Fighting for one’s country at times shows displays of heroism or in some cases downright being foolhardy and for Flight Sergeant Ray Holmes’s day on 15th September 1940 it started with sheer bravery but soon turned into the latter. The bombardment of London had just begun in earnest when on a beautiful Sunday Ray’s 504 Squadron was scrambled from Hendon to intercept 17 Dorniers on a bombing run over the capital.
HAVING JOINED THE Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve soon after its formation in 1936 Ray ‘Arty’ Holmes (his initials were R. T. hence the nickname) was a highly experienced pilot flying his Hurricane to stop the German midday bombing raid. In was to become one of the most celebrated events to act out above London during the Battle of Britain, due in part to the final seconds of the engagement being filmed.
Having already shot down one enemy plane Ray pursued its two companions. When he pressed the firing button, nothing happened, he had run out of ammunition.
Believing, probably rightly that the bombers were heading to Buckingham Palace, desperate measures were called for. Ray then aimed his Hurricane at one of the enemy’s Dorniers.
In his words:
All the other aircraft had disappeared. I discovered that I was heading for this Dornier. When I fired, my guns didn’t operate; my ammunition was used. So I carried on and took his tailplane off with my wing. His tail came off and he went nose down. But I found out that it had damaged my aerodynamics. I had to get out.
Ray, through luck or judgment had hit the Dornier’s most venerable point, the rear fuselage. The tail parted company with the plane’s body which then did a violent front somersault snapping off the outboard engines mounted on the wings before crashing on the forecourt of Victoria Station.
Ray’s Hurricane fared no better and crashed at the junction of Buckingham Palace Road, Pimlico Road and Ebury Bridge, burying itself into the road. The plane wasn’t found until 2004 when the remains of the Hurricane were excavated. The plane’s joy-stick was reunited after 64 years with Ray with the brass safety button still set to fire.
Ray had parachuted safely landing in Buckingham Palace Road suspended by the cords of his chute just off the ground with his feet in a dustbin. He was taken to the nearby Orange Brewery public house and given a swift whisky. A different fate befell the German pilot, landing in Kensington, he was beaten by a mob and died the following day.
Photo: Mike Kemble
A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 11th November 2013