Story of pilot who flew ‘The Boys’ to new life in England told for first time

Story of pilot who flew ‘The Boys’ to new life in England told for first time

RAF pilot who flew child survivors to England never told family of role played on historic day. Archival footage broadcast 60 years later helped them piece together what happened

Halsey Roscorla  (third right, wearing cap) with his RAF crew
Halsey Roscorla (third right, wearing cap) with his RAF crew

The extraordinary story of an RAF pilot who helped fly child survivors to a new life in England has been told for the first time ahead of Remembrance Sunday.

The group of 732 refugees, later known as “The Boys,” which included 80 girls, was flown to England after the philanthropist Leonard Montefiore persuaded the British Government to take them in.

RAF pilot Halsey Roscorla, who passed away at 47 in 1966, helped fly to England  orphaned survivors of Nazi concentration camps in the summer of 1945.

Among the children on the plane was Holocaust survivor Arek Hersh, who said he hopes to thank Roscorla’s family in person.

The Boys preparing to board planes in Prague in August 1945. (Credit: Crown Copyright)

“I remember that 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 said.

“They were ever so nice to us. I shall never forget what they did for us. We wouldn’t be here today without them. They freed Europe and brought us out to safety. I would love to see the photos and meet the family to say thank you personally,” he added.

But Roscorla, who worked as an office-manager after the war, never spoke of his days in the millitary nor told his family he had witnessed the historic day.

Joan and Halsey Roscorla with eldest child Anne in 1948

It wasn’t until after his death and a chance sighting of archival footage broadcast 60 years later that Roscorla’s family pieced together what had happened.

“We knew he’d been a pilot and there were photographs in our photograph drawer at home,” his son Charles told Jewish News.”We’d look through them and never asked any questions.”

Joan Roscorla with her son Charles and daughter-in-law Martine

“Suddenly in 2005, my wife Martine and I were watching BBC News and it’s the 60th anniversary of the boys being brought to this country and we thought ‘oh good gosh’,” he said.

“It was such a shock. We suddenly thought that these pictures that we knew were being brought to life,” he added.

The 68-year-old from Kingston, whose mum Joan lives at the care home Royal Star & Garter, urged Jewish News readers to listen to relatives’ first-hand accounts.

“Do it now because there will be a time in your life when you will regret it if you don’t,” he said. “Don’t wait until the ‘if only’ stage.”

Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, paid tribute to Roscorla.

“RAF pilot Halsey Roscorla may not have thought what he did was especially heroic or noteworthy but if it wasn’t for him, and all those who supported the efforts to bring 732 young survivors to the UK 74 years ago, these survivors could have had a different future,” she said.

“The Boys have often spoken of the generosity and kindness shown to them after liberation and this is yet another important story we must know about and preserve for future generations,” she added.

 Listen to Charles describe the moment he learned of his father’s deeds

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