World War II pilot’s heroic Holocaust secret revealed

Halsey Roscorla was part of the team of pilots that brought over 700 Holocaust orphans to England in 1945.

Heroic RAF pilot Halsey Roscorla (third right) stands with his RAF crew. (photo credit: ROSCORLA FAMILY)
Heroic RAF pilot Halsey Roscorla (third right) stands with his RAF crew.
(photo credit: ROSCORLA FAMILY)
It was a secret that Royal Air Force pilot Halsey Roscorla took to his grave in 1966 – a secret that would not surface for more than half-a-century.
But this week, the full story of his heroism was revealed on Monday by Royal Star and Garter, a British charity that cares for military veterans and their partners living with disability or dementia.

Remembrance from Royal Star & Garter on Vimeo.

Roscorla was part of the team of pilots who brought over 700 Holocaust orphans to England in 1945 – many of whom were tattooed with numbers from their time in Nazi concentration camps.
“The Boys,” as the orphaned children were known, notwithstanding that group included 80 girls, went on to recuperate from their trauma in northern England’s Lake District, and went on to rebuild successful lives for themselves in their adopted country.
They were brought to the UK following a plea made to the British government by Jewish leader and philanthropist Leonard Goldsmid-Montefiore to take in some 1,000 orphans. The government eventually agreed and the mission was a go.
Roscorla’s family never learned of his heroic action since he never spoke of his time in the military to his wife, Joan, or children, Anne and Charles.
When he died in 1966 at the age of 47, his family thought his military stories were gone forever. But in 2005, pieces of his remarkable story came to light after a chance sighting of a photograph and film footage in a news report. That fateful night, Charles was watching the television news when he spotted a familiar photograph.
“In our photo album drawer at home, there is a series of pictures of planes lined up on a runway, and [it’s] looking like refugee children going into these planes,” he recalled. “I’ve known them forever. And we turned on the news one night in 2005, and it was a celebration of the refugee children being picked up at Prague airport.
“Children who had been in camps to be brought to this country, they were taken to Windermere. It was the 60th anniversary. My wife, Martine, and I [said] ‘Oh! What was that?’” the 68-year-old recalled.
The family contacted the Imperial War Museum in London, which confirmed Halsey was one of pilots of the 570 Squadron who on July 1, 1945 flew The Boys to start their new life in the UK.
“They gave us a copy of the film. You can’t actually see him but he’s listed as being a pilot of one of these [planes],” Charles explained, adding that “apart from this,” and that he joined the RAF in 1942, they don’t know what he did while serving in the military during the war.
“We were shocked and amazed to watch the news and see these scenes coming to life,” Charles said. “It was extraordinary. It has added a tiny link to the missing chain.”
Recalling his flight to the UK with The Boys, Holocaust survivor and well-known author Arek Hersh told Royal Star and Garter he remembers the journey well.
“There were about 30 of us sitting on the floor in the plane, and the pilots came and gave us some bread and chocolate,” he recalled. “They were ever so nice to us. I shall never forget what they did for us.”
He stressed that they “wouldn’t be here today without them.”
“They freed Europe and brought us out to safety,” he added. “I would love to see the photos and meet the family to say thank you personally.”
Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association chairwoman Lilian Black explained that Hersh’s story is one of 16 featured in the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Center at the University of Huddersfield.
“His is a remarkable story of survival, and how he rebuilt his life in the UK,” she said. “But without the RAF pilots to bring them here, who knows what would have happened to him. All of the survivor community owe their lives to the brave men and women who lost their lives fighting Nazi Germany, and we are forever grateful.”