CAPTAIN DICK van den HONERT saw life in Huizen on June 30th, 1920, and now lives there again - but so much has happened between then and now! At the age of six the family went to the U.S.A. where Dick finished elementary school. Back in Holland he went to high school in Arnhem, with a good mastery of English but with hardly a working knowledge of Dutch. He still managed and received his diploma at the age of 18.
At the time, with the menace of war looming over Europe, jobs were hard to find, but Dick was lucky and went to the Dutch Consular Service. Soon after he decided that as he would be called up for military service anyway, he might as well join the forces sooner to get it over with and volunteered in the mounted artillery, and mounted on horses he was!
In 1939 he was mobilized as an officer and in May 1940 saw action in the Peel, a first line of defence in Brabant. His cannon dated from the time of Napoleon, could shoot 4 miles... 2 shots a minute! Soon his detachment had to retreat and on their own initiative went via Breda, through Belgium to France. Stuka bombardments and being jailed was part of life, until he found a fisherman ready to take him from Cherbourg to Southampton.
By Christmas Dick was in London for his exams as a pilot trainee and upon completion was sent to E.F.T.S. in Cambridge, then on to F.T.S. to fly Miles Masters, Spitfire and Hurricane. In May '41 he flew his first Hurricane, even before he had his 'wings' and was nicknamed the 'wingless wonder' thereafter. Then on to O.T.U. at Heston for operational training and posting to the 611 Sqd. at Hornchurch flying the Spitfire Mark 5, on sweeps, patrols, air sea rescue escorts etc., his squadron sustaining heavy losses. He claimed a Bf109 damaged in September 1941 and two destroyed on 21 October 1941. In 1942 he became the first Dutch flight commander of the 167th 'Gold Coast' Sqd. that later was to become the famous 322 Dutch Spitfire Squadron. Colleagues there, among others, were Dick Geesink and Jan, the son of Plesman.
He met his future wife Joan at Scorton, and because of a possible posting to the U.S.A. they decided to marry at the end of 1942. They never regretted that step, as 53 years later they are still happily together, with 3 children and 6 grandchildren. For a while, due to that a sinusitis plagued him, he saw duty as aerodrome control officer; still he did some ferry flights with the Typhoon and started his two engine training. Flying the Oxford one day in unknown icing conditions nearly became fatal. He crashed on a fire tender, the tail broke off but Dick crawled out of the mess unharmed.
Subsequently, with the 275 air sea rescue Squadron, flying the Lysander and Walrus became his routine. The day before D-day, off the coast of Le Havre under the eyes of the Germans, he attempted to pick up a crashed pilot from the sea, but the storm that eventually postponed the invasion date made the surface visibility so difficult in spotting the drowning pilot after landing, it was only on the second attempt he could find him in the huge waves, and then taking on so much water via the open hatches that the aircraft became overloaded!
A very long take off, bouncing from wave to wave damaging the floats of the Walrus, finally succeeded. For this dangerous mission so brilliantly executed earned him the DFC - it was not his only distinction but the one that means the most to him.
In the autumn of 1944 Dick was posted to liberated Eindhoven, to serve as commissioner for the intake of pilot volunteers for the Dutch Air Force, who then were sent to England to be trained by the RAF. He finally concluded his military service in Voorschoten as O.C. of the Dutch Auster Squadron, flying high ranking officers around. Demobilized he joined KLM in 1946.
A varied KLM career followed... .on DC-3, DC-4, DC-6, DC-7, DC-8, Convair and L-1049 he served as pilot, instructor, technical pilot and lastly as acceptance pilot for the DC-8 - this last function gave him the honour of bringing the first DC-8 into Schiphol, starting the jet period in KLM.
After being medically grounded in 1963 he continued for a while as chief technical pilot, then went to IFALPA as technical secretary before ending his long career with Fokker, in the marketing department doing the flight technical part of contracts. In 1976 a medical problem forced him to resign.
After living through so many dangers and having served the aviation industry in so many functions, Dick now lives contently in the same town where he was born 75 years ago, at that time not knowing how many adventures were in store for him.
Niek van Keppel.
This information kindly provided by Erwin van Loo, Researcher, Royal Netherlands Air Force.