Interview with George Holmes


Interview with George Holmes


George was born in Mansfield and was bought up by his Grandparents until he was seven when he moved back to his parents in Leicester where his Father ran a coffee shop. He was a semi-professional musician playing violin, trumpet and mandolin. He studied hosiery at college and worked in hosiery production his entire working life. He joined the Home Guard in Narborough, and recalls how he defended the railway bridge at night time with a bayonet fastened to a broom stick with string. After volunteering for the Air Force he was sent to Blackpool for training. The corporal who taught him foot drill went on to be the comedian Max Wall. He was then sent to RAF Yatesbury for his radio course, and then forwarded to the Air Armourers school. After completing the course, he was posted to RAF Evanton for a gunner’s course. His next posting was to RAF Market Harborough, but was only there for three weeks before he was sent to RAF Silverstone for crewing up. His first station was RAF Bardney with 9 Squadron for a few weeks. He remembers that when they arrived at Bardney it was deserted and they found everyone lying on the floor in the kitchen as the bomb dump was on fire. The crew were then posted to RAF Skellingthorpe in 50 Squadron and they completed 20 operations. George recalls a daylight operation on a V-1 site, and he witnessed the Lancaster that was above them blown up and seeing the bodies of the crew falling past their aircraft. The crew were then split up when the pilot and navigator joined the Pathfinders and he became a spare bod. He eventually joined an Australian crew in 83 Squadron at RAF Coningsby and completed a further nine operations. His pilot was called Cassidy and the nose art on the Lancaster was “Hop along Cassidy’s Flying Circus.” After the war he took part in a tour of South America and discusses an earthquake in Peru. He discusses his religious beliefs and how the war, Bomber Command, and Arthur Harris have been remembered. He met his wife Barbara after the war at a dance in the RAF club and they had one son.




Temporal Coverage




01:08:02 audio recording

Conforms To


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AH: This interview is being conducted for the International Bomber Command Centre. The interviewer is Anna Hoyles. The interviewee is Mr George Henry Holmes. The interview is taking place at Mr Holmes’ home [deleted] Lincolnshire on the 16th of October 2016.
GH: Yes. I had some very lucky escapes. We had, we were going to [pause] I’ve written it down. I’ve got a terrible memory.
GH: Stuttgart in Germany. And of course they originated in France thinking possibly that there wouldn’t be many, many night fighters there but we got caught and we got shot and it took off the bomb bay doors. They fractured the starboard wheel, ruptured the main spar and left us with cannon shells stuck in the fuel tanks which is actually really instantaneous. And we did a belly landing when we got back and I was one of the first out and running. Somebody said, ‘Are you frightened?’ I said, ‘Have you seen a Lanc go up in flames?’ And the bloke said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Well. Well, when you do you’ll run faster than I do.’ And actually they took these cannon shells away by the, if you handled the armament, whatever and emptied them they found out that the cannon shells actually had been filled with sand instead of explosives. Otherwise we would have gone up in one. And that was once. And another night someone on a circuit when we were coming, of course I was at Skellingthorpe at the time and there were about five or six airfields all around. And we had a bump and nearly got tipped over by the windstream of another aircraft. And when we landed there was about five foot off the end of the pit, of the end of the aeroplane gone. That was, I think we could call a very near miss. And all through my career they used to say you’ve got to get it right. The good crews survive and the bad crews don’t. But when you’re dealing with an aeroplane that’s attacking you at about between five and six hundred mile an hour you don’t have time to work out all the superlatives. You just learn how to, well you have to try to get him in to four hundred yards for the ammo to be, do any damage whatsoever. And these would wait about a thousand yards and pump these things in to you, you know. But, yes we lost a lot of young men at the time. Look back sometimes and I think how the hell did we get through it?
AH: How did you come to join the RAF?
GH: Mixed feelings. I was living in Kettering at the time and I would be about six years of age. I’d only just joined school which was a joining age in those days of about six years I think and I saw the R100 or the R101 in the sky. A most amazing sight. And of course everybody was reading Biggles books so I wanted to be a Biggles man. And my father wouldn’t sign any papers for me so when I was eighteen I went down and joined the RAF as an air gunner. But there were so many enlisting at the time it was over twelve months I think before I was called. And they wanted me to be a pilot or navigator. I said, ‘No. I want to be an air gunner W/Op.’ Anyway, I finished up there. They made me a wireless operator / air gunner. Well, up to going into the air force I’d hoped to be a semi-professional musician because I played the violin from seven years of age to when I went in the air force, eighteen. And I played the violin, trumpet and a mandolin. And the man who was teaching me he used to make instruments and he was going to teach me how to make them. And, you know when I went in the air force I was in the air force for just over five years. I couldn’t get back to the standard that I was in and work for a living at the same time because you’ve got to put about two to three hours a day in you know, to it. So I abandoned the musical stuff. And actually I was at an old miner’s school. A corrugated tin hut thing and when we moved to Leicester and I was a top boy at the school. The teaching, they taught us in that stinking little old tin hut was beyond their, what they were teaching us in there. They told me I couldn’t do joined up writing. We’d got to go back to scroll, you know. But I went to a school that was attached to the College of Art and Technology and I was studying textiles and hosiery. And I earned a very good living through the entire working life producing socks, stockings, knee socks and things like that. Of course you got paid in on production in those days. You didn’t get a standing wage. The more you made the more you got paid. And you were allowed ten needles per week and if you broke more than that you had to pay for them. Six pence each I think they were then. The unions would go bloody mad now wouldn’t they? [laughs] I had a very good education really. I was very fortunate. I was almost fluent in French. The French master said, ‘I can’t understand you, Holmes. You’re the worst pupil I’ve ever had. You’re always talking, take no notice, I can’t understand how you’ve got top of the class in French.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s simple. You gave us a half an hour’s homework and I always got an hour. So I worked harder than anybody else.’ [laughs] But I had a very good — my parents were not wealthy. My dad was a manager of a, the management of a grocery shop. You know these, what they were before the war. Several strains of food, food retailers and I really thought I was going to be a semi-professional musician. But I abandoned that scheme altogether and I got my sleeves rolled up and got stuck in this hosiery thing. ‘Til the war of course and then I couldn’t get, I couldn’t wait to get in the air force. And I finished up as a wireless operator / air gunner due to the fact, I always presumed, I don’t know whether it’s true or not but the fact that I had learned music, got some dashes and all like that. Morse code came easy and I was a very good operator. But apart from that I had a very happy marriage. I’ve got one son. He’s sixty seven now. And a he’s a fourth [unclear] at Judo. But life is a wonderful thing. Not to be wasted. And when you look at the war and see the number of thousands of young people who were wasted in the war. And the building and the costs. At the end of the day you have to sit around a table and talk it over from the first day. Save a lot of trouble and strife. But of course in those days Bomber Command was the thing.
AH: So you wanted to join Bomber Command?
GH: Oh yes. But then when you say wanted to join Bomber Command I’d always worked shifts. Night shifts and three shifts and things. I thought if I go in to the air force I’d be alright. And what did they do? They stuck me on Bomber Command. It was night work. But it wasn’t altogether good so as you look in the book you’ll see I did quite a number of daylight operations.
AH: Where did you train?
GH: Pardon?
AH: Where did you train? Where did you do your training?
GH: Where did I do my training? It was wonderful really. I I went to Blackpool first of all. That was the Number 10 RS something it was called. Signals Reserve or something. And they were all radio personnel in the air force up there. And we had a bloke called corporal [pause] I forget his name now. Corporal. Used to take us to the arm drill and foot drill. And his stage name was Max Wall. Can you imagine a man like Max Wall teaching you? Amazing. And then I went down to Yatesbury for a radio course. And I was posted then to Manby in the ground wireless op ‘til they could fit me into an air gunner’s course. Well, Manby in those days was number 1 AS. Air Armaments School and they taught bomb aimers and air gunners. We kept going to see the groupie and saying, ‘Get us on the course for air gunners.’ ‘No. You have to wait until you come through officially.’ When it did come through we was at a place called Evanton. About forty mile north of Inverness. First time I’d been to Scotland. In June it was. And it was a wonderful summer. And it was the first time I’d seen the shaggy Highland cattle. And I was taken by Scotland ever after that. Then after that, the gunnery course, I was sent to Market Harborough which is now a prison. And I used to push off home every night. After being there about three weeks the CO said, ‘We’re getting rid of you. You’re never here.’ It used to take me an hour to get home from Market Harborough on the local bus through all these villages. Little villages. And I was posted to Silverstone. And at Silverstone if you went in and out by railway you could get a train called the Master Cutler which was a high speed train from Sheffield to London and back. It used to do that in forty five minutes. That was quicker than being in [laughs] And I got crewed up there then and joined the [unclear] so to speak but I suppose if you were young men you had to be in something. You had no objection. I mean, no one wanted you to be a conscientious objector or anything. There we were. I joined Bomber Command and I was very lucky because I got with some good crews and I must admit I was commissioned towards the end of the war as a wireless op and I got operational strain and one thing or another. I was a bit of a drunkard. The only way of overcoming some of the strenuous [pause] I mean the beer we were drinking in those days I think was 1.2 percent alcohol. The water you washed the glasses in was stronger than the beer.
AH: So did you drink mainly beer? Or did you drink other stuff?
GH: No. No. The doc said, our doc on the squadron, ‘Go out and get pissed. It’ll do you good. Don’t go on spirits.’ And I was based around here. Around Louth. One way or another. It’s so that when my wife and I decided to come and live here it was after I’d retired. It was a home away from home really.
AH: Where were you first based? Where were you based first?
GH: Where was —?
AH: Where were you first based? Which was your first base? Where were you sent first?
GH: Oh. At a place called Bardney. Just outside Louth. And we got there. The place was, looked vacant and we got out the transport and looked around and looked in the ditches and it was full of bodies. We said, ‘What are you doing down there?’ They said, ‘Bugger off, there’s a fire in the bomb dump.’ So we said, ‘Oh, we’ll leave you to it then.’ But anyway a guy put it out. And then we went from that place. I did six ops there. And then we went to Skellingthorpe where the pilot was made up to a squadron leader. And we were only allowed two or three operations a month due to the losses of experienced crews. And by the time we’d done twenty trips together he, the pilot and the navigator went over to Pathfinders as the rest of the crew did. And the, the crew got sort of crewed up but the wireless, he didn’t want a wireless. He brought one with him, the pilot. So I was a spare bod and I went with an Aussie crew. His name was Cassidy and he’d got it painted on the side of a Lancaster. “Hop Along Cassidy’s Flying Circus.’ And I finished up at the one near Boston. What is it?
AH: Coningsby?
GH: Pardon?
AH: Coningsby?
GH: Coningsby. Yes. Yes.
AH: What squadron were you in first?
GH: 9. And then I went on to 50 at Skellingthorpe and then I went on to 83 at Coningsby.
AH: And what planes?
GH: Lancs. Well, after the war, if you look in the book look I went on a tour to South America. They sent three what were called Lancaster Mark 21s I think. But in actual fact they renamed them to Lincolns. It was a bigger aircraft that the Lancaster. Especially built for the war against the Japanese. And we went right down the west coast of Africa and then across over the Atlantic to Brazil and then right down to Santiago. Flew over the second highest mountain in the world I think it is. Aconcagua. But by then I’d decided I would take a course, this course on radiography, radio operating and get on to the public airlines. And I’d met my lady who I married and I found out that to be on public airlines you were away for home for anything from six weeks to three months. I thought well that’s not right. So I docked that and as I say I stayed in the hosiery trade. Yeah. Had quite a varied existence one way or another.
AH: What did you do in South America?
GH: Demonstrated the aircraft. I think they’d got that many four engine aircraft they didn’t know what to do with them and they were trying to flog them to anybody who’d buy them. God knows where all the aeroplanes went to. They just suddenly disappeared.
AH: And what was it like there?
GH: Pardon?
AH: And what was it like? Were they interested?
GH: Interesting.
AH: Were they interested in the aircraft?
GH: Oh very much so. Yes. Yes. Whilst we were there there was an earthquake in Peru and they wished us to send someone who would take some supplies over to Peru for the earthquake. And the air force said they couldn’t be allowed to do that because although we’d get to Peru and land they hadn’t got an air force runway long enough to take off so we’d be stuck. But yeah. Funny thing was we all decided when we were going to Brazil we would get together and learn Spanish. And when we got to Brazil they didn’t speak Spanish. They spoke Portuguese [laughs]
AH: How long were you out there for?
GH: Oh not very long. I should think, well if you look in the book it’ll tell you how long. About four weeks I think. We did one leg of the journey per day. And —
AH: And when were you demobbed?
GH: When? I think it was June of 1945.
AH: And how long were you in 9 Squadron?
GH: Pardon?
AH: How long were you in 9 Squadron?
GH: Only a few weeks. Not very long.
AH: What was it like?
GH: Quite an eye opener really. Mainly we were supporting the invasion. In fact that was the first time I’d ever seen the white cliffs of Dover coming back from France on D-Day. As I say all the boats going over.
AH: How did that feel?
GH: Have I —?
AH: How did that feel?
GH: Satisfied I would think would be the only expression. That we were doing something. And of course that’s another point. I mean I don’t know whether you’ve watched it on telly but they give you films of the actual landings in France and they chuck the blokes out into the water that was about six foot deep. They were drowned. Never got to France at all. Instead of waiting for the tide to go out. Some damned idiots in this military attitude.
AH: What did you think of Bomber Command?
GH: Well organised. To a certain extent they were very well organised. Many actual Bomber Command crews packed up before they’d completed a tour of course because it was a great strain. I remember doing a daylight on, I think it was at one of the flying bomb sites when they were launching flying bombs. And of course Bomber Command never flew in the way the Yanks did. They had three people from leading in and everybody was sort of doing what they called a gaggle at the back. And we were close up behind this three Bomber Command [pause] well, leaders I suppose and I looked up and saw an aircraft above was opening his bomb doors. I thought it’s going to drop on him shortly. Anyway he did. He dropped them and then it just floated down. Hit the aircraft on the right hand side, the starboard, knocked his wing off and he spun over and tipped the wing of the other who went that way and he tipped the wing of the other and went that way. And there were bodies without parachutes floating around and everything. And it was Cheshire who was controlling the raid. Called the raid off because he said the chaps didn’t stand a chance if we bombed it. So we flew back to the North Sea and dumped the bombs and went home. But the things like that they were happening every day. You know, I mean I’m afraid you accepted it.
AH: Do you remember where you were going on that raid?
GH: Not completely. No. Because there were one or two launch sites for flying bombs. I mean at one time as far as I know they were, they were launching something like ten thousand pound. Ten thousand flying bombs in a matter of a month or whatever, you know. I mean they were really showering the south of England with them. And —
AH: And how did you feel when you saw the bombs coming?
GH: I hope to God it misses me. To be truthful. But it was a sight, you know. Their only, these aircraft which they hit and damaged were only about a hundred, hundred and fifty yards in front of us. A matter of three seconds or something isn’t it? The speed we were flying at it could have been us. But many of the young lads who joined up when I joined up never finished. They were killed. A great deal of loss of human youngsters. Many of them technicians and people we missed after the war finished because of their experiences. And if you take that you promise me I will get it back?
AH: Yeah.
GH: Because I applied for the Aircrew Europe Star which was allotted to everybody who did two or more operations before D-Day which I did and I was told I didn’t, I hadn’t done enough. So when they issued the Bomber Command medal at the end of the war they said I couldn’t have that either because I’d got the 1939-45 Star or something. I don’t know. I thought well that’s great. I did twenty one ops and I never got a bomber medal. It’s unbelievable some fairy in Whitehall who was domineering the life span of the one doing the work. But the main thing I need at the present moment is some backup somewhere to get, I mean I mentioned to you earlier how much it cost. I was only getting two hundred and ninety pound a month. That’s about seventy pound a week towards the cost of being here and it was costing [pause] what was it? Well, a monthly, the monthly cost here is three thousand and forty one which is quite expensive. I think it’s a very good. I get my monies worth. But I think the company, the government or whoever, the Department of Works and Pension allow me something to help me pay for it and they want [coughs] they just knocked off the pension credit. I’m about two and a half thousand pound a month worse off when I got a pay rise of two pounds and fifteen pence [pause] In other words hard luck isn’t it? You know I mean I’m not the sort of person who is laid back and you handed something but I’ve worked all, all my own life. What I’ve got I’ve chased the work of one kind or another. Whether it was in the air force or out. And I’m disgusted actually to think the money that gets wasted.
AH: Could I just ask you a few more questions about the war?
GH: Yes.
AH: What did you think of the way Bomber Harris was treated?
GH: Disgustingly. As I said earlier he was blamed for bombing the population whereas the targets were selected by the War Committee. And the two leaders of that were Lord Portal and Winston Churchill. Bomber Harris was behind his crews all the way. Next question.
AH: Where did you go after 9 Squadron?
GH: With 50 Squadron at Skellingthorpe. That was, it was so far to the sergeant’s mess from where we were displayed in Nissen huts we used to go into Lincoln for breakfast [laughs]
AH: What sort of squadron was it?
GH: What 83? Er 50?
AH: 50.
GH: Very very compatible actually. The man who was my pilot took his place as flight commander was Metham. He finished up deputy leader of some bomber group. Was it Metham? He’s a well-known, established leader of the Royal Air Force.
AH: Was that a Pathfinder squadron?
GH: No. No. They only had two Pathfinder squadrons. They were both at Coningsby. 83 and 97.
AH: Were you in them at all?
GH: I was on 83. I did, I think nine trips with 83 Squadron. They said that it was easy on Pathfinders of course. You, if you’re first flare leaders putting the flares down you went over and laid your flares and shot off home but they didn’t tell you when you started laying your flares you had to put it in automatic pilot and you couldn’t drift. So by the time you got to the end of laying the flares the Germans had got all the information of what you were doing [pause]
GH: And I have the greatest admiration of the German people and Germany itself. Moreso than any other European country. I have a great ideal, great ideals of them. They’re a wonderful people. We should never have gone to war against them. Well, should we?
AH: What do you think we should have done?
GH: Pardon?
AH: What could, what could Britain have done instead?
GH: Shot Adolf Hitler. It was a dictator. A man who believes beyond his experience. I think, well what’s happening in the world today? I mean we’re now fighting the, oh ethnic crowds that we were fighting in the days of Christ. For two thousand years we’ve been fighting. Still doing it and we’ll lose in the end. Of course people say they mean good. If you read the Koran as far as I remember the first rule is thou shalt now kill. And I think the fourth one is thou shalt kill all non-believers. So it leaves you in a sticky mess. And they’re gaining popularity all the while.
AH: When did you read the Koran?
GH: I haven’t read the Koran. I’ve read extracts from it. I’m quite interested in reading other people’s religions and of course in actual fact I believe in the bible which says when you die it’s ashes to ashes and dust to dust. I don’t think there’s a heaven up there. I don’t think there’s anything like that. I think it’s just, you’re just dead meat. Unfortunately. And many many people leave their readings, writings and paintings to be perused over and you get the benefit of their experience.
AH: Have you written anything?
GH: Written anything? Only rude things on the wall [laughs]. No. I wish I could have written things. I was too busy with music. As I said I went to a school where we had possibly an hour to two hours homework every night of various kinds and I didn’t really get out amongst other young fellas of my age because I was doing one to two hours music training as well. Now, the school I went to had started a school orchestra. Violin, banjo and drums. And I loved music. But as I say when I went in the air force I didn’t take a violin with me and I should have done I suppose. After being in five years my fingers were all stiffened up with, didn’t work. So I abandoned it straightaway and got on with earning a living
[knocking on door]
GH: Come in.
Other: Sorry to disturb you.
AH: I’ll just put this on pause.
[recording paused]
GH: They don’t look like reading my writing for a start. But there’s a cutting in there I think I mentioned it earlier on from Stalin who stated he wanted the Bomber Command to burn Dresden because they were using it to refuel the battlefield. And it wasn’t so because after the war I were working with some of the replacement Polish people and they said they’d been in Dresden and there were no army facilities there at all. There was no reason for them to bomb it.
GH: And I have a younger sister who’s ninety in October. Laurie. So we’re quite a long lived family aren’t we?
AH: How old are you?
GH: Ninety four. Feel a hundred and four [laughs] some mornings. Yes.
AH: You’ve got a picture here of Squadron Leader Munro.
GH: Yes. He wanted to crew up with us. He’s just recently died you know. A New Zealander. That was when I was at gunnery school at Scotland.
AH: Which one’s you?
GH: How dare you say that [laughs] I haven’t changed that much at all surely. I’m the shortest one. Yes. And that’s my favourite photograph of myself.
AH: That’s nice.
GH: Yes. It’s a wonderful world and I’ve met some wonderful people and I’ve had some wonderful friends and relatives. It’s been enjoyment. Mixing the good with the bad makes you appreciate it all the more. We came out of there as you go in.
AH: You talked about the strain of it. What was the worst strain?
GH: Being with Bomber Command? Well, naturally the, the operations themselves. They were well organised, I don’t mean like that but I mean they always taught us the best crews will get through. Did I mention to you before luck has a lot to do with it? And I mean a matter of seconds in some cases. I never flew as an air gunner though. I was in the Home Guard before I went in the air force. In Leicester. Well a little village outside Leicester called Narborough. And they used to send me out on a railway bridge defending the bridge at night time with a bayonet fastened to a broomstick with string. I don’t know what you were supposed to do with it. I had a few thoughts. But by the time I went into the air force I was fully trained and I’d got a Canadian Ross rifle that was in a cloth bag with about two inches of grease all around it. And I cleaned it up and the stock of it was beautiful. Lovely gun. And one of the chaps, he was a sergeant. I think he must have been a sniper. He said, ‘I’ll teach you how to fire a gun George.’ Because,’ he said, ‘Let’s face it. Who’s the last person that knows when you’re going to pull the trigger?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ He said, ‘Well you don’t pull the trigger. You squeeze your hand. And you don’t jolt it.’ And I could hit an eight hundred target, a bull at eight hundred yards. Which is quite good shooting I think. But I never did fly as a air gunner. I flew once as a tail gunner. And the tail one was like that. You knew all I got it I knew I wouldn’t have that for long.
AH: Did you get bombed yourself?
GH: Pardon?
AH: Did you get bombed yourself? In Leicester.
GH: Well, Leicester got bombed while I lived there. But we lived on the outskirts. And of course like most targets they usually go for the city centre first where all the main multiples are. And I was, I was quite happy in the Home Guard because we got very very good training. Initially it was useless. For the first two years. But when they got organised they got organised. And I sit and watch “Dad’s Army,” you know. And I I don’t know who picked the cast but it’s amazing to think [laughs] they look like real people [laughs] Anything else?
AH: Did you meet your wife during the war?
GH: No. I met her after the war. One of the boys who’s died in the last two years from Leicester was in training with me all the way through and he finished up at Coningsby on 97 Squadron and I finished up on 83. And his wife and my wife or future wife or his future wife, they used to go dancing Saturday nights together. And I met this girl one night in the RAF club. And I can’t understand that, I can’t explain the feeling but she was wonderful. And I said, ‘Can I see you again?’ And she said, ‘Well, I can’t see you for two weeks because I’m going up to Lincolnshire. To a town that you’ve never heard of.’ Well, I’d done all my training and everything here so I said, ‘Well, try me then.’ She said, ‘Louth.’ I said, ‘Well, I’ve got news for you. I can’t go to Louth again [laughs] They’d shoot me.’ And she was always dying her hair. I think after the first two months I knew her she must have had about six or seven changes of colour. She was lovely though.
AH: What was her name?
GH: Barbara. And when we first got married we had to live in the front room of my mum and dad’s house until we could get somewhere. Everyone does I suppose. And her uncle was a butcher and he used to do all the joints of meat for Leicester. And this friend of his, a friend of his or someone in the trade he dealt with was the housing minister for Leicester. And in those days you couldn’t get housed if you hadn’t got a wood licence. You had to have a timber licence. And he mentioned to this gent that I was having trouble with my wife’s breathing because my mother and father had a dog and she was allergic to dog hair. And he said to this young gent, ‘He’s just come out the air force and he definitely wants a house but, and his wife is allergic to dog hairs and has to get out, you know of home and have his own place.’ And the fellow twiddled it a little bit and got me a timber licence and away we went. We bought a semi for nineteen hundred quid. And then after a while we bought, we bought a complete des res like, you know what do you call it? A house on its own at, in Oadby near to Leicester at the back of the racecourse and you got a full view of the racecourse. And I used to say to people, ‘I’ve got a nice place. There’s about four furlongs of grass at the back and they came and cut it, you know regularly,’ [laughs] But as I say we had this problem with this hooligan who was threatening her so that’s how we moved to Louth. But I mean moving to Louth was like going next door to the pair of us because we’d both been here so many times.
AH: Did you like Louth?
GH: I think it’s very nice. And I think once you get into Louth the people will do anything but they’re a little offish at the start. But it’s a lovely little town. I was born in Mansfield. In the Sherwood Forest. But I did like Louth there. Very much.
AH: What was your home like there?
GH: Where?
AH: In Mansfield.
GH: Well, I was brought up with my grandparents. I wasn’t brought up with my mother and father. They couldn’t get anywhere to live in, although my sister had been born. They wouldn’t accept anyone with two children so they farmed me off with my grandparents. My grandmother Holmes, when I was six or seven or eight years of age taught me how to sew and darn and knit.
AH: Did you have use of that later?
GH: Yes. Because I went into the hosiery trade and it was the machines that knit things make exactly the same loop as you do a knitting pin. And of course as I say I, I had a quite a few jobs. The job I had at Byfords. The other chap working next to me who was in his forties hadn’t been taken to the army. Hadn’t been called up. With a wife and two children. He always used to go down smoking in the toilets about once every hour and I used to run his machines as well as mine. And one day, you used to put your earnings under the table where they kept all the yarns and everything. He had a sneaky look and he found out I was earning more than him. So he went to the manager and he said he didn’t see any reason why someone’s underage that were in machinery should be earning more than he did. So they said, ‘Oh alright, we’ll give you two of his machines. They had me in the office and they said, ‘You’ve been bragging.’ I said, ‘What about?’ They said, ‘What you earn.’ I said, ‘I daren’t tell my father what earn. He’d go mad.’ I was earning as much or twice as much as my dad. And they said, ‘Well, we’re going to take two of your machines off you and you’ll run them for him.’ So I said, ‘I have an idea now. You can stick them up your arse.’ And they gave him the bloody lot. I got sacked for insolence. I got another job. I was never out of work. I got training that was necessary and I could go anywhere. I worked at Byfords. They sacked me three times after that incident and a very good job. The only snag is when I went into it before the war you were using cotton and well, wool and the machines were covered in like a white powder from the cotton in the wool, you know. And after the war when they started using synthetic fibres I think the synthetic fibres were so small you swallowed them. And I have a difficulty with breathing actually which is due to that I think. But nobody would say so because you then would jump then and say I want paid for being. I don’t think, I don’t think there’s more than one or two hosiery factories left in Leicester and it used to be the main city for hosiery. But that was all, that was all shift work. Night work and not very conducive for family life. I used to go to work because I mean you were busy. It didn’t bother you but my wife was stuck at home on her own you know and I didn’t realise until after I’d lost her that that’s what the problem was really. Basically. But we had a good life together. Yeah.
AH: Was your father or your grandfather in the First World War?
GH: Both my father and my wife’s father were in the First World War. My wife’s father was stationed at Louth here. In the Leicester, what did they call it? It was a mountain brigade. And he was only a little bloke. Smaller than me. And he looked like, well you just couldn’t imagine him sat on a horse.
AH: What he was called?
GH: Pardon?
AH: What he was called?
GH: His surname? Evans. Evans. Good Evans. I went to Edmonton for my gunnery course and we had a group captain called Group Captain Evans Evans and he got awarded the French medal. The Croix de Guerre. And he said, ‘Although I flew in World War One I’ve not flown in World War Two and I don’t think I deserved it. So I shall get a crew together and fly.’ So I went to my CO and I said, ‘Look, old Evans Evans is getting a crew together.’ We had a chance to get in because at that time I was a spare. And he said, ‘No, I don’t think so. My wireless op is covering that because he’s one behind everyone else in the crew and we all want to finish together.’ And off they went and they were shot down by the Americans before they got to the war. Before they got to the war line they were shot down by the Americans. And the only one that got out was the rear gunner. So that was another lucky escape. Just how the penny drops isn’t it? Am I boring you? Say so if I am. Anyway [pause] I am suffering really from the breathing quite badly.
AH: Shall we finish?
GH: Pardon?
AH: Do you want us to finish?
GH: Yes.
AH: Thank you very much.
GH: Quite all right. If it’s been of any —



Anna Hoyles, “Interview with George Holmes,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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