his grave at a cemetery in Luxembourg, it had the wrong date on the cross. Frederick died in 1944, but the cross said 1945. So I had to convince the American authorities that the date was wrong."

Christer was successful and last summer the date was changed.

During his visit to Bassingbourn Barracks, Christer was taken up in a plane by Captain Jonny Nichol.

Christer visited Nuthampstead, the Duxford Imperial War Museum, Steeple Morden and the museum at Bassingbourn Barracks.

Councillor Jack White, who was Christer's host during his stay, said: "He has been the most amazing company. It's been a privilege to help him in his mission."

Christer hopes the American authorities will give Frederick a medal for heroism.

- If you would like to become a volunteer member at the museum call Ray Jude on 01763 243500. The museum is open Wednesdays and Sundays from 10am-3pm.

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