This Wednesday 20th July, a Spitfire and Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight will perform a memorial flypast in Perth to salute Ernie Holmes, DFC.
The celebrated and much loved Pathfinder died in 2021 at the age of 100, and had devoted much of
his life to aviation and serving the people of Perthshire.
Ernie was only 19 when he volunteered to join the RAF. In 1944, the now 23-year-old and his 35 Squadron Lancaster crewmates departed RAF Gravely on a bombing mission over Germany. After leaving his target in the early hours of the morning, Ernie and has crew were intercepted and fired upon by canon, fatally damaging the Lancaster. The crash would claim the lives of 5 of his crewmates but Ernie managed to free himself from the aircraft as it plummeted from the air.
After heroically bailing out and landing via parachute in a field in the Netherlands, Ernie was taken in by a Dutch family who hid him in the roof of a pigsty. Despite keeping out of site and planning his escape with tactics straight out of a spy movie, Ernie was, in his own words, “betrayed” and incarcerated in Stalag Luft III, the infamous POW camp of “The Great Escape”. Ernie later found out that the Dutch farmer who had looked after him had himself been betrayed and had admitted to helping a US airman to save the lives of his family.
In January 1945, Holmes, alongside thousands of other POW’s began the “Long March” to freedom. Despite horrific conditions, with little food, drink or adequate clothing, the were eventually liberated as the Allies battled through Western Europe. It was only when he returned to the UK that he found out he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his role as a Pathfinder with this Lancaster Squadron.
As he returned from war, Ernie married Irene Spinks who he met during his time at Scone completing basic training. They would go on to have 2 children. He took up many flying roles, both in the military and as a civilian. In Scotland, he worked as flying instructor for the Glasgow and St Andrews University Air Squadrons. His expertise in the air would see him travel to Iraq, where he was commended for saving the lives of two Iraqi students and his Cessna went up in flames on take-off, leaving him badly burned. In Uganda, he set up a flying school but as he began to lose his sight, he returned to Perth where he retrained as a social worker based at Perth Prison.
More recently, in 2018 a memorial was erected on the site of his Lancaster crash in the Netherlands and in 2021, students from the East of Scotland Universities Air Squadron held a celebration of his life attended by his family, friends and even members of the Dutch family who had sheltered him during the war. 2 weeks before his death, the Leuchars based headquarters of the East of Scotland University Air Squadron was named after him. The ceremony was attended by the representatives of the Netherlands Defence Force, who presented him with the Dutch Liberators medal. He was 100 years old.