Group Captain Laurence Holmes

LAURENCE HOLMES, who has died aged 89, was a Lancaster pilot with 166 Squadron who took part in many daring and vital raids over occupied Europe, including the bombing of railway sidings to disrupt the German reinforcements reaching the Normandy coast after the Allied invasion in 1944.

On June 6, 1944, Laurence was flying back from attacking railway marshalling yards when he saw the D-Day invasion fleet in the Channel. He realised then the significance of his completed mission, and it was a sight he would never forgot.

Laurence, who had a younger sister, Barbara, was born in Northowram in Calderdale. Their parents, Arnold and Edna Holmes, were immersed in the life of the village and the Heywood Chapel, which Laurence always considered provided the foundation for his life and principles.

Although he never flaunted his beliefs, he remained a man of strong faith throughout his life.

He went to Heath Grammar School in Halifax, and began his working life at Lee's Tannery in Hipperholme, followed by the flour mill in Sowerby Bridge, where he met his first wife Esther.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, although he was in a reserved occupation, he volunteered for the Royal Air Force, eventually being called up in 1940 and training as a bomber pilot; he proved to be so good that he was selected as an instructor to train other pilots.

However, Laurence felt that, with his skills, he could make more of a contribution than simply instructing and despite the appalling losses suffered by bomber crews, applied to join an operational squadron flying bombing missions over Germany.

Laurence joined 166 Squadron at RAF Kirmington, from where he completed 31 operational sorties over occupied Europe.

Laurence's life in the RAF was the defining period of his life. He maintained a keen interest in 166 Squadron and regularly attended the squadron reunion and memorial service at Kirmington.

After the war, he received a permanent commission, serving in Singapore and Cyprus and numerous RAF stations in the UK. He commanded three squadrons and two RAF stations as well as lecturing at the Staff College in Bracknell and working at the Air Ministry in London.

When Laurence left the Service in 1975, he became Secretary to the Huddersfield Community Health Council where he served the local community, and through the Crossroads Care Attendant Scheme, which he was instrumental in establishing, he worked to support local disabled people.

Laurence Holmes had a life-long passion for music and was an accomplished pianist and organist. One way he found of repaying the pleasure that music had given him was to support the Mrs Sunderland Music Festival in Huddersfield, and he sponsored some of the competitions.

In 1968 he suffered a heavy blow when Esther died. Later he married Pearl Mary Green whom he had also met at the Sowerby Bridge flour mill, and in the years of companionship that followed, they played golf – both being members of Woodsome Hall Golf Club – and enjoyed touring with their caravan.

Predeceased by his eldest son Christopher, he is survived by Pearl Mary, his children Jonathan and Lorely, his stepson Andrew and eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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