Brass kitbag handle and lock : Warrant Officer 2 R S Holmes, Australian Army Canteen Service, 6 Division

Accession Number REL36744.002
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Personal Equipment
Physical description Brass
Maker Unknown
Date made c 1940 - 1945
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

Standard brass hinged D-ring handle with locating slot and lock hole. It employs a separate pin-hinged flat bar with a slot at one end, which hinges down and locates onto a flattened tongue at the other end of the main bar. The tongue is drilled to allow a padlock to be fitted.

History / Summary

Richard Stanley Holmes was born in Morpeth, NSW on 3 October 1913. He was an accountant when he enlisted with the militia at the end of January 1939. Two months after the war broke out, in September, Holmes enlisted in the Second AIF. He was assigned the service number NX656, and posted to 6 Division Reconnaissance Regiment.

Holmes arrived in Egypt on 9 January 1940, then transferred to El Kantara, on the Suez Canal in mid February. Not long after this his unit's name was changed to 6 Australian Division Cavalry Regiment. In August Holmes was admitted to hospital. After he recovered he was attached to the Australian Army Canteen Service in October 1940 and promoted to lance sergeant. In January 1941 Holmes was promoted warrant officer second class and was placed on special duties in mid March 1941 in Egypt. With the rest of 6 Division Holmes was in Greece when the resistance to the German armies collapsed. He was captured on the evening of 28 April 1941 at Nafplion near Argos with approximately 3000 other allied troops.

Together with many other POWs, Holmes went through various staging camps before arriving at a permanent internment camp. He was loaded into a cramped cattle truck with about forty other men, for the five day journey from Salonika to Lamsdorf (now called Lambinowice) in Silesia, Poland. On arrival at Stalag VIIIB (later renamed 344) in mid June 1941, he was deloused, given fresh clothes and a hot meal.

Holmes used his time and energies in Lamsdorf to formulate escape plans. During a working party outside the prison camp, he and his companion went on the run in Germany. They were recaptured after ten days.

After Holmes was returned to the camp he was approached by British Warrant Officer Jack Lowe who was working clandestinely for British Military Intelligence. He was asked to help gather intelligence and write coded letters addressed to persons in England. These would be intercepted, decoded and then sent on to the relevant address. Lamsdorf was a large camp with thousands of allied troops passing through its gates. Many POWs worked in parties outside the camp and together with failed returned escapees this represented a large pool of knowledge that could be tapped for intelligence.

Holmes recalls one letter he sent to England containing information on the location of a German synthetic petrol plant. He later heard that it was successfully destroyed by RAF bombing. Holmes explained that 'coding information kept me alert, observant, relieved me of boredom and made the time pass much more quickly.'

Towards the end of the war, in January 1945, prisoners of Lamsdorf and other camps were force marched in the middle of the winter because of the approaching Russian advance. Holmes was freed by American troops at Nuremburg in April or May 1945.

After he was liberated Holmes was flown back to England on 26 May 1945. He arrived in Australia early August and was discharged the discharged the following month. His intelligence activities were appreciated by British Military Intelligence and Holmes was mentioned in dispatches for his work, being gazetted at the end of February 1946.