Friday, April 30, 2010

Larry van Kleeck, decorated RCAF pilot (1919-2010)


By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
April 29, 2019

On Sept. 25, 1944, Flight Lieutenant Larry van Kleeck lost one of the four engines of his Halifax bomber while roaring down the runway on takeoff.

Too late to abort, the aircraft lifted into the Yorkshire night sky.

The pilot canvassed the rest of his crew. They agreed to continue on to the target over enemy territory in occupied France, though they would trail the rest of the bombers from No. 427 Squadron.

“The flak was worse than usual and we were on our own,” he told the Windsor (Ont.) Star newspaper five years ago. “But we wanted to do the trip. We had made all the preparations, had the bombs loaded. I was confident I could fly on three engines.”

It had been a summer of danger for the Royal Canadian Air Force officer, who had evaded an attack by a German fighter on June 28 and suffered cannon shell damage to his Halifax when attacked twice while returning from a mission on Aug. 12.

He flew over the target at Calais, successfully dropping his bombs before returning to base.

Mr. van Kleeck was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for “press(ing) home his attack with outstanding determination.”

He completed 34 sorties, including one during which he dropped a bomb in a Norwegian fjord.

Larry Robertson van Kleeck was born on Dec. 29, 1919, at Vancouver. He enlisted in 1941.

After the war, he worked for Dietrich-Collins Equipment Ltd. in his home town.
In retirement, he and his wife did charitable work through Christian ministries active in the Downtown Eastside.

Mr. van Kleeck, who died on April 16, aged 90, leaves Audrey, his wife of 65 years; a sister; three daughters; eight grandchildren; and, two great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by a brother and his son, John, who died in 2007, aged 57.