The following article first appeared in The Echo of Cantley Volume 34 no 5, November 2022. This article is made available for the enjoyment of others with the express permission of the Echo of Cantley.
Cletus Holmes was born on February 6, 1922, the youngest child of Thomas Holmes and his second wife Elizabeth Moore of Wilson’s Corners. Cletus enlisted for World War II in Ottawa on November 22, 1941 at the age of 19. On the Attestation Paper, he listed his occupation as labourer. He was five feet eight inches tall with black hair and blue eyes.
After completing basic and other necessary training, he arrived at No.3 Bombing and Gunnery School in MacDonald, Manitoba on December 6, 1942, to train as an air gunner. MacDonald is located 16 km northwest of Portage la Prairie, close to Lake Manitoba. This location was chosen specifically, so that training runs would take place over water. Cletus graduated on March 5, 1943.
Training completed, Cletus left Halifax on March 28, 1943, arriving in the U.K. on April 4, 1943.
On the fateful day, August 23, 1943, Cletus and his six fellow crewmen, members of the 75 (R.A.F.) Squadron, took off on a Stirling III EE938 from Mepal Air Base, England at 8:37 p.m. local time. They were taking part in a night raid over Berlin. They were “coned”, caught in the search lights, over Mahlsdorf, a suburb 12 km ESE of Berlin, and shot down by Hauptmann Friedrich Karl Muller and by Major Helmut Lent at 12:30 a.m. local time (according to German information). There were no survivors of the crash.
Members of the crew were: Warrant Officer Trevor Fear, Pilot, U.K.; Sergeant Brian Hartley Ruddy, Navigator, U.K.; Sergeant Douglas George Woolcott, Wireless Operator, U.K.; Sergeant Andrew Bain, Air Bomber, U.K.; Sergeant Charles Munro, Flight Engineer, U.K.; Sergeant Joseph Andrew Cletus Holmes, Air Gunner, Quebec, Canada; Flight Sergeant Alexander Davidson, Air Gunner, British Columbia, Canada.
Six of the crew were first buried in the Garrison Cemetery, Doberitz, Germany and then eventually re-buried in the Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery. One of the British, Sergeant Charles Munro, whose body was not recovered, or perhaps recovered but not identified, is memorialized at the Runnymede Memorial, U.K.
Cletus and the other Canadian, Sgt. Alexander Davidson, are also memorialized at the Bomber Command Memorial at the Bomber Command Museum at Nanton, Alberta. His name is listed on his family’s headstone in St. Elizabeth’s Cemetery, Cantley.
Excerpts from a note in Bomber Command records describe the operation as follows, “Berlin…56 losses (7.9 %) – the greatest loss in a single raid so far in the war.... As might be expected for Berlin, the ‡ ak and fighter defenses were formidable. Nevertheless, this was the most serious raid on Berlin so far in the war.”
Cletus’ parents were first notified that their twenty-one-yearold son was missing in action. Then on January 20, 1944, a “Certificate of Presumption of Death” was issued stating that, since he had been missing since August 23, 1943, he was presumed dead, for official purposes, as of August 24, 1943.
Cletus had two brothers in the service, Private Charles Holmes, a World War I veteran, in the Veterans’ Guard, and Corporal Martin Holmes, R.C.A.F. Thankfully both of them survived the war