Second World War veteran, 98, meets great-grandson for first time during reunion

By Helen William, PA

A 98-year-old former Lancaster Bomber pilot has met his six-month-old great-grandson for the first time during an annual reunion with his Second World War comrades-in-arms.

Flight Lieutenant Ernest “Ernie” Holmes, of Perth, Scotland, is among an extraordinary group of wartime aviators who touch base with each other each year at an airfield reunion.

There were about 100 veterans, who are now mostly aged in their 90s, are all treated as VIPs at the Project Propeller event.

But this year Mr Holmes said it was “simply wonderful” to meet his own special visitor in the shape of great-grandson Henry.

He added: “I am so proud, he is my flesh and blood.”

Veterans at Coventry Airport as part of Project Propeller (Nathan Ward/PA)

The baby’s mother Laura Hart, 38, who is the veteran pilot’s granddaughter and also a retired Army Major, described the first look between Henry and his great-grandfather as “something to be treasured”.

She said: “Henry is such an observant baby – it is all in his face. It is as if he is at an age where he recognises the magnitude of the occasion.

“Henry is a cheeky little scamp, just like his great grandpa. A good day was had by all.

“I will treasure that moment (when he first saw his great-grandpa) forever and I look forward to telling Henry about the magnitude of what his great grandpa, and other men of his generation, did.”

She thanked Project Propeller for arranging the day out for all the other veterans.

Like all the other veterans from across Britain Mr Holmes was especially flown in free of charge to the former RAF Baginton air base (now Coventry Airport) by a volunteer pilot as a thank you for their wartime service.

Baby Henry was driven from his family home in Stratford-upon-Avon by his parents while Mr Holmes’s son David and his wife Lis came from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

Mrs Hart described the meeting as “simply wonderful” adding: “I am so proud, he is my flesh and blood.”

Mr Holmes joined the RAF in 1940, flying Whitley and Halifaxes, before joining 35 Squadron as a Lancaster Captain on Pathfinder operations. He was shot down over Holland in May 1944 on his 30th operation.

He spent the next seven weeks on the run, before eventually being taken in by the Dutch underground but was later betrayed and taken prisoner.

Mr Holmes was part of the “Long March” in March 1945 when thousands of allied prisoners of war were force-marched by the Nazis, in blizzard conditions, from their prison camps towards the west in an attempt to avoid them being liberated by the advancing Russian Army.

He survived and was liberated on May 9 1945 near Lubeck by soldiers of the Cheshire Regiment. He was repatriated to the UK on May 13 1945.

Upon his return, he discovered he had been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1944.

He remained in the RAF after the war and left in 1962 for a career in civil aviation.

Project Propeller founder Ian Burnstock said: “It’s our honour and privilege to be able to have the veterans with us and to show them how much we appreciate everything they did for us in the dark days of conflict.

“Being able to unite Ernie with his great-grandson in this way is a wonderful bonus and an absolute pleasure for all of our volunteer team”.