Ronald Holmes 1813950 RAF
click for full screen images
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
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
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
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 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.
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
Communication in the aircraft whilst flying was either done by talking
or passing bits of paper around.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.