Sgt Harry Rupert Holt RAF

Serial number : 1576238

90 Squadron (RAF Tuddenham) , 3 Group, Bomber Command, Royal Air Force 1944

90 Squadron badge (motto - Swift )

 


Harry Holt (my Uncle) was a quiet un-assuming and hard working man, he rarely (if ever) spoke of his life in the RAF in later life. After his death in New Zealand (he and his wife emigrated there in the 1970's to join their two sons Alan and Clive) Joyce made a trip back to the UK (1997), during that visit I took her to the East Kirkby aircraft museum in Lincolnshire, it was on that day I decided to try and piece together the complete details of Harry's RAF service - in particular the details of his crash in France.

 

Harry - second from the left, middle row.

(photo taken in Durban, South Africa)

 

This is his story.

 

The Crew - without Harry (who is taking the photo ?).

This photograph and the one below were kindly sent to me by Dee and Arthur Burnett (Son of the pilot).

 

Pilot F/T Sgt Tom A Burnett RAAF - standing beneath a Short Stirling.

 Sgt Clinton's log book shows that they flew Stirling III aircraft up to 19 June 1944 and then on the 24 June changed to a Lancaster Mk I (R5631)


10 June 1944 'Battle Order '

Crew of Lancaster Mk I.  WP-H. Serial NE 177.

Pilot F/T Sgt T A Burnett RAAF

Navigator Sgt C A Page

Air Bomber Sgt. H R Holt

Wireless Operator W/O G K Hartwig RAAF

Mid Gunner Sgt. W F Gallivan

Rear Gunner Sgt. D A Mundy

Flight Engineer Sgt. J F Clinton


Timeline.

At 22.45 hrs Harry and the crew of WP-H ( Lancaster Mk I ) took-off from RAF Tuddenham, England on Operation Dreux.

The purpose of this operation was to bomb the railway yards at Dreux (West of Paris), France.

The crew released their bomb load on the rail yards but a few minutes later they were hit either by Flak or Enemy Fighter aircraft fire.

Their Lancaster caught fire and the order to Bail Out was given.

The plane crashed into the ground near the village of Grandvilliers 7 km North of Tilliere Sur Avre (West of Paris)

11 June 1944 Harry's fiancé Joyce Boot received a telegram....

"DEEPLY REGRET TO INFORM YOU THAT YOUR FIANCÉ SGT HARRY RUPERT HOLT IS MISSING AS A RESULT OF AIR OPERATION ON THE NIGHT 10/11 TH JUNE LETTER FOLLOWS.............."

Four members of the Lancaster crew bailed-out safely.

Sgt H R Holt (Bomb Aimer) Escape report 2235

W/O G K Hartwig RAAF (Wireless Operator) Escape report 2252 - was hit in the forehead, has no recollection of bailing out, his mind is a complete blank until he found himself walking along a road, he looked at his watch, it was 0600 hrs. He received basic medical help from locals and resistance workers, had a few close calls with the Germans until he met up with Canadian forces 23 August 1944.

Sgt J F Clinton (Engineer) Escape report 2233 - landed in a field without his boots about 400 yds from the burning wreck of Lancaster WP-H . He also received help from locals and the Resistance, avoiding the clutches of the Gestapo finally met up with Canadian forces 23 August 1944.

Sgt W Gallivan was later captured, became a POW.


SECRET

Escape Report M.I.9/S/P.G. (-) 2235

Evaded capture in France

Statement by 1576238 Sgt. Holt Harry Rupert, 90 Sqn., Bomber Command, RAF

Interviewed by I.S.9 (W) ( O.R.S., Bomber Command, RAF ) 27 Aug 44.

We took off from Tuddenham at 2300hrs on 10 Jun 44 to bomb DRUEX. We bombed the target but were shot at by a fighter aircraft a few minutes later we were over the village of GRANDVILLIERS. The order was given to bail out. I landed in a field at 0115 hrs (11 Jun) and made for a farm at the edge of the field. I hid in a barn until daylight when I saw the farmer in the yard. I went out and made myself known to him. He took my uniform and mae west and gave me an old pair of boots, a jacket and a pair of trousers. He told me it was not safe to remain here and advised me to leave at once as there were many Germans in this area. I made for a wood and hid until dusk, then commenced walking in a Northerly direction until I came to another farm, where I stopped and asked the farmer if he could give me some food. He put me up for the night in a hay loft, and gave me food.

Next morning (12 Jun) he brought me the mayor of the nearest village who made out an identity card for me and advised me to leave as soon as possible.

As I was passing through a wood I met some men cutting logs. I asked them for a drink, first explaining who I was. I told them I was making for CAEN, but they advised me not to go, and one of the men offered to take me to friends of his near ROMAN who owned a farm. This farmer was a member of the resistance movement and I stayed with him for about ten days. During my stay the farmer went to see one of the chiefs of the resistance movement who lived in another village. He brought back with him a photograph of my rear gunner, Sgt. GALLIVAN who was staying at LES MINIERSES, a village about 8 kms, North-east of ROMAN and it was arranged that Sgt. GALLIVAN and I should meet at a given rendezvous a day or two later.

Towards the end of the fortnight we had arranged to meet again, and just as I was setting out a messenger arrived. He said at 0300 hrs on 25 Jun the Germans came with 150 men and a tank and surrounded the house where Sgt. GALLIVAN was hiding. It was set on fire but Sgt. GALLIVAN tried to escape by hiding in a tree, but he was caught by the Germans and taken prisoner. The rest of the people who were all members of the Resistance movement were either caught or shot. After this incident I was advised by my helpers to hide in the woods for a few days.

I remained in the woods for two days and food was brought to me by my helpers. On the third day, one of the helpers brought a friend who said I could go and stay with him.

I was taken to his farm which was on the outskirts of the village and I remained there about a week.

It was rumoured that the Gestapo were on the lookout for Resistance people, so it was decided it would be better to get away from this area as soon as possible. About 3 Jul four helpers took me by bicycle to the village of LAONS where we stayed for four days in a cafe. The village was full of Germans who frequented the cafe most of the time, so I pretended to be deaf and dumb. As there were so many Germans about as well as Gestapo in plain clothes, we decided to leave LAONS.

On 7 Jul we cycled to the village of DAME MARIE and here we parted as they were going to PARIS and I decided to make for the North of France. I had no maps with me, having left them behind at ROMAN. I walked for some hours and finally reached the town of BRETEUIL. I stopped at a farm and asked for food, but while I was at the gate waiting for the farmer to bring me something to eat I noticed a boy cycling away from the farm towards the town so I decided to leave at once as I was rather suspicious of the farmer;

I hid in a wood not far away and soon after a car drew up and shots were fired into the wood I remained hidden in a little hut for two days. On 9 Jul I started walking again and reached the forest of BRETEUIL . I met a shepherd on the edge of the forest and explained to him who I was and asked him if there were any Germans in the wood. He offered to take me to his cottage and said he would try to contact the Resistance movement. I stayed with him for 11 days. About 20 Jul he took me to a forest rangers cottage and from here I was contacted by one of the resistance men who took me to NEAULES-SUR-RISLE where I stayed with a friend until the British arrived.

End of report.

23 Aug 44 Harry was re-united with British forces at Neaules-Sur-Risle


The following crew members of Lancaster WP-H died.

They are buried in the Dreux Communal Cemetery , Eure et Loir , France.

CECIL ARTHUR PAGE. Sergeant 1579628. Age 20. Son of Arthur Horace and Edith M. Page, of Bedford, England.

Grave Reference Row 2. Grave 21.

THOMAS ALFRED BURNETT Pilot Officer RAAF Age 28. Son of Robert Somerville Burnett and Lillian May Burnett; husband of Jean Lorraine Burnett, of Canterbury, New South Wales, Australia

Grave Reference Row 2. Grave 22.

DENNIS ANDREW FREDERICK MUNDY Sergeant Age 20. Son of Walter John and Ida Mundy, of Fifield, Berkshire, England

Grave Reference Row 2, Grave 23.

Location: Dreux is a town and sub-Prefecture in the Department of the Eure et Loire about 35 kilometres north of Chartres. The Communal Cemetery is on the north-western side of the town on the eastern side of Rue de Billy. Follow the sign for 'Chapelle Royale' and the cemetery will be found close by.


235 aircraft took part in Operation Dreux., 15 Lancasters and 3 Halifax aircraft were lost.

Harry survived the war and was De-Mobbed Class A, he left the RAF with the rank of Warrant Officer.

Harry was awarded the following medals.....

1939/45 Star, A.C.E. Star with France & Germany Clasp, Defence Medal, Victory Medal


Harry was not simply hiding while in France- during the last month Harry took part in Resistance 'activities' and wore this hand made identity arm band.

Harry's armband.

This is the centre section, the letters are F.F.I (top) and MEU (bottom).

It measures 5" x 15"

 Michael Elcock, Victoria,  BC, Canada sent me with the following information :-

FFI stands for Forces Francais de l 'Interieur. 

The FFI was created by General de Gaulle, and was essentially the official new army of the new France that was about to come into being.  At the time Harry Holt was in it, it was still pretty irregular but I believe de Gaulle's intention was to give the various resistance groups official status so they'd at least have a legal position that might help them avoid being shot as traitors or terrorists.  It was also a political move as de Gaulle -- who had not been in France for many years was trying to pre-empt the various resistance factions, and particularly the French communists, who wanted to form a government as soon as the Germans were driven out.

I can't find any reference to MEU but I'd suggest it's likely to be some kind of local regimental or unit designation.  And probably quite temporary.

Information received (Nov' 2014) from Mr Joel Legout  who is a member of the Forced Landing Association.

Definition of M.E.U on Harry's hand made identity arm band.
The departement of EURE is divided into 6 sectors depending on the region "M" for le Man (city in the Calvados Departement)
Every sector is called MEU, M+EU for EUre followed by a figure (1 to 6).
the region "M" includes eleven western departements of France following a division decided at the end of 1942.

 

My thanks to both Michael and Joel for their information.

 

 


Harry standing by the remains of Lancaster WP-H

 

 

 

After the war, Harry returned to France to thank some of the people who had helped and assisted him.

This photograph shows Harry standing by the remains of 'his' Lancaster, WP-H (NE177).

 

 

 

 

Letter from the Caterpillar Club

 

 

 

 

The letter from Irvin Air Chutes making Harry a member of the Caterpillar Club.

The pin itself has since been lost.

The Caterpillar pin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The dreaded telegram.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Escape reports of two other crew members ;

Sgt J F Clinton - W/O G K Hartwig


 

Information was gathered from the RAF Records Office, Public Record Offices, Kew, London, Commonwealth War Graves Commission and various Publications.

My special thanks to my aunt Mrs Joyce Holt for her permission and help whilst conducting this research.

* * * * *

Also my thanks to Dee and Arthur Burnett (son of the pilot) for the information and photo's they provided. After the war Tom's wife took Arthur to France - Tom's body was being moved to a permanent cemetery - on that occasion Tom's wedding ring was given to his widow. Arthur wears that ring to this day (04/2008).

April 2008, Tom's widow was alive and well at the grand age of 90. What wonderful news that was to receive.

Further news 2011.....

Deirdre and Arthur Burnett visited the cemetery in Grandvilliers, France - June 2011.

 

Arthur Burnett (in shirt) with Deirdre and friends.

 

The RAF plot within the Dreux Communal Cemetery .