AR banner
Search Tips Advanced Search

Fl/Lt. Ernest Holmes DFC

Born 29th January 1921 Died 14th October 2021 (Age 100)

A retired RAF Pathfinder Lancaster pilot has passed away. his two children made the formal announcement Dr. David Holmes and Alison Marschner-Holmes.

The dramatic account on the day his Lancaster was shot down on the 23rd of May 1944 can be read here.

After the war Ernest Holmes moved to Scotland and continued to serve the RAF as a civilian flying instructor at both Edinburgh and Glasgow University Air Squadrons.

During Ernest's training at RAF Perth, he met a local woman, Irene Spinks. The couple married at the West Church (today St Matthew’s Church) in 1946. The early years of their married life were spent on various RAF bases. They returned to Perth in 1954 when Holmes became a flight instructor for the University of Glasgow Air Squadron, and later joined the air squadron of the University of St Andrews.

Ernest Holmes left the RAF in 1962 to join Airwork Services at Scone Aerodrome as a civilian flight instructor, after which he and his wife moved to Nairobi, Kenya (and then Soroti, Uganda), where Ernest worked for East African Airways. Irene was kept busy with the children and voluntary activities until they moved to Nairobi.

During this time, Ernest started having significant troubles with his vision and had to give up flying. On returning to Perth, he qualified as a social worker working, in the main, at HMP Perth. Irene became the Registrar of the Aberdeen Angus Association. The platinum wedding anniversary couple moved into Kincarrathie House (residential care home), Perth, in 2016. Despite being registered as blind due to his deteriorating eyesight, a week after moving into the care home, Ernest was treated to a flight from Scone Aerodrome by Donal Foley, a former student.

In January 2021 Ernie’s 100th birthday was celebrated in style with a piper greeting him outside Kincarrathie House, where he was cared for in his last years.

Lord-Lieutenant of Perth and Kinross, Stephen Leckie, said: 'I had the pleasure of meeting Flight Lieutenant Ernie Holmes DFC and had the privilege of presenting him with his 100th birthday card from Her Majesty the Queen, as well as a bottle of whisky and a personal message from His Royal Highness, Prince Charles.

'Ernie really was a very special gentleman, both popular and respected, and will be very much missed by all who knew him'.

And it was there, only a few weeks ago, that the Squadron HQ was renamed the 'Holmes Building' in honour of this decorated pilot who survived three plane crashes, prisoner-of-war camp and forced marches in the midst of a horrendous winter.

On the same occasion, Ernie was presented with the Medal of Remembrance by the Netherlands defence attaché for his part in the liberation of the country.

Above: Ernist with Captain Gerrit Nijenhuis Naval Attache and Dr. David Holmes

Group Captain (ret’d) Alastair Montgomery paid tribute to Ernie’s exceptional bravery, noting: 'By 24 years of age, Ernie Holmes had experiences that are beyond the imaginations of most people. He was an amazing gentleman and will be greatly missed by us all'.

Ernie was the captain of a Lancaster bomber crew selected to join the elite Pathfinder force. Their job was to precede the night’s mission by marking targets with coloured flares to guide less experienced crews. The Pathfinders’ work is credited with increasing the accuracy of bombing raids and reducing needless deaths.

Ernie was only 23 when he and his Lancaster III ND762 crew were shot down on his 30th mission over German-occupied Holland in May 1944. They were victims of the most successful German night-fighter ace, Oblt. Heinz-Wolfgang Schnaufer, known as the ‘Spook of St Trond’.

Ernie was sheltered by a Dutch farmer and his family before being passed onto the ‘evasion line’ by which downed aircrew were routed back to the UK.

However, Ernie was betrayed early on and was interrogated by the Gestapo before being sent as a prisoner-of war to Stalag Luft III.

Left: Fons van der Heijden

As the Russians were advancing near the end of the war, POWs were force-marched westwards in the depths of an exceptionally cold winter. Ernie was one of the lucky ones who survived starvation and the freezing temperatures.

It was only once he was repatriated that Ernie discovered that he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

He also then learned that the Dutch farmer, Fons van der Heijden, had been taken out of church and shot by the Germans just a day before the village was liberated. This tragedy weighed heavily on Ernie’s heart for the rest of his life. He and his family have always maintained contact with the Van Der Heijdens.

During his time training others at the Glasgow University Squadron he was flying Chipmunk WP902 aircraft when the aircraft went into a dive. The pilot instructed his pupil 19 year old James Mustered of 107 Ralston Road, Cambeltown to bale out. Both crew did so and Ernest suffered a small knee injury. They landed about 50 feet from the wrecked aircraft opposite Melville Garage in Errol, Perthshire. They were given a cup of tea in the home of the garage proprietor Mr. Kenneth Melville whilst word were sent back to the airfield at Scone.

There are no burial details, this great man donated his body to medical science.

Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this crew with thanks to John Jones, Air-27-381-9/10 National Archives, Kracker Archives, SSAFA, Made in Perth, RAF News. Nachtjagd Combat Archives 1944 Part 3 - Theo Boiten, 35 Squadron Association.

If you have additional information or photographs to add to this Obituary please contact us.
We seek to commemorate all and would be pleased to receive your contributions.

  You can show you value this content by offering your dedicated research team a coffee!  
© 2012 - 2024 Aircrew Remembered - All site material (except as noted elsewhere) is owned or managed by Aircrew Remembered
and should not be used without prior permission.
• Last Modified: 15 February 2023, 15:56 •