During World War 2, Nicholas Alkemade was an RAF gunner Sergeant. During one mission, he was tail gunner for a Lancaster heavy bomber, called 'Werewolf', which was heavily damaged by an attacking fighter plane of the German Luftwaffe.
Critically damaged and on fire, the pilot jittered one last order over the plane's muffled intercom: "Jump."
Alkemade desperately sought his parachute, but found that it had been rendered unusable by the flames. Faced with two unpleasant impending fates, Alkemade decided that he'd rather die quickly by impact rather than burning to death; a slower and painful way to go.
I had no doubts at all that this was the end of the line. The question was whether to stay in the plane and fry or jump to my death. I decided to jump and make a quick, clean end of things. I backed out of the turret and somersaulted away.
With death almost inevitable and full of shock, he blacked out during the 18,000 ft freefall.
Amazingly, he survived, suffering only a sprained leg. His fall was cushioned by a fir tree that was surrounded by a soft snow drift. Some time later, he woke up and began to blow his airman's emergency whistle. Unbeknown to him, a German patrol was nearby. He was captured and taken to one of Germany's most notorious POW camps of World War 2, Stalag Luft III.
The incident happened on March 24, 1944 - the same day as the prison break that inspired the film, 'The Great Escape', at the same camp that he was destined for.
Nicholas was interrogated and kept in solitary confinement, accused of being a spy because he lacked a parachute.
"You say you fell from a plane, but you have no parachute," a Gestapo interrogator asked him. Sticking to his word, his confused captors eventually believed him and he arrived at Stalag Luft III a week later, where his 21-year-old sweetheart would write to him and keep him updated from back home.
A love letter from Nicholas Alkemade's sweetheart, Pearl Belton
Date: March 29, 1945.
Rank and Name: Sergeant, AG, Nicholas, Alkamade, RAF.
Prisoner of War Number: 4175.
Camp Name and Number: Stalag Luft 3, North Compound, Deutschland (Allemagne)
From: Miss Pearl Belton, 30 Thomas Street, Loughborough
My own beloved sweetheart, Nicky.
I still have had no mail from you dear, but I try not to worry too much as I have heard that your camp has been moved, and no doubt you haven't had the chance to write.
It's almost seven weeks since your last letter – written on Christmas Day, but I keep praying, my darling, that you are in the best of health, getting plenty of good food and keeping cheerful.
Everyone at home sends their love and, like myself, are anxiously waiting for news of you.
We have had quite a few POWs return here, some after being away for five years. So you can guess how excited I've been getting, with the news being so very good.
I am keeping fine daily, but miss you and your loving letters an awful lot.
Please don't worry about me sweetheart, you know I shall always love you with all my heart and be faithful to you – the only one in the world for me.
Wherever you are dear, I am with you in thoughts and prayers...
I still don't go about as much and the weather's been grand lately. I have made another new dress – looks smashing.
Haven't heard from your dad lately. Hope you are getting my letters, darling. Am writing as often as possible.
Keep smiling dear. God bless you. I shall always love you and be waiting. All the love in the world.
Your always and forever,