Amazing Ordeal of Two Local Airmen

Portraits of

Blazing Bomber 12,000 Feet up

Fought fire over Germany for three hours


A gallant young wireless operator whose home is at Bickley, Sergeant John Barry Holdsworth, third son of Mr and Mrs GK. Holdsworth, of Wellsfield, Denbridge Road, was one of the crew of the Wellington Bomber who were washed up in their rubber dinghy on the Isle of Wight at Ventnor after a heavy raid on the German capital a fortnight ago.

Another gallant member of the crew was Sergeant-Gunner Arthur Weller, whose parents live in Wickham Chase, West Wickham.

Before Sergeant-Gunner Weller joined up, he was in the staff of M.A. Bay and Sons Ltd builders merchandise.  His wife, formerly Miss___, is also treasurer if the West Wickham Girls’ Club, a position she held before marriage. 

Sergeant-Gunner Weller, who is 28, is well-known in the district.  He is a qualified wireless operator,  After their marriage he and Mrs Weller went to live in Ash Road, Shirley, just over the Wickham border.

Sergeant Holdsworth is one of five brothers, two of whom are in the Army, the other two being at home.

The older of the two at home, who is in business with his father, wants to join the Royal Air Force like his brother John.  The younger one is still at Bickley Hall School, where the other four received their early education under Mr B.S. Fursfield M.A.

Mr and Mrs Holdsworth came from Eltham to Bickley, where they have lived for many years.

After leaving Bickley Hall, John Barry Holdsworth continued his education at Brighton College. He is only 21 years of age.  He registered for the R.A.F. and specialised on the wireless and air ____ side.  He is very keen and enthusiastic in his work, and _____ fond of it.

He had been on a considerable ___ of eventful raids before this last one, the most eventful of all.

Captaining the aircraft was a young pilot officer who was on his 20th raid.  He had a New Zealander as his second pilot.  The rest of the crew were made up of a ___ ____, Sergeant Holdsworth, the wireless operator, Sergeant-Gunner Weller, the front gunner, from West Wickham, and in the rear turret a sergeant from Kingston  ____.  All of them with the exception of the captain, were sergeants.


The story of their experiences reveals an example of perfect co-operation as a crew and magnificent discipline.

Cloud thickened late ____ ___ as they got near Germany.  About 30 miles from Berlin they came under fire.

“One shell went off right underneath us,” said the captain.  “we heard a crack, an everything in the aircraft shook.”

But the flying of the comber was not affected, and they went on to drop their high explosives on the German capital.

Their target was obliterated before they could drop their incendiaries, and they kept them, intending to put them down on the way back.

They were on the course for home when they were hit again,  The incendiaries caught fire and 12,000ft up the bomber was ablaze along the whole length of the bomb racks – a target for every gun within range.

The pilot tried to __ the incendiary___ but they would not stop.  When the fire extinguishers ran out__ from ___ flasks were poured on the worst parts of the fire.  The second pilot ripped down the side window curtains when they caught alight, and used these to put out the flames creeping along the ___.  The crew fought the fire for three hours.


The blazing bomber flew on.  It was still under fire from the __ batteries on the ground.  Gradually it lost height, and crossed the ___ coast only 1,000ft up.  The incendiaries were still burning.  Then the engine spluttered and failed.  All the petrol had gone.

The bomber nose-dived under the sea, but was brought back up again by the empty ___ tanks in the wings _______.

The wireless operator was still working at his seat, sending out signals when the machine hit the water.

Within a minute the aircraft sank for good, but in that time all the crew managed to get out.  One by one they clambered into the dinghy.

Sergeant Holdsworth is an excellent swimmer, having been well trained in the swimming baths at Bickley Hall.


They began the ordeal of 57 hours at sea.  The crew paddled all day.  They were marvellous – ______ .  They paddled most of the night time, taking it in turns, two at a time.  It helped to keep them warm. 

Article featuring the amazing ordeal of two local airmen

Bromley & District Times, 

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