Second World War veteran, 98, meets great-grandson for first time during reunion
Ernest ‘Ernie’ Holmes is among an extraordinary group of wartime aviators who touch base with each other each year at an airfield reunion.
A 98-year-old former Lancaster Bomber pilot has met his six-month-old great-grandson for the first time during an annual reunion with his Second World War comrades-in-arms.
Flight Lieutenant Ernest “Ernie” Holmes, of Perth, Scotland, is among an extraordinary group of wartime aviators who touch base with each other each year at an airfield reunion.
There were about 100 veterans, who are now mostly aged in their 90s, are all treated as VIPs at the Project Propeller event.
But this year Mr Holmes said it was “simply wonderful” to meet his own special visitor in the shape of great-grandson Henry.
He added: “I am so proud, he is my flesh and blood.”
The baby’s mother Laura Hart, 38, who is the veteran pilot’s granddaughter and also a retired Army Major, described the first look between Henry and his great-grandfather as “something to be treasured”.
She said: “Henry is such an observant baby – it is all in his face. It is as if he is at an age where he recognises the magnitude of the occasion.
“Henry is a cheeky little scamp, just like his great grandpa. A good day was had by all.
“I will treasure that moment (when he first saw his great-grandpa) forever and I look forward to telling Henry about the magnitude of what his great grandpa, and other men of his generation, did.”
She thanked Project Propeller for arranging the day out for all the other veterans.
Like all the other veterans from across Britain Mr Holmes was especially flown in free of charge to the former RAF Baginton air base (now Coventry Airport) by a volunteer pilot as a thank you for their wartime service.
Baby Henry was driven from his family home in Stratford-upon-Avon by his parents while Mr Holmes’s son David and his wife Lis came from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
Mrs Hart described the meeting as “simply wonderful” adding: “I am so proud, he is my flesh and blood.”
Mr Holmes joined the RAF in 1940, flying Whitley and Halifaxes, before joining 35 Squadron as a Lancaster Captain on Pathfinder operations. He was shot down over Holland in May 1944 on his 30th operation.
He spent the next seven weeks on the run, before eventually being taken in by the Dutch underground but was later betrayed and taken prisoner.
Mr Holmes was part of the “Long March” in March 1945 when thousands of allied prisoners of war were force-marched by the Nazis, in blizzard conditions, from their prison camps towards the west in an attempt to avoid them being liberated by the advancing Russian Army.
He survived and was liberated on May 9 1945 near Lubeck by soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment. He was repatriated to the UK on May 13 1945.
Upon his return, he discovered he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944.
He remained in the RAF after the war and left in 1962 for a career in civil aviation.
Project Propeller founder Ian Burnstock said: “It’s our honour and privilege to be able to have the veterans with us and to show them how much we appreciate everything they did for us in the dark days of conflict.
“Being able to unite Ernie with his great-grandson in this way is a wonderful bonus and an absolute pleasure for all of our volunteer team”.
My thanks go to the Express and Star for giving me permission to use this article
E Holmes (SherlE) beside the newly unveiled memorial [Courtesy of David Holmes]
The following extract regarding the loss of Lancaster ND762 was read out during the unveiling of the memorial in Vessem on 29th September 2018
“On 22nd May 1944 sixteen Lancaster Bombers from 35 Pathfinder squadron of Bomber Command set off from RAF Graveley . Their task was to drop flares and incendiary bombs on Dortmund to light it up for the following waves of 345 Lancaster bombers and 14 Mosquitos who were following in behind.
They had successfully dropped their bombs on the target and were flying at 16,000 feet on their way back to Graveley when a night fighter surprised them. The first thing that SherlE knew was that the aircraft was difficult to control. It was then obvious that the number three engine on the starboard wing was on fire. He instructed his crew to bail out and continued to try to control the aircraft. He remembers Mac tapping him on the shoulder indicating that the crew were ready to leave. He turned and saw Derrick standing putting his parachute on. There was then a large explosion in the aircraft.
SherlE’s account of what happened thereafter was recorded at the time in the diary of medical student Loek Veegers who, with Willi Hasenbos (whose daughter is here today) were hiding on the nearby farm belonging to Fons van der Heijden , where SherlE was subsequently hidden.
These are his words…… “With a sudden jolt he was slung through the front window and dangled against the outside of the cabin, hanging from the bands with which he was strapped to the pilot’s seat. After a few seconds the aircraft made an enormous sudden turn and he was flung loose, into the air. He was still very dazed at first, but was just able to open his parachute in time. His lip was very swollen but that was the only minor injury he sustained”
Derrick Coleman and Frank Tudor had similar escapes, but the remaining five crew members died in the aircraft, and all the events of today are a tribute to their bravery and ultimate sacrifice”.
[My thanks go to David Holmes for supplying the information and photographs]
Derek Bird, of the Gordon Highlanders, kindly laid wreaths at Chievres Communal Cemetery during a service of remembrance to commemorate the fifty-eight airmen that were concentrated there after WWII, including thirteen airmen from No. 35 Squadron.
My thanks go to the members of the “Cyprus Years 69-71 Group” who paid for the No. 35 Squadron wreath which was laid during the service
The unveiling of a 35 Squadron memorial stone in the Ribbon of Remembrance at the International Bomber Command Centre, Lincoln on 14th May 2019
Nearly 40 people were present for the unveiling of a 35 Squadron memorial stone in the Ribbon of Remembrance at the International Bomber Command Centre, Lincoln on 14th May 2019.
In glorious sunshine, padre Charles Thody conducted a memorable ceremony, using the following script:
Ladies and Gentlemen
It was back in 2012 that a chance conversation at a dinner table, started a chain of events, which has resulted in us gathering here today.
One of the people at that table was Carol Ferguson, who had learned, at the age of four, that her father was “presumed dead, following air operations on the 4th February 1945”.
A faded photograph was the only reminder that she had of her Dad and she had no idea how he had lost his life on that tragic night.
The resulting search on the internet and in reference books revealed that there was very little information about his service with the RAF Volunteer Reserve, nor about No. 35 Squadron, the squadron that he, and thousands of others, had served with.
And so, began, a labour of love, aimed at ensuring that other families have access to the history of the squadron,from its earliest beginnings during World War I, through to its disbandment in 1982.
Over the last seven years, documents and photographs have been gathered from all over the world and the material has been used to construct a website, which now contains over 1000 pages about the squadron’s aircraft, personnel and activities
The information has also been used to assist more than three hundred families to research their loved ones and to help various museums and memorial rooms with the labelling of their displays.
Money has been raised to purchase a number of wreaths, which have been laid at memorial events in the UK and in Europe, to honour squadron personnel.
……. today sees the culmination of the latest project to honour those that served.
Here at the International Bomber Command Centre, our focus is on commemorating the bravery and sacrifice of those who served and supported Bomber Command during World War II ……. but today, we remember all those who served with No. 35 Squadron throughout its history.
We remember the men that served during World War I, flying flimsy aircraft over hostile terrain, observing and photographing enemy defences, troop movements and the effects of artillery fire.
Men like Moses Boyd, who was killed when his aircraft lost flying speed during a training exercise in 1916
….. and men like Harold Cotterill and George Devenish, whose aircraft was brought down in flames by heavy artillery whilst on a Patrol on the 6th June 1917; neither of them survived.
We remember those that served between the two world wars, flying the Fairey Gordon, the Vickers Wellesley, the Fairey Battle and the Bristol Blenheim.
Men like Frank Essam, Thomas Newton and Jack Read, who lost their lives in the Sudan whilst on a Reconnaissance Flight during the Abyssinian Crisis in the 1930s
……. and men like Bernard Connor, Ewart Looker and Geoffrey Rhind, who were killed in a training accident here in the UK.
We remember those that served in the post war years, flying the Lancaster, the Lincoln, the Washington, the Canberra and the Vulcan.
Men like Flying Officers Redman and Mansell, who were killed in a Canberra crash during a Diversion Practice.
……. and the seven-man crew of a Washington, who lost their lives when their aircraft crashed into Morecambe Bay
I know that many of you here today served during the “Vulcan Era” and we thank you and your colleagues for your service to this country.
When we talk about squadrons, we tend to focus on the aircrew, but we must not forget the ground trades, such as the tinsmiths, sailmakers and riggers from World War I, nor the latter day trades such as the flight line mechanics and technicians, working outside in all weathers to ensure that each aircraft was repaired, refuelled and armed, ready for the next flight.
We must not forget the store keepers, the intelligence gatherers and the clerks, working away in the background, ensuring that equipment, kit and information was always available.
And so today, let us remember those that lost their lives on the squadron’s airfields.
Men like Arthur Dale, Kenneth Marloth and Hector Meeson, who were killed during an airfield attack at Linton-On-Ouse in 1941
… and women like Rosina Hardcastle, who died on active service with the squadron at the age of 18
Returning to the main focus of the International Bomber Command Centre, we pick up the story of Carol’s father, Cecil, who, despite being in a reserved occupation, volunteered for service in March 1943.
Having been selected for aircrew training as a Flight Engineer, he was kitted out and introduced to the rigours of service life.
With fitness improved, discipline instilled and aggressive spirit roused, he was posted to a School of Technical Training to learn the skills needed to operate in his designated aircrew trade.
Once qualified, he was posted to a heavy conversion unit and it was here that he crewed up with a newly qualified pilot, navigator, air bomber, wireless operator and air gunners to learn how to work as part of a team to operate a four-engine heavy bomber.
This fledgling crew flew their first operational sortie with No. 35 Squadron in September 1944, just a few weeks after completing their training. Five months later, they took off in Lancaster ME334 on their 31st sortie and “failed to return”.
Their relatives received a telegram the following day reporting them “missing as a result of air operations on the 4th February 1945”
……. and in October 1945 they learned that it was likely that they had all lost their lives and been buried in a local graveyard near Bonn.
After the war, their remains were exhumed, identified and reburied in a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, “in the country that they fell”, in accordance with Government policy at the time.
And so today, as well as unveiling a stone to remember all those who served with No. 35 Squadron, we will unveil a stone to remember Carol’s father, and another to remember that seven-man crew,
Their names are on the Walls of Names here at the IBCC, which records all those that lost their lives serving with, or supporting Bomber Command, during World War II
Nearly two thousand men flew operational sorties with No 35 Squadron after completing their aircrew training
…………………….. the names of over six hundred and sixty of them are listed on the Walls
It is impossible for us to sit here today and imagine the sights, sounds and smells that each airman experienced, nor the emotions that he felt, as he flew over the continent night after night.
We can’t imagine how it felt to bale out of a burning aircraft, thousands of feet in the air, or to ditch in the sea in total darkness
We can’t imagine how it felt to be captured and imprisoned in a hostile country, not knowing when captivity would end
….. nor can we imagine the suffering of those on the long march from prison camps in the winter months of 1944
And so, today, as well as remembering those that lost their lives, let us also remember the survivors, the injured, the escapers and the prisoners of war, who returned to their families, many carrying their physical and mental scars with them for the rest of their lives.
Men like Victor Hobbs, who had reconstructive surgery for his burns at East Grinstead hospital and became a member of the Guinea Pig Club.
…… men like George Lambert, who evaded capture for ten months, with help from one of the many escape lines.
…… and men, like Ernest Holmes and Derrick Coleman, who, after evading for a month, were captured and imprisoned for the remainder of the war.
I will now read out a very short poem, after which we will take a few moments to reflect
High up in the air they flew, a heavy bomber, a seven-man crew
Freezing cold and with eagle eye, they watched for fighters in the sky
Searchlights threw a beam of light, is that the target for tonight?
“Bombs Away” then heading back, the aircraft judders, hit by flak
It splutters on, engines hissing, mothers are told “your son is missing”
I would now like to ask Carol (Cecil Butler’s daughter), Brenda (representing the relatives of the crew of Lancaster ME334) and Jenny (representing all who served with No 35 Squadron) to step forward and unveil the stones
We bless and dedicate these stones to the memories of those who lost their lives in ME334 and to all who have served with 35 Squadron throughout its years of service. For those whom we knew, for those whose memories we treasure today, we give thanks and pray that these stones may continually act as reminders of that service. Amen
Could I now ask you to follow me down to the spire where we will observe two minute’s silence and lay a wreath in remembrance of all those that lost their lives whilst serving with No 35 Squadron
Earlier, I mentioned Ernest Holmes, who at 97 years old, is one of the few remaining members of 35 Squadron that served during World War II. Sadly, he was not able to attend the unveiling today due to ill health.
However, as a prelude to two minute’s silence, I would like to read out three lines that he wrote whilst in captivity, to honour the five members of his crew that lost their lives.
When the sun sets, and darkness falls, I will remember
When the sun rises, and another day is born. I will remember
For remembrance is all that I possess, of those I knew so well
LAST POST / TWO MINUTES SILENCE / REVEILLE
Those that lost loved ones during the war, received a message of sympathy from Buckingham Palace which expressed the country’s gratitude “for a life so nobly given to its service”.
The laying of this wreath today demonstrates our continued gratitude.
Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the king of all: govern the hearts and minds of those in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Almighty and eternal God, from whose love in Jesus we cannot be parted, either by life or death, we give you thanks for all whom we remember this day, and ask that you would so work your good purposes in us that we might honour those who have gone before us and share with them in your eternal joy.
The Peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of our Lord Jesus Christ. And the blessing of the God of Life, the blessing of the Christ of Love and the Blessing of the Spirit of Peace, be with you and remain with you now and always.
I have received this report from Serge Comini, regarding the exhibition and book launch weekend at La Gorgue, France
“On Saturday, September 15th 2018, Serge Comini and his association of volunteers (“Abbey de Beaupré Etude et Sauvegarde du Site (ABESS)”), had the joy and the honour to welcome eleven families from Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom to La Gorgue, France.
A large majority of these families had relatives who served with the RFC at the aerodromes of Merville and La Gorgue in the Beaupré peninsula.
This “Gathering of Memory and Fraternity” coincided with the launch of Serge’s book entitled ‘Abbaye Notre-Dame de Beaupré-sur-la-Lys, des Hommes sur les terres et les chemins des Dames’.
The book, which contains more than 400 pages,tells the story of these aerodromes and contains more than 300 biographies of Airmen of the Great War and more than 700 photos.
In addition to the book launch, there was an exhibition of photos, documents and archaeological objects recovered from the site of the abbey, which date from the time that the Squadrons were based there.
The weekend, which was organised jointly with the municipality of La Gorgue, also included a commemoration service at the communal cemetery, followed by a buffet and Vin d’Honneur.
A busy day, full of emotion, under a more than mild sky, which made it possible to forge strong bonds between the participants.
To find out more, visit Facebook: @Beaupresurlalys
We received this information from David Forsyth regarding the 2017 commemoration ceremony for the crew of Halifax L9527
ANGLES: 24 JULY 2017
The men and women of Angles and the British community responded to the L’Union Nationale des Combattants (Angles) invitation to commemorate the anniversary of the loss of Halifax L 9527, shot down by enemy fire at the Terrier du Four on 24 July 1941.
The major commemoration of the 75th anniversary in 2016 had rekindled memories and we were pleased to see that more people than usual were present.
The ceremony began at the Stèle at the Terrier du Four, the site of the Halifax crash, with a presentation by Alain Gossuin, President of Angles Veterans, followed by a speech by Joël Monvoisin, Mayor of Angles.
After the laying of wreaths, including one by Wing Commander Ian Gawn on behalf of the Yorkshire Air Museum & Allied Air Forces Memorial, the first part of the ceremony was brought to a close by the salute of the Standard Bearers, accompanied by the bagpipes of Michel Ladan of the 51st Highland Division.
After gathering at the gate of the cemetery, the participants, led by the piper, paraded to the Carré des Anglais where Sergeants Rudlin, Esnouf, Godwin, Shirley and Newstead lie at peace for eternity, together with the ashes of Sergeant Balcomb.
Having observed a minutes silence, floral tributes were laid by veterans and the British contingent and a wreath was laid on behalf of the Royal Air Forces Association by Group Captain David Forsyth. A rendition of “God Save the Queen”, sung by the choir “La Chanterelle Angloise”, was followed by a lament played by piper, Michel Ladan.
After the ceremony, glasses were raised in friendship at the local tourist office.
A Commemoration Ceremony was held on 24th July 2016 to mark the 75th anniversary of the loss of Halifax L9527 over Angles, France.
Prior to the event, retired Group Captain David Forsyth, who lives in the Vendee region of France, worked with locals and researchers in the UK to trace relatives of the crew so that they could be invited to attend.
Summarising the proceedings, David wrote:
14 family members of 4 of the crew travelled to Angles on July 24th 2016 for a very emotional and uplifting ceremony attended by several hundred people, British and French. Sergeant Rudlin’s family did not feel fit enough for the journey and, sadly, Eric Balcomb’s son died unexpectedly at the end of June. This meant that family was not present to hear Arthur Eperon’s daughter thank publicly the man who had saved her father from an otherwise certain death. A highly poignant moment.
Eperon family members at the Stele Anglais
Around 40 standards from French Veterans’ Associations as well as the Union Jack and the standards of the RAFA and the RBL were paraded in the presence of the Air Attaché from Paris, the local Deputé (MP), and community leaders.
In addition to speeches recording the events and the debt felt by the locals, there was a reading of “High Flight” by Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee and a rendering of “Abide With Me” by a local Choir. A Frenchman in full Scottish Regimental piper’s uniform played a lament.
A temporary exhibition was set up with items created by the local school, a large, scale model of a Halifax created by the local Modelling Club, items lent by the Yorkshire Air Museum and several personal letters, photographs and documents, including Eric Balcomb’s Log Book for the 6 months preceding the mission.
A small number of eye-witnesses were able to speak with the families and the contents of a bag of bits from the crash-site were shared with those who wanted them.
A newly-commissioned painting by aviation artist Keith Mills was presented to the Maire of Angles by James Wilford. James is the grand-son of Wing Commander, Peter Stanley James DFC, AE, RAF VR (24 February 1917-11 January 1999). The painting depicts the moment prior to the crash of L9527, as seen from the cockpit of another aircraft in the formation, piloted by then Pilot Officer James.
The 24th July 2016 in Angles was indeed a remarkable day.