March 2010

Our Memories of WW II Series

Ronald Holmes 1813950 RAF
click for full screen images

Most 18-year-olds during WWII were either called up to one of the services or worked in a reserved occupation, however, you could volunteer for air crew at 17 ¼ years. If accepted you were placed on deferred service to be called up when you were a minimum of 18 years old. This I did and was eventually called up on 15th Nov 1943. 

Until I was called up I was working as clerk and a member of the ATC. As part of my training I did 12 hours flying in Tiger Moths to see if I was suitable to be a pilot. I was considered not be suitable for this role so consequently remustered to train as a Navigator.  As part of my training as a Navigator I was posted 5AOS Winnipeg.

The Journey to Canada
SS Ile De France
SS Ile de France

We left Gourock in the firth of Clyde on Board the SS Ile De France on our way to Halifax. The trip took around seven days to complete and during this time I helped out in the galley to help with passing the time. We had no Naval Escort on our voyage and we sailed on our own.

On arrival in Halifax we were given a meal great of Eggs and Bacon which was a treat! We then travelled to the RAF Station at Moncton in New Brunswick. We had a short stay there, and after this stay I was posted to the 5AOS in Winnipeg along with others. We travelled there by train. On the way we managed to spend a short time in Montreal. This was the first time we had slept and eaten on a train. On arrival at Winnipeg we were taken to the airport on the outskirts of the town. This was where 5AOS was based. We arrived on the 5th Nov 1944 and were shown to our billets. These consisted of two-storey wooden buildings which had central heating! This was completely new to us all and was a great benefit as it was the middle of winter and very cold. You can see from the pictures the ground was covered by thick snow.

The station was run by civilians and the only military personnel on site were ourselves, who were being trained, RCAF Officers, and one Officer from the RAF. The Military personnel were responsible for training, discipline and issuing equipment and clothes, if and when needed. We were paid RCAF rates of pay which were higher than those of the RAF. The Canadian Government had made up the difference.

The Course

The following day we assembled in the main hall where we were joined by members of the RCAF and RNAF, who with us made up the whole course. We were then allocated flights in which we remained throughout the course. My flight was 114b and you can see a picture of my Flight in one of the photos. The majority on the course were Canadian trainees of the RCAF. The Navigators course was of 20 weeks duration and was very intensive. It consisted of Lectures, Ground Practical Work, Flying Exercises, and we had also to reach and maintain a certain standard of fitness. The ground work, apart from the physical training, consisted of lectures on Navigation, recognition of weather patterns and learning Morse code, which we had to able to send by Aldis Lamp or key. We also had to be very quick in Mental Math, and aircraft recognition, and we also had to understand other aspects of flying such as what was meant by airspeed, and ground speed etc. Our class was under our instructor F/O J Seed, a member of the RCAF. There is no doubt he was very good at his job. All the way through the course we had tests with a major exam at 14 weeks. If you failed this exam you were dismissed off the course and in the case of the RAF personnel sent back to Moncton for return back to the UK for re-mustering.

A typical day started at 07:00 when we arose, washed and dressed and went to the mess for breakfast, which was typically pancakes with maple syrup or eggs. At 08:00 we went to our classroom for ground work or if you were flying in the morning, you would go for a briefing for your flight. The lectures or flying lasted till our break for lunch around 12:30. After lunch, training carried on with lectures or flying until approx. 17:00. In the evening we were either given work or, as it was dark, we had night flying. Part of the evening work consisted of taking star shots using a bubble sextant. Over the duration of the course a certain number of star shots had to be taken from the ground.


Ansons Parked
The aircraft used by 5AOS were Canadian-built Avro Ansons which were flown by civilian pilots and radio operators. The flying equipment we used included Sidcot suits, observer harness, and Type C Helmets. These were provided by the BCATP and you can see me in mine in the picture. The flying exercise usually lasted around three hours. We did not have any radar to help us navigate and we had to use dead reckoning along with star shots if the weather allowed. My recollection is that it was very cold in the planes as there was very little heating. We did not fly very high so did not require oxygen. My memories are that it was quite difficult to see landmarks at the ground as it was covered snow and again you can see this from the pictures. We normally flew in pairs, one responsible for the charts and the other taking star shots or locating landmarks if possible.

Communication in the aircraft whilst flying was either done by talking or passing bits of paper around.

Anson Flying

The End of the course

Nearing the end of the course we sat the final exams on groundwork plus the marks given for flying exercises and these combined decided whether we could be awarded our Navigators brevets and promoted to a Sergeant or Junior Officer. I passed the course and was promoted to a Sergeant Navigator.

We had a passing out parade when the stripes and brevets were presented by dignitaries. Mine were presented Billy Bishop, a WWI ace. In the evening after the presentation we had a course dinner which was enjoyed by us all and you can see this from the picture.

Last Meal

We were then given tickets to return to Moncton as quickly as possible as there was a ship scheduled to leave Halifax for the UK in the not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, we were not granted any leave before our return trip.

The ship that we sailed back on was the SS Aquitania. During the voyage the ship was very busy with troops unlike the Ill de France on my outward voyage which was nearly empty. Again we sailed alone without an escort, reaching the UK in April 1945.

SS Aquitania

General Comments

We did have some leisure time whilst at the 5AOS and we went by street car to Winnipeg. In Winnipeg there was a club especially for Air Force members to which we used to go sometimes. One member of our flight (Tommy Johnstone) lived in Winnipeg with his family and he used to take two of us (of which I was one) regularly to his home and his parents made us very welcome. They were very hospitable, as were all the members of the public we met. We had food, both on the camp and out, in Winnipeg the like of which we did not see in the UK because of the rationing in the back there. The shops were full of goods which we hardly had seen since the outbreak of the war. I must say I enjoyed my stay in Canada, but naturally I was glad to return back to the UK.

The UK

When I returned the UK WWII was nearly over and I was stationed at a number of stations including RAF Locking and RAF Metherington, performing various duties. From October 1945 until May 1947 I was stationed at RAF Mildenhall until my discharge in late 1947.

Ron Holmes today ~ with wife and son

I am now 84 years old and will be 85 this year (2010) and still enjoy life to the full. I have been married over 50 years and have two sons and two grandchildren. I have enclosed a picture to let you know what I look like now. My wife is to my right and my son Mike whom has put this all together is on my left.


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