RAF Serial: P2725 Fuselage codes TM-B
Pilot: Sgt Ray Holmes
Date: 15 September 1940
Place: Buckingham Palace Road, London
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Photos: Chris Bennett, Ian Hodgekis and Simon Parry
The collision between a Dornier and Ray Holmes’ Hurricane over Buckingham Palace on ‘Battle of Britain Day’ is one of the iconic moments of ‘The Battle’. The falling planes were captured on film from the ground and the exploits of daring pilot who saved Buckingham Palace from the German bomber were widely reported in national newspapers. A version of the incident is even appeared in the 1969 feature film ‘The Battle of Britain’.
Professional photographer and artist Chris Bennett had long suspected that some evidence of the Hurricane would have survived beneath the road into which it had crashed, but as it is one of the busiest roads in London a recovery seemed almost impossible.
London based TV production company Mentorn, managed to interest the British broadcaster ‘Channel 5’ in a spectacular excavation to be shown ‘Live’ at peak-time on a May Bank Holiday weekend as 'Fighter Dig Live'. It was subsequently made into a documentary for National Geographic - 'Search for the Lost Fighter Plane'.
Fortunately, the years of painstaking research and organisation paid off. 79-year-old Ray Holmes made the journey from his home in Liverpool to attend the dig and was in time see his engine and his control emerge from the ground.
Sergeant Ray Holms:
Raymond Towers Holmes was born on 20th August 20 1914 at Wallasey, Cheshire. His father was a journalist, a career he would follow. At Grammar School he excelled at sport, but then followed his father and became a crime reporter. In 1937 he joined the RAFVR as an airman pilot and on completion of his training was posted to 504 Squadron in June 1940. Early in September, at the height of the Battle of Britain, his squadron moved from Scotland to Hendon and was thrown into battle.
Following Ray’s escapades on 15th September he was commissioned in June 1941. He then moved with his squadron (re-numbered as 81 Squadron) to Murmansk, northern Russia. He flew on operations until November, when the squadron left its planes to the Russians and returned to England.
Ray Holmes then spent two years an instructor at a fighter OTU before becoming a Spitfire reconnaissance pilot. He left the RAF in 1945 and went back journalism in Liverpool. At the age of 80 he retired from being a Crown Court reporter. He had become an institution in court circles, always taking meticulous notes with a fountain pen in perfect shorthand and mentoring younger journalists in the ways of the court.
In 2004 the Wirral Borough Council bestowed the Freedom of the Borough on Holmes, the chief executive said, “he could think of no one upon whom this honour could have been more fittingly bestowed".
Ray died from cancer on 27th June 2005. On the day he died, flags in the Wirral flew at half-mast in his honour and his widow, Anne, received a message from Buckingham Palace expressing the Queen's sadness on hearing of his death.
BBC Report from War Illustrated:
Just after mid-day on Sunday, September 15, one Hurricane brought down three German bombers over London. I was lucky enough to see part of the engagement.
Just after the alarm sounded I could hear the drone of several German bombers. Soon bombs began to fall, some of them rather uncomfortably near. And then came a terrific rattle of machine-gun fire. I looked up in time to see one of our fighters weaving about among the bombers just under the clouds. Suddenly there was a terrific crash in the air as the Hurricane’s guns found the bomb racks of one of the Germans. The German seemed just to disintegrate in the air. Two big pieces - the engines of the ’plane - hurtled down to earth, and bits and pieces floated down after them.
Soon after the German was hit there was a terrific screaming roar as a ’plane came hurtling down. At first I thought it was a dive bomber, but the crash told how the machine had hit the ground. It was the Hurricane, but the pilot, as it turned out, was safe.
By the time I reached the spot where the Hurricane had crashed, there wasn’t much to see just a heap of tangled aluminium on the pavement, and a hole in the road from which you could see the back part of the engine sticking out, but there was still less to be seen of the German bomber, a part of which had fallen about a quarter of a mile farther on.
Edward Ward – BBC radio reporter