Wing Commander Raymond Arthur Holmwood
Raymond Arthur Holmwood was the first Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) officer to assume command of an RAF squadron during World War II.
Raymond, the son of Arthur Percy Holmwood, a public school teacher, and Mabel Alice Holmwood, nee Burgmann, was born on 7 December 1911, in Newcastle, New South Wales. His Mother died when he was 14 years old.
Raymond entered the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Federal Capital Territory, as an RAAF nominated staff cadet on 15 February 1928. He then joined No.1 Flying Training School, Point Cook, Victoria and graduated in December 1931. He was commission in January 1932.
Holmwood was initially posted to No.1 Squadron in February 1932 before going on to join No.3 Squadron at Richmond, being Squadron Adjutant between December 1935 and February 1936. Between 1937 and 1939, he commanded the Cadet Squadron at No.1 Flying Training School and was on the staff at Air Force Headquarters in Melbourne.
Raymond had a highly developed sense of duty and was respected for his professional competence – he was also a first class athlete. His physical appearance complemented these attributes, with straw-coloured hair and blue eyes, he was described as making “…a most romantic figure.” He married Margaret Alice Gordon at St. Mark’s church, Darling Point, Sydney, on 21 September 1934.
In July 1939, he assumed command of the Intermediate Training Squadron at No.1 Flying Training School becoming the Squadron’s Chief Flying Instructor in April 1940 when it became part of No.1 Service Flying Training School.
In July 1940, Holmwood was assigned on exchange to the Royal Air force, following an operational fighter conversion course he joined No.64 Squadron. On 18 December 1940, he reported as a supernumerary Squadron Leader to RAF Kenley, assuming command of 615 Squadron on 22 December.
Squadron activity in December 1940 and January 1941 consisted mainly of patrols over Kent with the occasional foray to northern France. Holmwood is first recorded as leading a Kenley “wing” on 5 February 1941 when 615, in company with No.1 Squadron, took off on a sweep over France, Sergeant (Pilot) Owen Jenkins being lost on this mission. By 19 February, Holmwood had been promoted to temporary Wing Commander, when he lead No.615 and No.1 with elements of No.605 on a bomber escort mission to Boulogne. The raid was deemed a success and no opposition was encountered.
615 Squadron began re-equipping with Hurricane IIs on 19 February. It was in Hurricane II Z2354, that Wing Commander Holmwood was shot down on 26 February 1941. He managed to bail out but his harness burnt through. The engagement took place over Wadddenhall near Canterbury. Rene Mouchotte recalled the tragedy in his diary:
I have this moment learned that Holmwood bailed out from his burning plane: his parachute caught fire and he hit the ground from 7000 metres…….We loved our CO. He was a great Francophile and often took our part. It is to some extent due to him that Bouquillard and I are getting commissions. His frightful death, not in combat, is upsetting everyone.
Holmwood left behind his wife and 4-year old son.
Raymond Arthur Holmwood was laid to rest at St. Luke’s Whyteleafe on 3 March 1941. 15 Officers and NCO pilots of No.615 Squadron were in attendance along with Wing Commander Prickman (OC RAF Kenley), Squadron Leader Brown (1 Squadron), Squadron Leader Norman (Operations), 5 RAAF officers, an Australian Army Lieutenant-Colonel and Commander Thompson RN representing the Prime Minister.
His funeral was reported in the ‘Singleton Argus,’ (NSW) on 5 March, 1941.
Deepest sympathy from Winston S. Churchill, Honorary Commander of the Squadron,” was the inscription on a wreath at the funeral of Wing-Commander Raymond Arthur Holmwood, of New South Wales, who was killed in action last week “somewhere over England.”
Squadron-Leader Hopper and several other airmen represented the Royal Australian Air Force at the R.A.F. burial ground in Surrey, where military honours were accorded the late airman.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.