Former RAF bomber pilot and East Scotland Air Squadron instructor whose aircraft was shot down in WWII turns 100

A former RAF pilot who survived after his aircraft was shot down in World War Two and went on to teach aspiring flyers in Edinburgh and Glasgow is turning 100 today.

Flt Lt Ernie Holmes, who lives in Perthshire, was a WW2 Pathfinder Bomber pilot and put himself forward for some of the most dangerous missions, according to Air Vice Marshal Ross Paterson, the RAF’s senior representative in Scotland.

One of the more hair-raising moments during the soon-to-be 100-year-old’s RAF career happened in 1944 when he was shot down by the Germans while flying over Holland.

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Only three out of eight men onboard survived, including the aircraft navigator and Mr Holmes who lives on to tell the tale.

Ernie Holmes picture: supplied

Shortly after the fatal crash, a farmer’s daughter, Netje van der Heijden, found the brave pilot hiding. She took him to her parents home where her father, Fons, had a number of escapees in hiding. At immense risk to themselves, the family kept Mr Holmes sheltered until plans were confirmed to smuggle him to Spain.

But when he was reunited with his navigator on a carefully planned escape route, the pair were betrayed in Antwerp and subsequently taken to the prisoner of war camp StalagLuft III.

Mr Holmes spent the remainder of the war there before embarking on the infamous “Long March” to Lübeck from where he was repatriated.

On 20 September 1944 the farmer, Fons van der Heijden, was shot for harbouring escaping airmen, just prior to the village being liberated.

Ernie Holmes, a former RAF bomber pilot picture: supplied

"He is forever grateful to that family in Holland who saved his life,” said Mr Holmes’s son, David.

"I still think it’s remarkable he is the positive and brave man that he is today given what life has thrown at him.”

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

He retired from the RAF in 1962 and now lives in Kincarrathie House, a retirement home in Perthshire.

Flt Lt Ernie Holmes reaches his 100th birthday on January 29, 2021 picture: supplied

“I am sad we won’t be able to spend his birthday with him, but I know the carers are doing a fantastic job keeping him safe in these times,” David added.

Mr Holmes’s daughter, Alison Marschner said: “He is the most optimistic person who just refuses to give into the barriers that come up against him.

“My brother and I, as well as the grandchildren and great-grandchildren are immensely proud of all that Ernie has achieved in his life. He’s had more than his fair share of hard knocks but has always picked himself and just got on with life.”

With lockdown preventing a gathering at the care home, recorded messages are being compiled by Mr Holmes’s family for him to listen to, including a message from Air Vice Marshal Ross Paterson.

Ernie and Irene Holmes on their wedding day picture: supplied

“We’re delighted to be able to join Ernie’s family in celebrating his 100th birthday,” he said.

"As a Bomber Command Pathfinder in WW2, Ernie stepped forward to take part in some of the most dangerous missions. The story of his extraordinary survival as his aircraft fell from the sky, then evading capture for several weeks on the ground and his amazing resilience as a Prisoner of War is of the highest traditions of the Royal Air Force.”

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Ernie Holmes picture: supplied