3 Squadron STORIES
"Dead for 30-Odd Years and Not Knowing It..."
In the Squadron's WWII History: "3 Squadron at War", an operation on 2 November 1942 was described. It concluded with this sentence: "From this operation, Sgt. Holder was reported missing."
Without advice to the contrary, it was assumed that Sgt. Joseph Holder had been "Killed in Action" and many of the records were endorsed to that effect. Over 30 years later, Peter Cuthbert, the long-standing and stalwart Secretary of the Association, received a lead about a 'Father Joseph Holder'. He enquired further and this is what he received...
Blessed Sacrament Fathers,
29 April 1977
I was delighted and highly amused to get your letter. Fancy being dead for 30-odd years and not knowing it!!
So, to set the record straight ....
Nov. 2nd, 1942. As I remember the day, a flight of 3 Squadron Kitty-bombers flew close escort to the Mitchell bombers. Everybody dropped their bombs and we were heading home.
We were called by radio back to the 'line' to patrol N - S as an incoming "gaggle of bandits" was expected.
There were already six Kitties in 'fluid six' formation, and with another fighter, I formed up - making a 'fluid eight' - on the enemy side of the formation at about 14,000 feet, flying north.
Usually, the ME109's attacked from above and never went below us. Two 109's came in. The first fired and struck my aircraft. I moved right and below the squadron, when the second 109 came in below and hit my engine and wing root with cannon fire.
Thereon I lost interest in the fight, rolled over and headed for the bottom. I found out 3 months later that Garth Clabburn (I think) got the 109 that got me.
Meantime, I was losing glycol, expecting fire and rather busy controlling the aircraft going straight down.
I was able to control it and it didn't burn, so I stayed with it flattening out at the proverbial 'dot feet', moving at around the 500 miles an hour mark. I set her down, wheels up, smoothly enough) stopping nose down in a slit trench with soldiers in 'different' uniforms running towards me. The Germans were very good to me offering me cigarettes and a steadying glass of wine. (It was the only day I had flown without a tin of cigarettes in my pocket!)
Smartly picked up by Fieseler Stork, I spent the night "sans trousers and desert boots" in the German intelligence officer's tent.
Next day I was handed over to the Italians at Bardia with many apologies from the Germans as they said they were very busy.
Then ensued a 5-day journey up the desert to Benghazi by army truck.
Trans-shipped to Southern Italy in a ship's hold containing German transport below us. As we were given only two half-44 gallon drums for toilet facilities, we found we could open circular trap doors into the hold below. So we did things to the German military machines we always wanted to do 'from a great height'!
Ten months in Italy then through the Tarvisio Pass into Eastern Germany and Stalag 344 (previously known as 8B).
After a total of two and a half years, I was flown out of Germany in a U.S.A.F. Dakota. (The American pilot handed over the controls to me to fly the machine over the Rhine and out to freedom!)
Then six or eight weeks of tender loving care from British personnel, and finally shipped home through Panama on the Sterling (starving) Castle.
In 1946, I studied Architecture at Melbourne University for three years. Became a Catholic and a drop out - although I didn't know it at the time. Worked in the export crayfish industry in Robe, S.A. for six months, spent another six months on a wheat and sheep station in the Riverina.
Then joined the Blessed Sacrament Fathers at St. Francis Church Melbourne - and lived happily ever after!
Among subsequent activities I spent eight years in Sri Lanka (Ceylon); returned to Australia and worked on the 'Updating Commission' for the Religious Order; studied three years in the U.S. for a Master of Science Degree in Counselling and have been employed in this capacity in Toowoomba ever since.
So, as you say, Peter, my "K. I .A" is strictly "U/S" [unserviceable].
Joseph S. Holder.
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