1923 to 2014.
Sportsman, Bomber Command War Hero.
and Skeltoner to the end.
Charles Holmes at 3 East Terrace, Skelton, with his sister, Marjorie, on the right about 1930.
The following story and photographs have been kindly contributed by Chris Holmes, Charles' son, who lives in Surrey, but still regularly visits 3 East Terrace, Skelton, a
property which has been in the family for over 100 years.
Charles Holmes, my father, was born at 3, East Terrace, Skelton on the 18th November 1923 and died at St Helier Hospital, Carshalton, Surrey on the 29th June 2014.
He spent the first eighteen years of his life in Skelton, leaving to join the RAF in 1942.
Having survived active service in Bomber Command, he married Peggy, a London girl, in 1946 and lived in Surrey for the rest of his life.
However, he returned to his family home in Skelton at least once and sometimes three or four times each year until 2013.
Unfortunately by 2014 he was too frail to make the journey North and his desire to die in the place he loved could not be satisfied.
While his funeral took place in Surrey, a memorial service was held at All Saints in August 2014 and his remains now lie in the family grave in Skelton cemetery.
Charles Holmes as a Skelton Scout.
In 2010 I asked him to write a few notes on his early life and of his memories of Skelton in the 1920’s, 30’s and early 40’s.
Sadly, by the time he was writing his once excellent script was beginning to fail and occasionally it has been a struggle to understand all that he had written.
However, his mind was clear enough and I have edited very little
I wish that I had asked him more questions about the people he knew in the old days and of the houses, shops and social life of Skelton.
I also wish that I had recorded the memories of his sister Marjorie, who died in 2003 and who had lived in Skelton all her life.
I remember Marjorie and my father talking for hours about local people and events, past and present.
I noted that these conversations did not extend very far into our own family history and my questions on individual family members were sometimes met with a guarded
response which only encouraged me to undertake a detailed family history.
The causes of the discomfort which Marjorie in particular experienced – some siblings born out of wedlock, a half sister who left her husband, a father who drank
rather too much at the end of his life - these would not be considered particularly shameful in this day and age.
However, the family culture, reflecting the wider culture of the time, tended toward secrecy.
Unfortunately for my research, some valuable information died with my father’s generation.
While my father was by no means a hoarder, he did keep a large number of family photos, letters, school exercise books, wartime journals and other memorabilia,
including his wartime diary, Bomber Command logbook and a remarkable photograph album covering his period in the RAF.
In addition, the old house he was born and raised in is still with our family so that the immediate physical context of his early life can be more intimately ‘felt’.
I have divided what follows into three sections:
Memories of my early life in Skelton.
Particular memories of Cross Green.
Some wartime memories, in so far as they relate to Skelton.
MEMORIES OF MY EARLY LIFE IN SKELTON.
(written by Charles in 2010, age 87.)
I was born at 3 East Terrace Skelton and was christened Charles John Holmes at All Saints Church
My father was also Charles. He was born in 1858 at Barwick in Elmet near Leeds. He moved to Skelton with his younger sister Ada early in the last century to York
Villas on the road to Boosbeck.
He was fairly well off and after a time went into a joinery and undertaking business with two brothers named Woods.
By the time I was born he was 64 years old, which is a little unusual now and certainly would have been then when life expectancy was much less than today.
He moved to East Terrace a few years after arriving in Skelton.
3 East Terrace, Skelton.
3 East Terrace, William Wood, Undertaker. He was aged 48 at the 1901 census, so around this time.
I don’t know exactly when but I believe around the time of the First World War.
He married my mother Sarah in 1921; she was born in 1888 and grew up at 2 Woods Cottages.
Her father, John Walker, was an ironstone miner from Cropton on the south side of the North Yorkshire Moors while her mother Eliza was from an old Skelton family,
Throughout most of the 1920’s and 1930’s the economy was quite depressed.
I believe that compared to many families we weren’t too badly off although men like my father, who was in his 60’s when I came along, didn’t think they had to provide
a pension for my mother.
My father died in 1932 when I was 8, having been ill for some time.
He was in a private nursing home in York, which was very expensive and slowly but surely his assets dwindled.
My father owned property and land which my mother had to sell off bit by bit and in time the only property we had left was our house at 3 East Terrace plus a small plot
of land up Green Bank.
My grandfather came to Skelton – 67 Boosbeck Road, to be precise - in about 1903 with his mother Jane and sister Ada, having lived at Mirfield for over thirty years.
Jane died soon after. The son of an agricultural labourer, he managed to ‘better himself’ and eventually became reasonably affluent.
I am not sure how he achieved this; there is nothing in the Mirfield census nor in the Skelton census of 1911 to indicate wealth, apart from having a white collar job.
He clearly obtained an education and seems to have been quite well read.
We still have his book library, practically untouched since his death in 1932.
My father told me that his nickname locally was the ‘silver king’.
This sounds like hyperbole but clearly he had more money than most and I have documentary evidence that both he and his sister Ada lent largish sums to a number of
I also have reason to believe that he was quite generous.
However, what wealth he had disappeared by the end of his life, paying for his long stay in a York ‘care home’ (Clifton).
Not long after he died, his wife Sarah had to sell his land up Green Bank (for £20) and mortgage the home in order to provide an income.
This loan was repaid in the 1950’s.
When my father married my mother in 1921, her whole family moved from 2 Woods Cottages to 3 East Terrace.
The house was thus full and it was a good job that her brothers and sisters gradually got married.
I remember that there were lots of people around and there was always something going on.
My Uncle John – my mother’s sickly younger brother – kept hens, pigeons, rabbits and cavies (guinea pigs).
To begin with we had pigeons and hens on the land up Green Bank, so we had eggs and hens to eat. Rabbits were plentiful; these were the wild variety which we bought
from the local gamekeeper.
There were no cereals as we have today but we did have Quaker Oats. Stews and soups were plentiful and we always had a joint on Sunday, cold meat on Monday.
I have some of our family accounts books from the 1920’s which record in detail the various items grocery items purchased week by week. There was very little variety
in the goods purchased!
Charles Holmes at 3 East Tce, Skelton in 1969 with his sister, Marjorie, on the Right.
I remember Monday was wash day, a big job compared to today. Mam had a big boiler where clothes were boiled and she had a poss tub where the clothes were bashed with a
big poss stick, not easy work for a woman.
Then the washing went through a mangle which also needed a strong arm. It was hung on a clothesline with pegs, not unlike today.
I remember Mam used blue bags and starch. If the washing was dry for Tuesday then it was ironed with a steel iron. This was put on the fire to heat up.
A sleeve was placed on the iron to keep the washing clean and ironing commenced. We had and still have a large clothes horse where the ironing was hung to air.
Electricity was installed by the Council in the 1930’s. Alec Fletcher did the work. He played football with Uncle George (or Uncle Fatty as we called him).
I started school aged five at the infants school across the road from our house. Today it is a house and flats.
On my first day at school I ran away. This was on the advice I received from a family friend, Jimmy Treen.
After that I loved school. I can remember one or two things we did. We used to do a Red Indian dance using 12” rulers as our knife and feathers on our head.
When it was a child’s birthday he or she got 100 rides on the rocking horse. We had a mental arithmetic test every Friday.
The local Rector Pop Wheatley came once a term to give us a talk. At Christmas we did our own decorating.
I went to the Infants school from age five to eight and from eight to eleven at the Green School, which no longer exists.
This was at the top of Green Bank which meant
that I walked up and down the bank (Green Road) twice a day. Mind you, there wasn’t the traffic there is now.
Mr. Mott was our headmaster. At the age of eleven we had what was called the scholarship which was in two parts. The first part you sat at the school.
If you passed this then the boys went to Guisborough Grammar school for the second part, the girls to Saltburn High School.
These exams were the forerunner of the eleven plus. These two schools covered a wide area so it wasn’t easy to get selected.
In my year six passed, four girls and two boys, including me. At GGS in 1935 everything was very good especially the sport.
We also started to learn foreign languages, French and Latin. I enjoyed GGS to start with and I did ok. I got in the school football and cricket elevens.
At cricket I was the wicket-keeper – the sportsmaster thought wicket-keepers were better being small and I played wicket-keeper for various local sides.
Going back to the age of eight, a cub pack was formed in Skelton under a lovely lady Ethel Pigg and Marjorie Mitchison.
We used to meet every Thursday, six to seven, scouts seven to nine, in the Wharton Hall. This hall was used for badminton, girls Sunday School, dances and various meetings
including Junior Imperials, the forerunner of the Young Conservatives.
Each summer we used to go camping; for most of us it was our annual holiday. The Brownie’s and Girl Guides had their meetings in the Church Rooms.
This building is now four houses. My elder sister Marjorie was in both Brownies and Guides. Mrs.Ringrose Wharton, the Squires wife was involved with the Scouts and
I think she quite liked me. She used to say “Come here, Holmes”.
I was in touch with her for the rest of her life, we exchanged a few short letters and cards and Peggy and I used to go and see her when we came home each summer.
She was a great character.
I was in the Church Choir from an early age and two evenings a week we had choir practice, one of these for the Sunday Service.
The local children would play games outside, something that does not seem to happen so much today. We played “Kick Tin”, “Fox – Off” and a naughty game (which I think
reads as) ‘Call Cathy, do as you like’ (I move swiftly on!).
During the 1930’s there was much hardship in Skelton. One place which had plenty of customers was the Institute, especially old men who went in to get warm and the
men who were on the “dole”.
Boys leaving school who could not get work went to a school in Carlin How to learn a trade which at least kept them out of trouble.
Those who found work after leaving school, generally at fourteen or fifteen, became apprentices and worked in the mines or steelworks.
A few went to work on the Wharton Estate, others for the local farms. When you reached the age of fourteen you could join the Institute and play billiards and later
snooker. The fee was 1d a week and to play billiards 2p for twenty minutes. I wasn’t too bad at either game.
On September 1st 1939 Germany declared war on Poland and on September 3rd Prime Minister Chamberlain came on the radio saying that as he had no reply from Hitler we
were at war with Germany.
Territorials were mustered at the drill hall in Skelton. I went to watch and with me were Fred Hatfield and Joe Fox. Also in attendance was Alexander Ross of the 4th
Battalion Green Howards.
They moved off by train to join the BEF (British Expeditionary Force), their destination I know not where.
I assume that the Green Howards marched or were transported to Saltburn to depart by train. My father mentioned that many were killed or taken prisoner in the subsequent
retreat to Dunkirk.
Charles Holmes, a Skelton Scout in Air Raid Precaution.
I was still at school and very patriotic. The scouts, of which I was one, were asked to be messengers in the ARP (Air Raid Precautions).
Only two of us lasted the course, Derek Casson and myself. We worked at the Report Centre which was situated in the cellar of the Wharton Arms.
I was pleased to do my bit for the war effort but I’m afraid homework and school exams went by the board.
I continued in the ARP until the day I joined up. I tried to persuade my mother to let me join the RAF a year earlier by putting up my age by a year but nothing doing.
She allowed me to join up when I was eighteen. I left school at seventeen and went to work for the Teesside Bridge and Engineering Works in the accounts department.
My geography master got me the job, helping me make out my ‘CV’.
While father wrote ‘Wharton Arms,’ in conversation he always referred to it as ‘Skipper’s’ after the innkeeper Charles Skipper who was there from the 1920’s to 1944
when he died.
His son George and wife Rhoda followed him until retirement in 1972.
Until a couple of years before he died, father would, on those Thursday evenings when he was in Skelton, walk up to Skipper’s for a couple of pints with a good friend.
One thing that didn’t go by the board was sport. I played for the School First eleven at football and cricket and when I left school I played for the AFS (?) and
cricket for the Castle, but unfortunately the Castle cricket field had to be ploughed up for the war effort and likewise Priestcroft.
So then I played cricket for North Skelton. Since the bypass has been built Castle have got a new field and North Skelton have houses built on their field.
I have a press cutting from 1938 which records that “the bowling and fielding of the Skelton team was superb, their batting is the most outstanding thing and will
go down in the history of cricket in Cleveland”.
Loftus were all out for 185, with my father (who was not yet fifteen) taking five catches as wicketkeeper. North Skelton hit 190 for 3, with my father making 61
not out and J. Butler 112 not out.
MEMORIES OF CROSS GREEN.
One of the first things my father did when arriving in Skelton was to wander the few yards over to the Green and contemplate the names on the War Memorial.
Many of the First World War names were known to him through the memories of the adults he knew as a boy, in particular Parker Walker, his mother Sarah’s elder brother.
He lived at 2 Woods Yard and was killed in action on the 19th April 1917 at the age of 31.
Memorial page here.
My father’s only remarks to me about Parker was that he was a ‘bit of a tearaway’ and that when he was hit by a shell, the Skelton man next to him (he said an estate employee) lost a leg.
I find it sad that there is little else apart from a couple of medals and one or two scraps of paper to remember Parker by.
My father knew most of those among the 19 in the Second World War list of the fallen.
Some he went to school with and he would often stand and talk to me about them in a reverential way; they seemed very present to him.
I think he was keenly aware of how lucky he had been. Much of this information was passed on to me when I was very young, when memories of the war were still fresh
and significant in the consciousness of people. I used to try and imagine his lost friends on the Green, what they looked like and how they spoke.
As my father got older he became quieter in his reflections, believing perhaps that his memories sat uneasily with the increasingly busy flow of traffic around
the ancient Green.
My early sporting activities were played on the Cross Green. That is where we played cricket and football.
Hitting the cricket ball into the school garden was six and out. If you hit the ball across the rails at the apex of the Green, that was four and out.
Cover point was on the road near West End stores, long on and long off were well down the road either side of the Green.
When the ball went through the iron railings and had to be retrieved it was Raymond Passmore or myself who had to get through the railings, you see we were the smallest.
Once I got stuck and one of the strong fellows came to my help, Ron…... (the name is indecipherable) who lived up Robinsons Yard.
He had no trouble parting two railings so I could get through. This chap was so strong he could put a six inch nail between his fingers and bend it.
The trouble was his strength got him into trouble and he ended up in Durham jail, eventually hitting an inmate so hard that he died and Ron was hanged I believe.
I also remember that there was a first world war tank on the Green for a short time.
Skelton Castle cricket ground was down Marske Lane and of course most of the lads I played with on the Green eventually went to play for them.
The Duke William is now much altered inside. There were many rooms and snugs. The place would be full of smoke from the pipes of the old men.
There was a door on the end where a window now is and there was no car park. The pub cellar was on the pavement. It had an iron grid and was full of frogs.
Next to the Duke was the West End stores or Mackenzies. This had a millinery department and my mother was always buying stuff to sew clothes.
Joe Mitchison and Bob Hall worked there, also two ladies. Joe and Bob married them. Joe took over the shop when Mrs. Mackenzie moved to Saltburn and Bob Hall started
his own shop in the High Street which is now a ladies hairdresser.
The sentence which followed was indecipherable except that between Mitchison’s shop and Cleveland House there lived Sam Snaith’s Aunt Louie.
‘Sam’ was really Dennis Snaith – he was nicknamed Sam, short for Samson, because of his great strength.
He had the most powerful hands I have ever seen, enhanced by his many years spent shovelling coal into the furnace of steam trains.
He lived all his life at 4 Woods Cottages (apart from work away in a London hotel as a teenager).
He was a great character, one of my father’s best friends and also my Godfather. Sam let me sit in a steam engine and watch him stoke up the furnace ready for
departure from Kings Cross station when I was about five years old.
About that time he also took me to see ‘The Crazy Gang’ at London’s Victoria Palace. A few years later, he let me ride pillion on his motorbike on journeys over the
Moors. Neither of us had crash helmets and my poor mother suffered huge anguish awaiting our return. O, the days before health and safety!
Sam died in early 2011 aged 89. He insisted on an unmarked grave and no mourners at his funeral.
Chris Holmes with his Mother and Sister above Skelton High Street about 1955.
Petrol pumps outside Barker's Garage and old Car.
Mrs. Dickinson lived at Cleveland House and used to give us 2p for singing Christmas Carols. When she died her son took over.
Next door were two cottages owned by the estate.
Artistic Greetings from a German Prisoner of War Camp, at link here.
lived at number 13 and his father Tim
Tim's Chapel link here.
I often remember Tim Bannister wheeling a milk churn down the road. Mrs. Bannister used to give Marjorie (father’s sister) and myself an Easter egg.
Bob died in 1995, I knew him well.
Pear Tree cottage is unchanged. A family called Johnson lived there, then a Mr. Baker with two sons, Donovan and Keith. Donovan used to take my cigarette cards.
They moved and Jack Anson moved in from Apple Orchard.
The pub (Royal George) is much altered. There used to be a bar, dart room, snug and a fireplace around which the older men would sit.
Further down was a watch repairer and a fish and chip shop. A Mrs. Emma Dunn lived there (father wrote something about a Middlesbrough
footballer living there [Don Burluraux]).
Next was Alec Ross, 4th Battalion Green Howards. He had a housekeeper and was a miner. Then there was the estate office where the agent lived.
Then there was the Rectory. ‘Pop’ Wheatley was Rector and Willie (father’s much older half-brother) was his gardener.
["A Short History of Skelton and its Churches" by Rev W Wheatley is the source of much relevant information on this website]
Pop Wheatley came to school and Sunday School and gave us talks. He was very popular, he was very involved with the Bible Class football team.
He came from a well-to-do family and went to Jerusalem and the Middle East on holiday. He was Rural Dean and eventually retired to Scarborough.
I always remember his watch. Down Parsons Bank were the estate houses. The wife of the gamekeeper shot by the squire lived in one.
There were two Bridge Houses, one for the squires chauffeur, Mr. French, the other for Harry Shawcross, the groom, who looked after the squires stallion Spartacus.
The old church was a short walk from the bottom of the bank and we sometimes played there and we used to look into the Castle grounds.
Father would often walk down to the church and when I was with him he would point out the Wharton family graves just over the wall. His last visit was in 2013 – I
managed to push him down and then up the bank in his wheelchair. There was a violent shower and we sheltered for some time in the old church porch.
Over the road was the entrance gate to Spouts (Spout Field). Back up the bank was South Terrace; John Morgan our relative lived at number 17. He was a dairyman and
I remember his milk float and milk churns.
Later Jack and Mary Barker (John’s daughter, my aunt) lived there. The Morgan’s were an old Skelton family.
Mary was born in 1903 and married John Barker in 1937. Mary’s aunt was Eliza Morgan, who married John Walker in July 1883.
They lived at 2 Woods Cottages and their eldest daughter Sarah, my father’s mother, was born in 1888.
I have a feeling that the marriage to John was not entirely approved of by the Morgan’s; their eldest child, William, was born that October.
I visited Mary on many occasions although I don’t remember Jack, her husband, who died many years before her. Mary was a teacher and had an air of old – time
respectability about herself – Church, Conservative Party etc.- which as a young man I found slightly daunting. I suspect she found the Holmes and the Walker
associations slightly troubling but the family rift, if there was one, seemed to have been
healed by the time of her final years when she had clearly mellowed.
Charles Holmes with Air Crew Training Cap.
SOME WARTIME MEMORIES.
In early December 1941 my father received a note which requested his attendance at the Combined Recruiting Centre Middlesbrough at 9 a m on the 19th of that month.
‘The vacancy for which you are being considered is that of Air Crew’. As there was no immediate vacancy he had to wait several weeks before receiving a request to
attend a medical and eventually the ACRC (Air Crew Recruiting Centre, or ‘Arsy Tarsy’ as he always called it’!).
I joined the RAF in July 1942. I had two dates that were important. On the Tuesday I was called up and had to go to ACRC at Lords Cricket Ground in London.
On the Thursday of the same week I was due to go to Headingley for a coaching session with George Hirst (the great Yorkshire cricketer, then in old age).
When I arrived at Lords I asked if there was any chance of a game of cricket. ‘No’ was the reply.
I did some “square bashing” on the roads outside. I remember the area was inhabited by “ladies of the night”.
From ACRC I went to ITW (Initial Training Wing) at Scarborough. Apart from more drilling I learnt the rudiments of navigation and the theory and practice of flying.
Before I went on to EFTS (Elementary Flying School) at Perth in Scotland I went home on leave for a week dressed in uniform with a white flash in my cap.
This was to denote air crew under training. At this stage I didn’t smoke or drink.
At Perth we flew in Tiger Moths. Unfortunately the RAF brought in what was called the PNB scheme along with the Mosquito, so even though all went solo including me
the majority of us went on as Navigators or Bomb Aimers.
I went on as a Bomb Aimer. From Perth we went to Heaton Park Manchester which was a holding centre for U/T (Under Training) Aircrew.
On May 1st 1943 we went back up to Scotland and then boarded the Queen Mary to New York and thence on to Canada for the final part of our training.
My father’s notes about the war end here but I have extracted bits from his diary to cover the remaining war years.
Regarding the trip on the Queen Mary, used as a troop ship during the war:
‘Had a smashing time on board, quite an experience, except that I helped to clean stairways down every night, beginning at midnight.
Every night for the duration of voyage clocks were put back an hour. Met Peter Jollie, a sailor from Grangetown and Bob Ashman, an Observer from Redcar.
Winston Churchill, Mr. Beaverbrook, Mr. Beveridge and all the service chiefs on board. Oranges, chocolates and cigarettes, plentiful and cheap. At sea for 6 days.
Prisoners on board.’
Seeing the USA and Canada must have been an incredible experience for a nineteen year old used to the drabness of wartime England
The next 6 months were a mixture of training, exams, football and all of the pleasures which you would expect a young man to indulge in.
Apart from various Canadian cities and towns he visited Detroit, Chicago, Gary, New York and Niagara Falls and he clearly loved it!
Charles Holmes [seated third from the Left] with Air Crew Training Group in Canada.
He ‘graduated’ as air crew in December 1943 and by late January 1944 he was back in England. He eventually arrived back in Skelton on February 8th 1944.
The diary entry simply reads:
‘Home – what a welcome’.
He was on leave for almost a month, ‘Perfect leave’ as his diary entry puts it but unfortunately little else is mentioned except that he met a local girl named Peg
(not to be confused with my mother Peggy, not yet ‘on the scene’) whom he seems to have dated and written to for well over a year.
I have a feeling Peg was a Lingdale lass; my father writes later about drinking in the Victoria, Lingdale.
He reported to the Grand Hotel, Harrogate on March 7th but for the rest of that month seemed to be back and forth from Harrogate to home.
On April 3rd he was posted to Staverton near Cheltenham then on April 18th to Moreton Valence near Gloucester.
It was about this time that one of his friends crashed and was killed. The diary entry simply reads:
‘April 24th Johnny crashed. April 29th Afternoon off in Cheltenham. Bought Johnny’s wreath.’
On May 2nd 1944 father was posted to Desborough near Kettering where the final pieces of training took place, a lot of night flying, circuits and landings
He was now with the crew he would remain with for the rest of the war.
Father was in Skelton on leave on June 24th for 48 hours; he met ‘Peg’ and drank in the Victoria, Lingdale with ‘Dad’ – presumably her father
On July 11th he was again home on leave, this time for ten days. The entry for July 14th is ‘boozing with Dusty’ and on July 16th and 20th there are the first
mentions in his diary of Judson’s, or ‘Juddies’ as he later referred to it, the Royal George on Cross Green.
Judsons at the George link here.
Whenever I visited Skelton as a boy my father would be a regular at ‘Juddies’ and I still remember - although I cannot put a date on it – when he retired and
the pub changed hands.
I do remember that father saw it as a meaningful moment in his life, a passing of the ‘old times’.
It seems that a good deal of drinking took place on this visit home, which is not surprising because my father knew that very shortly he would be in action,
the ‘real thing’.
In early September he was posted to RAF Oulton in Norfolk and joined 214 Squadron where operational life began.
Over the next seven months he flew 46 sorties over enemy territory.
He flew mainly Flying Fortresses and his particular role was described to me as follows by the historian of 214 Squadron:
These Forts were equipped with the then very high tech, highly secret Jostle equipment for jamming the German night fighter communications system.
Two or three forts would fly at about 2/3000 feet above the RAF heavy bombers, circling and jamming as the raid was in progress.
This could be very dicey for all involved and although by the end of the war was successful, nonetheless quite a few forts were lost’.
His next home leave began on October 24th and lasted until November 2nd. By then he had flown eight sorties over Germany, all at night, plus numerous ‘air tests’
and he must have grateful for some respite.
The entry for October 26th reads: ‘Days session with Jack and Jim’. He visited Judson’s four times on subsequent days, went to Middlesboro and Redcar, and attended a
He also visited the Casson’s and the Sanderson’s.
The next month, November 1944, must surely have been his worst of the war. He flew eleven night sorties over Germany, was hit by flak, and heard that his close friend,
Bob Macpherson, was missing.
I have a letter from Bob written to my father a few days before he was shot down and it is full of humour.
Even seventy years on I feel very sad for this loss of a man who meant a lot to my father and whom he never forgot.
Three years ago, when father and I were in Skelton just before Remembrance Sunday, we placed a wooden cross and poppy on the Memorial steps with Bob’s name written on it.
The only lighter note that November was his 21st birthday on the 18th, when he managed a trip to the cinema in Norwich with some of his air crew, had some drinks and
went to a dance at the nearby town of Aylsham.
On December 1st he flew to Northern France, liberated by then, and according to the diary:
’Went to Reims at night with the lads and Archie’s crew. Had a wizard time’.
On the following day he went shopping and visited the Cathedral. I must say that ‘wizard’ was not a word I heard my father use, but probably a common term in the RAF
at the time!
After several more sorties over Germany he was next home on leave in late January 1945. The diary entry at this time just says ‘leave’, covering eight days.
My suspicion is that he had some family issues to deal with, notably the move from Skelton of his elder half-sister Hannah, who left her husband (Kenneth Jackson
Bow Green) for another man.
Father was very fond of Hannah but as far as I know he never saw her again. I believe the rest of the family were embarrassed and rather shunned her memory thereafter.
Although her wedding photo remained on the old piano in the house at East Terrace for many years, she was never mentioned and my father never spoke to me about her.
My only knowledge was acquired from my mother.
(Should anyone reading this know anything about Hannah or what happened to her, please get in touch !).
On February 3rd 1945 he finished his first tour of duty, which had consisted of 34 sorties and a total of 171 hours of flying, nearly all at night.
The diary entry reads:
‘Flying. Finished 1st Tour. All the lads drunk. Ice cream from G/C’.
There is a page in his log book which reads: AOC’s Commendation on completion of Operational Tour
For meritorious service and good airmanship, in that a full operational tour has been completed without having been involved in any accident or ever having an
unnecessary cancellation or abandonment of an operational sortie”.
On February 5th he went home on leave for two weeks but again there are no details.
On his return to camp he learned of more friends missing in action. We perhaps forget that even though the war was nearly over and the German’s knew the end was close,
combatants were still dying in significant numbers.
Following a further six sorties over Germany he had a weeks leave and the sole diary entry reads that he ‘had a grand time with Ralph and the lads’.
After returning to Oulton he flew six more sorties, the last of which was on April 13th over Hamburg.
Charles Holmes, second from Left.
Transport Command, Pocklington.
The log book entry reads that No.1 engine was feathered. His second operational tour was formally completed on May 7th 1945 and he was immediately posted to Transport
He arrived at his new base at Pocklington near York on May 13th having had a day’s home leave.
On June 9th the diary entry reads ’leave’ and the next entry is his posting to Biggin Hill in Kent on February 2nd 1946.
I have no idea what he did in these months but I believe he was back in Skelton helping sort out some family matters and generally ‘winding down’ after his war experience. Despite this experience,
of which he spoke very little.
I believe he was keen to stay in the RAF. He had been commissioned on April 6th 1945 and given the difficulties of finding work plus the ‘letdown’ of civilian life after
the strange excitement of war he probably saw a good future in the Service.
Going through some of his papers I found a touching letter from the ‘Old Skelton Ward Welcome Home Committee’.
Headed ‘World War 1939-1945’it reads:
‘To C.J.Holmes. The inhabitants of Old Skelton Ward congratulate you on coming through the dangers and vicissitudes of the World War and extend to you a hearty
welcome home. The sacrifices you have made in the defence of your country are very highly appreciated. We thank you and trust you will enjoy good health and many
happy years. T.E Slater, Chairman, C. Mathieson, Hon. Secretary.’
It was dated January 23rd 1946. Very simple and no gushing tributes! It was accompanied by a cheque ‘for the services you have rendered to your country’.
The amount was calculated ‘on your length of service’ but is not disclosed in the accompanying note.
At Biggin Hill he continued in various duties, including Entertainments Officer.
He was back in Skelton on leave on March 29th for four days and visited ‘Juddies’ four times. He also went to a ‘Point to Point’ and went to the cinema in Redcar.
He returned to Biggin Hill and apart from duties was playing a lot of football.
The first mention of Peggy my mother appears on May 18th with a trip to the cinema; she was an RAF wireless operator stationed at Biggin Hill, and during the war had
been associated with Bletchley Park activities.
On May 22nd he played for Biggin Hill station against West Drayton in the RAF Station cup final and lost 4-2.
On May 23rd he played football for the RAF against the Free French Air Force – they drew 5-5!
He captained the team and I have a large photo as a memory.
Charles Holmes with the ball.
That night he went to ‘Le Tabarin’ and the following night to the ‘Folies Bergere’.
The diary entry reads ‘Wizard Show’.
His diary ends on June 5th 1946.
On November 23rd my father and mother were married, and I appeared on the scene the following year.
He left the RAF in 1947 with the rank of Flying Officer and began work in late August with the Royal Exchange Assurance company in the City of London.
He went to live in Wallington, Surrey with my mother and her parents.
My first experience of Skelton was in August 1948 at the age of one; I have a number of photos from that time taken on the Cross Green and at the back of the house in
The combination of father’s diary, RAF log book and photograph album from the period tell me a great deal about what he was doing and when.
Something that stands out for someone living in 2014 are the number of letters he wrote to his family and friends in Skelton.
Telephone calls were very rare as were telegrams.
Another feature was his good fortune, if one can possibly describe it as such, of being based in England and of being able to travel home on leave on several occasions
during 1944 and 1945.
As the diary progresses through 1943 to 1946 the ebullience evident in the early pages dissipates as the reality of active service asserts itself.
Unfortunately there is very little recorded about my father’s inner life, just a few clues here and there.
This was consistent with his later behaviour and sadly I never could fathom very much that was going on inside.
His comments on his war experiences were few- he would certainly talk about particular incidents, but he was not obviously proud or triumphalist about his time in the
I think he just felt very lucky to be alive.
In June 2012 he and I went to the unveiling of the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park, London.
By then he was finding walking very difficult, but he managed to get through the travelling and the ceremony. Whether he was genuinely glad to go is doubtful, but he
was pleased with the Bomber Command medal he received (very belatedly!).
The fact that Bomber Command were largely ignored after the war always rankled, most particularly with my mother.
There was a sadness at the end of his long life, in that so many people he knew had pre-deceased him.
His sister Marjorie had died in 2003 and Peggy his beloved wife in June 2007.
At one time he would walk up the High Street and know most people, even though he was a visitor from Surrey.
Over the years local friends and acquaintances became fewer and fewer.
Sam’s death hit particularly hard. His nephew Keith Walker was the last close relation; Keith was a good and kind man who kept an eye on the house in father’s absence
and a close eye on father on his stays in Skelton in his final years.
Sadly, Keith died three weeks before father in June 2014 – he was 82 – by which time father himself was barely able to move or speak.
I had not the heart to tell him the news straight away; on June 29th Charles died of pneumonia, and thus I was saved this difficult task.
So ended the life of someone I wish I had known rather better, but as father and son relationships go it wasn’t too bad; we eventually ‘got it together’, as they say
But how I wished I had recorded more of his Skelton stories.