By Chris Marchand
“It’s not every day you find out your father-in-law flew some of the highest-ranking Germans to the surrender of World War II,” says Jim Vandermeer, breaking into a laugh.
The Dryden resident has spent around five years down the proverbial rabbit hole of history — piecing together as best he could the life and times of a man he’s known only from grainy old photographs found in his mother-in-law’s basement. Photographs that would yield clues to JC Clifton (Tip) Holborn’s participation in a remarkable moment in history in the co-pilot’s seat of a Dakota aircraft.
“When I saw that picture I went tearing up the stairs — I had been cleaning out the basement because the girls didn’t like going down there. I said to them ‘look at this picture!”
Tip Holborn was a rural southern Ontario farm boy who joined the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942 and eventually found himself a member of Canada’s 437 ‘Husky’ Squadron of Dakota aircraft.
The unit’s motto was ‘Anything, Anywhere’ — from resupply missions and transporting the wounded to towing Horsa gliders full of soldiers into the fray in operations like Market Garden in the closing days of the war.
Vandermeer’s researches have led him to spend time with Hamilton’s Pete Porter, a pilot of one of the three aircraft involved in the May mission to collect Nazi Generals and Admirals from the northernmost Nazi headquarters in the Danish coastal town of Flensburg and deliver them to General Eisenhower’s headquarters at Reims, to sign the Instrument of Surrender that would bring an end to the war in Europe.
Laden with maps detailing the positions of mines in the North Sea and English Channel, the Germans were disarmed before the flight and their weapons stored in the cockpit.
While discouraged from asking questions about their mission and curtly dismissed upon delivery of the Germans at Reims, Tip managed to sneak a few pictures of their passengers disembarking. Passengers like Admiral Hans Georg Von Friedeburg and (Vandermeer believes) General Alfred Jodl.
Vandermeer was even able to track down and visit the location of Tip’s former aircraft KG354 while it was undergoing an engine change on a tarmac in Alaska — some 70 years after its wartime construction.
“When I was able to get into the aircraft and put my hand on the seat where Tip would have sat, I just broke down,” said Vandermeer. “I’m not an emotional guy but that just took me over the top.”
Vandermeer has produced an account of Tip Holborn and Husky Squadron’s wartime exploits, titled ‘Tip’s Kite: The Story of an RCAF 437 Squadron Pilot’ and adds he’s working with Brandon’s Commonwealth Air Museum to look at bringing KG354 back to Canada as a display item for the museum while it’s still airworthy.
“We’re looking at the possibilities of getting this aircraft brought back to Canada — given its place in history, this thing should be recognized,” he said. “To me, it would be the crown jewel of their collection.”