'Amazing' photograph shows Ontario man flying German officers to WWII surrender
Long-lost photo album shows pivotal role Dakota pilot 'Tip' Holborn played at the end of the war
"It was just amazing to me," says Jim Vandermeer of Dryden, Ont., of the moment he learned that his father-in-law JC Clifton 'Tip' Holborn was one of the Royal Canadian Air Force pilots who flew high-ranking German officers to and from the surrender negotiations to end of World War II.
Tip Holborn flew Dakota aircraft as part of the 437 Husky Squadron, which was formed on September 4, 1944 to be part of Operation Market Garden, aimed at liberating Holland.
The Dakotas were "unarmed and unarmoured," and often unescorted as they carried supplies, including paratroopers, to the front lines, and the wounded back to safety.
"They were constantly at risk," said Vandermeer, explaining that a witness to one of the squadron's missions declared "these men flew into a flaming hell."
The squadron participated in many important missions but the flights they carried out in May, 1945 may have been the most important of all.
While cleaning his mother-in-law Betty's home after her death, Vandermeer and his wife Susan discovered an old photo album, containing many photographs taken by Holborn during his war years in the RCAF.
Holborn had died when Susan was only 12 and she had never known about the album or the valuable history it contained. But Vandermeer, who was born in Holland in 1946, immediately recognized the pictures' importance.
"The first picture that I just happened on showed a very high-ranking German general, Admiral Von Friedeburg getting out of the Dakota aircraft, that I knew Tip had flown, and the picture was dated Reims, France May 11, 1945.," said Vandermeer.
"The date just jumped at me. I knew that this was something to do with the signing of the surrender of the Second World War," he said.
Vandermeer's research uncovered that Holborn had flown German officers to and from France to "sign the actual documents that laid out the terms and conditions of the surrender."
There had been family rumours of the pivotal role Holborn played, but Vandermeer never took much note of those stories, until he found the photograph "captioned in his own handwriting, just made it remarkable to me."
"I just couldn't believe it when I first saw it," he said.
This summer, Vandermeer travelled to Alaska and had a chance to board the very Dakota that Holborn flew to those crucial negotiations.
"I'm a former police officer and I'm not really that emotional, but when I got into the aircraft and was actually able to touch the seat where I knew Clifton had sat, it just broke me down. It overwhelmed me and to my own surprise I just broke down into tears," he said.
It made him marvel anew at the courage of one young farm boy from Ontario and "to think that in a very, very few short years he went from, probably the biggest thing he'd ever operated was the small tractor on the family farm to flying twin-engine Dakotas, each with about 1200-horsepower."
Now, Vandermeer's "wildest dream and sincerest wish" is to bring that aircraft back home.
He is working with the Canadian Aviation Preservation Association, the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ont., and the owner in Alaska to make that happen.
You can hear more from Jim Vandermeer on the CBC Radio program, Up North, here