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We will never see the likes of these home-grown heroes again


He was awarded a Distinguished Flying Medal for his efforts in navigating a Lancaster Bomber on the night of January 4, 1943. According to war records: “Very shortly after leaving the target (the city of Essen), the Lancaster was attacked by an enemy aircraft. During the violent evasive action which subsequently followed, the Lancaster was damaged and well off course. However, Sergeant Nielsen carried on his normal duties and navigated the Lancaster back to England.”

On January 30, 1943, Nielsen, as well as the aircraft’s pilot, Peter Isaacson, were elevated to commissioned rank.

A bombing raid on March 1, 1943 almost ended in disaster. RAAF records reveal: “One night in March 1943, Pilot Officer Isaacson and navigator Nielsen were detailed for a mission to attack Berlin. Following the attack and while still over the target area, the aircraft was hit by an anti-aircraft fire and severely damaged. On the return journey the aircraft was blown off the route and held in searchlights for 15 minutes …”

The crew was taken off operational duties and, on May 22, 1943 they were tasked with flying a brand new Lancaster Bomber, Q for Queenie, to Australia. Nielsen navigated the giant plane on a “Liberty Loan Tour” throughout NSW, encouraging people to donate to the war effort.

On October 22, 1943, Isaacson flew the Lancaster under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The manoeuvre was not authorised and, although no action was taken against the crew, it received headlines. Nielsen was not on board, having married nurse Joyce Annetts at a Strathfield church the previous day.

It was widely reported Isaacson flew the giant aircraft under the bridge on a whim but a colleague quotes him saying the flight also took him at rooftop level over the Manly Pacific Hotel where Nielsen was honeymooning. “I wanted to shake Nielsen up,” Isaacson said.

While stationed in Sydney, Nielsen returned to rugby league. He played first grade on the wing for Balmain, including the 1945 final to decide the premiership at the SCG before 44,585 people. He scored a try in Balmain’s 22-18 loss to Easts. He began an economics degree at Sydney University, during which time he captained the North Sydney reserve grade team.

Upon returning from his US studies, where his published works included Transportation Influences in Urban Development and a book on hatchery-reared rainbow trout, he played 12 top-grade games for South Sydney, scoring six tries.

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Vic Carr, who had been an outstanding fullback before the war, turned his talents to the stage as a member of Grafton’s Pelican Players, an amateur theatrical group. He spent his evenings playing roles in Gilbert and Sullivan musicals and Arthur Miller plays, while acting as a selector for NSW north coast divisional teams.

Geoff, a winger in the Dragons’ 1971 grand final team, has fond memories of Vic pacing their lounge room, learning the lines of Willy Loman from Death of a Salesman.

The war service of Vic Carr and Nielsen didn’t derail their diversified interests. While we never want to see our youth go to war, today’s full-time NRL players appear to have singular interests, where the elite join the media on retirement. I find it sad we won’t ever see such well-rounded boyhood heroes as Carr and Nielsen again.

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