Interview with Richard Hollis


Interview with Richard Hollis


Richard’s father, Arthur Hollis, went to Dulwich College as a day boy. He left at sixteen to join the Home Guard , then worked for a firm of accountants for a couple of years before joining the Royal Air Force. He was sent to Manchester University for about six months and then to Florida to learn to fly. He went to Nova Scotia and then travelled by train to Florida. Arthur was posted to Clewiston airfield and was soon selected for acting corporal. After finishing his training, he was posted to Canada where he received a commission. His next posting was to RAF Little Rissington to learn to fly twin-engine aircraft and then to the Operational Training Unit at RAF North Luffenham working on Wellingtons. He also went on a course for advanced flying and then joined the conversion course at RAF Swinderby with Manchesters, where he picked up the rest of his crew. Arthur recalled December 1942 when he had to bale out at thousand five hundred feet on the orders of the captain. His parachute, not being fastened properly, tore his flying jacket and he came down holding the parachute with his arms. In March 1943 he started flying operationally at RAF Skellingthorpe with 50 Squadron. Off the Dutch coast he was in collision with a Halifax which had been early. It cut off and damaged the starboard wing and put an engine out of action. Arthur had brought his crew back safely. The crew continued operations flying to Hamburg and Essen. On one occasion they were caught in searchlights, attacked by a fighter, and damaged by anti-aircraft fire. They managed to get home and Arthur was later awarded the DFC. The last two operations were to Milan to bomb the marshalling yards. Arthur completed thirty operations and had flown 20 different Lancasters, of which only one survived the war. Upon completion of his tour, to No. 11 OTU at RAF Westcott and RAF Oakley, where he met Betty who became his wife.







01:06:22 audio recording


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AHollisRE180111, PHollisAN1801


CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is Thursday the 11th of January 2018 and I’m in Cowes with Richard Hollis to talk about his father Arthur Hollis. What were the earliest information you’ve got about your father, Richard?
RH: Well, right from his, from his childhood through schooling. We know quite a lot. Quite a lot about the family. I’ve got lots of photographs and, up until when he was in the Home Guard and then joined up and joined the RAF.
CB: So if we start with early on. Where his parents were. What his father did. And then take it from there.
RH: His father got completely decimated in the First World War and was an office manager in an insurance company. He went into insurance really because it was about the only thing that he could do and my father’s mother was at home bringing up children. My father was the eldest. The eldest child.
CB: His schooling?
RH: And his schooling. He went to, he said not very satisfactory prep schools. And then my grandparents were left some money by an uncle who deceased and enabled them to send both my father and his brother to Dulwych College as day boys where my father said he rapidly learned how to work and the advantages of working and he, he did very well academically. He was also a keen sportsman. He played rugby. He was a very keen swimmer and he was an extremely fine amateur boxer. He then, well after he came out of school at sixteen after he matriculated and I think that was school certificate or, anyway and he then, my grandfather was very anxious, his father was very anxious that he’d, with the war coming that he’d have some sort of grounding for a profession which my poor late grandfather had not had and so he was articled to a firm of chartered accountants or accountants in the City called [Legge] and Company. I think Phillip, I think it was Phillip [Legge], I’m not sure. The, he, [Legge] had been a contemporary of my late grandfather in the First World War. He was there for a good couple of years and, and, but he wanted to join up. He was not, he couldn’t join the Army or the Navy for some reason but he went then, he opted for the RAF and but apparently at that time there was a bit of a blockage of new people wanting to be pilots. They obviously couldn’t process them fast enough so he was sent off to Manchester University to do higher maths and flying related subjects I think for about six months before he went off to learn to fly in Florida. In his memoirs he comments that the ship that they went out on which was to Nova Scotia had been used for, as a meat ship. I doubt if it was cleaned out very well. They just strung a row of hammocks across and people were very sick apart from him. And so he landed in winter time in Nova Scotia. They saw good food for the first time. In his memoirs he tells us that. And then they worked, went by train down through the United States into, into Florida which of course was beautifully warm. He went to an airfield called Clewiston and quite early on he was selected to be a corporal, acting corporal and to, one of the jobs was to maintain discipline. He was quite a disciplinarian anyway and so he seemed to be rather suited. His commanding officer was Wing Commander Kenneth Rampling and he got on extremely well with Kenneth Rampling and had a huge amount of respect for him. He finished his training there. He said when he was training the flying instruction in the air was excellent. On the ground it was very poor so they had to work extremely hard to, to make sure that they didn’t lag behind or or fail. When they had finished there he went back up to Canada and I think he received his commission on [pause] up in Canada. They then joined other people on a, on a ship, troop ship crossing the Atlantic and in, he said in his memoirs later on he didn’t realise at the time, he wouldn’t have known but it was actually at the height of the U-boat, U-boat war but they were all very jolly and he said, but it wasn’t always pleasant going. He said, ‘If the sea was rough,’ he said, ‘You imagine shaving with a cutthroat,’ which he did, ‘A cutthroat razer in a rough sea.’ He said, ‘I didn’t worry about it.’ He just got on. But anyway, he landed in, he landed in [pause] I think Liverpool but I’m not sure. That would have to be checked out. And then went down to, in his memoirs I think he said he goes down to the south coast to be kitted out. After that, we’ll check up in his logbook, he went to Little Rissington to start learning to fly twin engine aircraft. It would have been Oxfords. He then went, he then went on to, where did he go after that Chris?
CB: Right. We’ll pause there for a mo.
RH: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: The question [pause] Of course, when he was an articled clerk it’s the early days of the war and everybody was pressed into something. He’d had training, officer type training when he was at school.
RH: Yes. He was —
CB: So what did he do when he left?
RH: He joined the Home Guard. He had a lot of respect for the other, his colleagues in the Home Guard. He pointed out to us as a family, he said, ‘Dad’s Army is not really a true picture of what it was like.’ He said, ‘These were people who had been a part of a, at the end of the First World War, if they’d survived the First World War, a fine Army and they could certainly shoot fast and straight. And in his memoirs he says that there would have been a lot of dead Germans. Anyway, he enjoyed himself in the Home Guard and thought it was very worthwhile.
CB: Good. Thank you very much. And so that set him in good stead anyway when he joined the RAF because he already had —
RH: Yes.
CB: Military training.
RH: Yes.
CB: Now, in his logbook we have talked about him returning to Little Rissington.
RH: Yes.
CB: Returning to England and doing his twin engine flying.
RH: Yes.
CB: So that was to get him accomplished with A - twin engine and B - the British weather.
RH: Yes. He does say in his memoirs that navigation was considerably harder in in the UK than it was in the, in the States.
CB: Did he ever explain why? Why that was so much more difficult.
RH: I don’t think so. Just that the terrain, in the States you could follow a railway line or something and there was very little. And the weather of course. So after Little Rissington —
CB: He then went on to the Operational Training Unit.
RH: Yes.
CB: That was at —
RH: He then went to Number 29 OTU at North Luffenham on Wellington Mark 3s. By this stage he had done two hundred and ninety five hours of flying and and it was during this period that he had an unfortunate incident. It was in December just before Christmas. December 1942. He had to bale out at two and a half thousand feet on the orders of the captain from the Wellington and he did not have his parachute done up correctly and it started to go over his, over his body. It caught on his flying jacket. It tore his flying jacket and he came down holding on to the, holding on to his parachute with his arms. He flatly refused all through his flying life to get the flying jacket repaired where it tore because he said, ‘That tear saved my life.’ He says in his memoirs that when he landed on the ground that he was met by some farmers, or farm labourers approached him and questioned where he was from. Was he one of theirs or one of ours and he said very strongly he was one of ours. He said they then plied him with tea in a farmhouse. He said he would like to have had something slightly stronger. Anyway, he continued his training there, then went to a short course, advanced flying, again on Wellington Mark 1s. And then in February, the beginning of February 1943 he joined 1660 Conversion Course at Swinderby. Swinderby, and was flying Manchesters, Mark 1s and he then and that’s where he picked up the rest of his crew. He had picked, when he was flying Wellingtons he had pilot officer then, Palmer as navigator, Sergeant Kemp as an air bomber, Cheshire, Sergeant Cheshire as a wireless operator/air gunner and Sergeant Jock Walker his rear gunner. And he was very very fond of Jock Walker.
CB: What did he tell you about the crewing up process at the OTU on the Wellingtons?
RH: He said that you just stand. There wasn’t any, he said you chose. I don’t know how it worked but you just chose your, I think he said that he chose. You chose your own crew and how you would know if they were good. I suppose if you got on reasonably well or you talked to them and you found out a little bit about them but those were the people that he had, I believe he had chosen. Later on in the Conversion Unit at Swinderby he was joined by Sergeant Bob Yates and sergeant [pause] who would that have been? Sergeant [Adsed], Don Adsed who was a flight engineer. Bob Yates was the mid-upper, upper gunner. So that made up the crew of seven. He did say, he told me that when he was doing his Conversion Unit converting to heavy bombers of all the people on the course he was the only one to have survived the Second World War. And that was born out by when the Memorial at Skellingthorpe was unveiled in the 80s. nineteen eighty —
CB: Six.
RH: 1986. A very old man came up to him and said, ‘Are you Arthur Hollis?’ And he said yes and he said and he was with my mother at the time who also witnessed this and this dear old man said to him, ‘Oh, I know one, I knew one survived. I’m so pleased to meet you.’ Which was very touching. Anyway, then in 1943 in March, March the 11th 1943 he started flying operationally at Skellingthorpe on 50 Squadron and straightaway we’ve got the first operation to Stuttgart. According to his logbook he flew a variety of Lancasters. They were Lancaster Mark 3s but his favourite, their favourite one appeared in March, at the end of March 1943 and that was D for Dog, ED475 which took them to Berlin and then on to St Nazaire the next night. Working through his logbook they did, they were flying some part sometimes to France. I know he planted, he did some mining in the Gironde on one occasion but then it was off to Kiel, [unclear] Stettin, Duisburg and Essen. On May the 12th 1943 they were setting off to go to Duisburg. He told me that quite often to gain height they would take off, fly over and go and fly over to Manchester to gain height and then, and then cross the North Sea with some decent height. But off the Dutch coast he was with, in collision with a Halifax. What had happened was that the Halifax apparently had been early and contrary to the strict instruction not to do a dog leg and join in with the main bomber stream the pilot of the Halifax had decided to turn back in to the main stream. Go head on into the main bomber stream. They collided. The Halifax with one of its propellers cut through and cut off six feet and damaged six feet of the starboard wing and put an engine out of action. The engine must have been on the starboard wing as well. Probably the outer. They both returned to, to England and he my father told me, I had asked him at one stage why he had not been recognised for, for bringing a damaged aircraft back with seven valuable men in it and he said because he wasn’t riddled with German bullets. But he was always extremely angry that the collision seemed to have been hushed up. There is correspondence about the collision from other members of his crew that looked at it, looked at it in 1979 and some photographs of the damage to the wing. But [pause] could we just stop there?
CB: We’ll pause just for a mo.
RH: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: So after the mid-air collision.
RH: Well, he —
CB: He got no recognition.
RH: He got no recognition. In fact, it was, it was all hushed up which made him very angry because it was, he said it was two valuable aircraft and fourteen valuable men. Coming back they jettisoned the bombs. He managed to fly the aircraft he said. He told me he could just about keep it in a straight line and they jettisoned the bombs and I don’t know where he landed but he obviously did. So that was that. Then he continued on with operations. That was with ED475. Their favourite aircraft. In an article written by, or written in 1979 one of his crew which was [pause] who was that? Cheshire, his wireless operator praised my father for flying the aircraft back. But it was established that it was a Halifax because there were bits of the Halifaxes propeller wrapped around the wing of the aircraft and it contained wood and only the Halifax propeller I believe had, did contain wood. So, we then move on to [pause –pages turning], I think we’ve missed something here. We need to stop I think.
CB: Ok. We’ll stop for a mo.
[recording paused]
CB: Ok. Restarting now.
RH: There is another photograph of, a colour photograph of a Lancaster. It’s actually a flight of Lancasters and my father told me that he was asked to take up a flight, a flight of Lancasters with a photographer on another aeroplane. They were to do formation flying. In his logbook he says on the 23rd of July a formation flying nine aircraft. He did say that they weren’t trained to do formation flying and basically most of the aircraft the pilots couldn’t get near this photographer so most of the photographs were taken of my dear late father in his Lancaster and his crew and the photographs are there. That has been established that it was JA899, again D for Dog and photographs have been taken up by Lincoln, copied by Lincoln University. Shortly after that, that was on July the 23rd, on July the 24th he went to Hamburg and on July the 25th in the same aircraft JA899 they went to Essen. It was on this trip to Essen that he, they were caught in searchlights and I think my father said at that stage they now had radar controlled searchlights and they were damaged by flak. It said hydraulics were u/s in his logbook. Tyres burst. They didn’t know that until they landed. Following the attack they were attacked by a fighter whilst held in searchlights in the target area and Jock Walker the tail gunner was wounded by a cannon shell and one of his other crew, the mid-upper gunner was also slightly wounded. He managed to lose the, or get out of the searchlights and, and fly the plane home and there was also, it says in his memoirs there was no, they lost their intercom as well. So it must have been a pretty unhappy time. For that he was awarded later on the DFC. Then after another trip to Hamburg they were coming towards the end of their tour. By this stage he told me that his crew, he said he didn’t believe in luck. He wanted, he purposely throughout his tour never had a girlfriend and he was a very strict disciplinarian in the aircraft. He said that there were, there were good skippers of aircraft and there were popular ones but he did not believe that the popular ones were necessarily good and he maintained this discipline. By this stage the crew had definitely established that they wanted to be flying with him and were most grateful for that which they wrote to him in a letter in 1968. And in the letter, this was written by Tom Cheshire who had visited, who had made contact with Don Adsed and it said, “We had a nostalgic hour.” This was in 1968 when they met up, “We had a nostalgic hour during which time we came to the conclusion from our total flying times that you were about the best pilot and aircraft captain we’d, either of us had flown with. I will spare your blushes but I really mean that. I afterwards flew with a motley load of crews and missed the crew discipline which you always maintained. I’m sure this was a considerable factor in allowing us to take advantage of an average share of luck.” Can we pause there?
CB: Yeah.
[recording paused]
RH: There is a photograph of, I would imagine it’s the entire squadron in front of a Lancaster. I know that my father is not in this one. I believe it was taken when he was on leave and that was at about the time of the, I think the Peenemunde operations. And he said that when he was on leave he came back and there had been such losses he arrived late in the evening and it was dark and he didn’t recognise anyone in the officer’s mess. He didn’t see anyone he knew and he said he seriously thought that he’d been dropped at the wrong airfield. And then he met someone and he said, ‘No, Arthur. I’m afraid we’ve had some, we’ve had some very bad losses.’ Moving on as they get towards the end of their, oh when Jock Walker was wounded so he didn’t do the last three operations but they were ending their, ending their tour and the last two operations were to Milan. My father told me that they were chosen, Milan was chosen because it was really getting to the stage where Italy had was on the point of, of getting close to giving up and Milan was perhaps a softer target, an easier target. They flew across France, over the Alps to bomb the marshalling yards in Milan. Unfortunately, my father told me that there had been a lot of instances where bombing raids tended to creep back from the target area as people pressed the button just a little bit early to, to get out and he wanted to demonstrate how not to bomb short. So he said to his bomb aimer, ‘You tell me when you’re ready and I’ll tell you when to press the button.’ He unfortunately got it slightly wrong and counted all the way to ten by which stage he’d completely missed the target they were shooting at, destroying the chapel where Leonardo da Vinci’s, “The Last Supper,” was on the wall in this chapel and Leonardo da Vinci’s, “The Last Supper,” was damaged but the wall stayed there. The rest of the chapel was completely destroyed and online you can, if you go online and look at the Leonardi da Vinci’s the “The Last Supper - war damage,” you can see some of my father’s handiwork. Later on, some years, some twenty seven odd years, thirty years later in his memoirs he tells us that he had, as a chartered accountant some Italian clients. He had quite a number of Italian clients. He never let on that it was he that had damaged that chapel or blown it to bits. But he was taken to see it and he quietly told my mother, ‘And guess whose handiwork this was?’ And he did also say later that he felt gratified, the fact that he had a whole lot of artisans work for the last thirty years. So that was his last operation to Milan and that was the end of his time at Skellingthorpe.
CB: Right so we’ve ended operations.
RH: Yeah.
CB: How many operations did he do?
RH: He, he did thirty. He did his full thirty.
CB: And how many hours was his total by then?
RH: And that, and that total by then was just under, was about six hundred and ninety.
CB: Ok. We’ll pause there. Have you got some more?
RH: Yes.
CB: He, he just about when he was finishing at Skellingthorpe in his logbook he says a voluntary attachment to 1485 Gunnery Flight, Skellingthorpe and it was then that his dear rear gunner Jock Walker came back on to the squadron and he, he took Jock Walker up in a Tiger Moth because he thought it would just be fun and good for Jock to get back into flying again. Very sadly Jock Walker lost his life doing his last three trips with another aircraft and in his logbook he says he was a very experienced pilot but sadly they lost their lives.
RH: Stopping there.
CB: Yeah.
[recording paused]
CB: What was your —
RH: With the situation with Jock Walker my father was asked by the station commander or senior officer whether he thought it would be a good idea if Jock Walker went back on to operations just to finish his tour because he only had three, three to do to complete his thirty trips and my father said that he thought that Jock would like that because he would be happy with that. My father later on a night explained that, he said it was one of the worst things he ever said in his life because as I’ve said poor Jock Walker went off to, to lose his life on one of those last three trips and Jock was the only child of, my father said, a very nice Scottish couple and to lose their only child was absolutely tragic.
CB: The history of these sorts of things is that, seems that captains and others sometimes feel a sense of guilt when something’s happened to their crew that was actually beyond their control but nevertheless within their realm of concern and command.
RH: Yes. So that was the end of his flying operationally. That. His tour of operations.
CB: We’ll just stop there a mo.
RH: Right.
[recording paused]
CB: So in training and during operations people formed all sorts of alliances, experiences and admirations and some of the senior people were very encouraging to the more junior ones. What experience did he have in that?
RH: When he was, when he was, going back to Florida he had a great admiration for, for his Wing Commander Kenneth Rampling. And as I say he appointed him, he says in his memoirs course commander. “I was made an acting corporal unpaid and held general responsibility for the behaviour of the Flight. About fifty cadets.” He, he then went on to say that, at the end of his course, “We took the wings exam and qualified. On the evening before the Wings Parade together I, together with my two section leaders invited by three officers to a celebration at the Clewiston Inn where they stayed. What a night. I arrived back at camp wearing the CO’s trousers, mine having got wet in a rainstorm. The next morning the Flight was drawn up on parade and I marched up to Kenneth Rampling to report, ‘All present and correct, sir.’ He said, ‘Christ you look horrible.’ To which I replied, ‘Not half as horrible as I feel.’” Just as well the doting onlookers could not hear these remarks. Dear Kenneth Rampling, he was killed two years later as Group Captain DSO DFC CO of a Pathfinder Squadron.
CB: Clearly made a really big impact.
RH: Yes.
CB: On him and an inspiration in his life.
RH: Yes.
CB: I’m stopping.
[recording paused]
RH: If I just refer back to his last trip, tour. His last trip of the tour was to Milan. His he said his usual aircraft was pronounced unserviceable rather late in the day. Group Captain Elworthy, later Marshal of the RAF, Lord Elworthy the then base commander was very anxious that I should finish on this trip. He therefore arranged for an aircraft from another station be made available and took me personally in his staff car to that station. My crew were taken there by bus. And he then goes on to talk about the bombing short.
CB: So, when, when he went to Milan then he didn’t come straight back did he? He went on to North Africa.
RH: No. They came straight back.
CB: That was a different one.
RH: That was a different one.
CB: Right.
RH: The North African was when he was bombing, a trip to Friedrichshafen. He says in his, in his memoirs if I can find it. [pause] I think we’d better just stop now.
CB: Yeah.
[recording paused]
RH: Was when they, when they carried out raids on the U-boat pens at St Nazaire it was rather useless as the concrete was too strong for the bombs then carried. He also went to Berlin, Pilsen and Hamburg. An interesting trip was as a special force chosen to bomb Friedrichshafen where special radar spare parts were stored. “As it was then midsummer there was not enough darkness to return to the UK. We therefore went over the Med to North Africa. The personal map which I marked up and tucked in to my boots is in my logbook."
CB: Stop there.
[recording paused]
RH: After his trip to Milan he used to dine out on the story but he maintained that he had taken Italy out of the war because they were so disgusted that a religious artifact was too much for them to cope with that and he recently, he said he recently told the story to an artist friend who remarked drily that the bomb damage was not half as serious as the damage inflicted by the subsequent garish and overdone restoration.
[recording paused]
CB: What other stories have you got that ties in with —
RH: Well, my father, my father had a very [pause] he was quite careful what he would say to, to some people. Particularly, he had German and Italian clients but I remember on one occasion in the 1980s at a lunch party my father was sitting next to a very charming German lady and she asked the question, ‘Have you ever been to Hamburg?’ And, because she was from Hamburg and he said, ‘No.’ And she, this lady had to leave the lunch party early so she went and one of his other, one of the other people sitting beside him said to, said to him, ‘I thought you said you had gone to Hamburg.’ He said, ‘Well, I did go but I didn’t stop.’ He was very, he used to give talks on, about his experiences and he was very adamant that people should understand that, you know people said, ‘Oh well, you know the poor Germans,’ etcetera. He said, ‘Do understand this? That whilst Germany was completely obliterating Europe the —' perhaps we ought to be recording this actually.
CB: We are.
RH: Yes. We are. Good. That it, it turned people, some people said, ‘Oh the bomber, the bombing campaign didn’t do much.’ He said, ‘Just look at it this way. It tied up, it tied up about a million people. Manufacturing had to be geared for defending the German Reich not manufacturing shells for, for the Russian Front or tanks for the Russian Front. It tied up a huge number people as Speer said in his book.’ My father also used to refer to Speer and said that had there been nine other raids like Hamburg the Germans would have probably thought about giving up. But everything was, everything, the vast amount of armaments and work and planning was geared to the defence of Germany not the offensive. And he said, ‘If you look back in history no one has ever won a war on the defensive and we put the Germans on the defensive. That they were not going to win.’ So, and he was, people used to bring up, he’d give talks about, about the Second World War and he would, he would definitely make this point that, and he also talked about the, after the war he said, ‘I can understand the crooked thinking that the appalling and harsh lessons during the war our former enemies quickly became model citizens. I’d been delighted to share friendships with some admirable Germans and even one or two Japanese. But naturally there has always been during the war there were good Germans but the nation as a whole followed, took a disastrous turning during the 1930s and set about ruthlessly establishing itself as the master race and one must not forget that.’
[recording paused]
CB: How many aircraft did he fly on ops?
RH: In total he flew twenty different Lancasters and after the, after the war my mother did the research when it became available and found that only one of them survived the Second World War. All the others were either crashed or went missing which means they were crashed. Incidentally the Lancaster JA899 which was the Lancaster where he got shot up over Essen that was repaired. That was repaired three times. Damaged three times and eventually it was lost on the 22nd of June 1944. So it was quite clearly not a throwaway society. Right.
CB: So after ops then.
RH: After ops he went on to number 11 OTU at Westcott in Buckinghamshire and was flying, became an instructor and was flying Wellington Mark 1Cs. He used to tell us that they were grossly underpowered and quite honestly he thought at times that it was far more dangerous training people than it was flying over Germany which he absolutely hated by the way. Flying over the Ruhr. He then said, he says in his memoirs he was posted instructor’s duties to OTU Westcott. “I felt it was rather like leaving the Brigade of Guards for the Ordnance Corps but there was no choice.” Most of the instructions, instructors were New Zealanders. A very jolly bunch of chaps. His immediate senior and flight commander was one Squadron Leader Fraser Barron. DSO DFC DCM. A New Zealander who ranked at the age of twenty one as a Pathfinder ace and was killed the next year as a group captain. The immediate successor to Kenneth Rampling mentioned earlier in the narrative in my father’s memoirs. He told one amusing story about one New Zealander who said he was, father became what he termed as a shepherd. People who really couldn’t get something right and eventually were going to be, you know sent back to be an air gunner or something instead of a pilot they were given to him and, and he, he did his absolute utmost to make sure that they were, they, you know, passed. He said, but it was sometimes it was very sad because he said generally people who were poor pilots tended to get the chop first. He had one. One New Zealander. He said he just couldn’t believe how this man actually got his wings but he did. He disappeared and some months later he turned up back on the station and said, ‘Oh, hello sir.’ He said, he said, ‘Good God, what are you doing here?’ And he said, ‘I’ve come here as an instructor.’ He couldn’t believe it [laughs] He’d survived his tour. Anyway, he was also at Westcott. He was, spent a lot of time at the satellite station of Oakley which also had 1Cs. He said one night he was sitting next door in the instructor’s seat next to an Australian pupil pilot who was doing a cross country practice. On returning he made a rather mess of the landing approach and I said, my father said, ‘Go around again.’ Immediately ahead of the main runway was at Oakley was Brill Hill. He said, ‘Good pilots could clear it easily but my pupil was not in that category. After looking up at the trees as we went over Brill Hill I let him have another attempt at landing. He did the same thing again after which I said, ‘Up to three thousand feet and we’ll change seats.’ The aircraft cross country flying at Oakley had no dual controls. He said at one stage he did, I think on that occasion he did come back with some, a bit of branch or twigs or something in the tail wheel. When he was at Oakley he said in the late spring of that year he had the good fortune to meet one Betty Edmunds, one of the staff in the watch tower at Oakley. He was officer commanding night flying at the time. “We soon discovered that we both came from Carshalton and had many mutual friends. Our friendship developed. We used to play tennis together. She always won partly because she was a much better player than I but also because whenever she bent over to pick up the ball I was completely unnerved and my mind was not on the tennis.” They did eventually get married and my father said he thought they would wait until the end of the war and my mother said, ‘Oh, do you? I was thinking about the coming 2nd of December.’ They got married on the 2nd of December and, and they went away for a honeymoon in Torquay and there is a photograph of my father on honeymoon wearing, wearing a greatcoat and out of uniform. That hasn’t gone to the Lincolnshire. That’s a new one I found. But anyway, continuing on with my parents because it was a very important part of his life. He said they both wanted children. My mother wanted four but my father thought that would be rather too many to educate properly. He was particularly keen in his life that people should be educated properly thinking back of his own, of his own education. He said, “Thinking about things over the years and knowing my darling Betty’s quiet way of getting what she wanted I think she made up her mind to start our family on our honeymoon. I had no hesitation in helping.” And I think, I know life was very difficult for them there. My mother was, was still in the WAAF but, and found certain petty rules very very irksome and there was one time she was married, then married to my father said at a New Year, at New Year there was an officer’s dance at Oakley and Betty was only a sergeant. She had to get her COs permission to attend and this was refused. “My fellow officers were most indignant that the Oxford tarts were likely to be there but an officer’s wife was refused.” I didn’t particularly mind the signs that Betty was pregnant but there you are. I don’t know how he told that within a month but still [laughs] they then, they then got some accommodation, very difficult but later on they managed to get a council house or part of a council house. Two rooms in a council house at Brackley but more of that in a while. So he continued his, back to the flying he continued with his training as an instructor and there was one stage where someone started to write him down and when he went for tests in flying saying that he wasn’t very good. Fortunately, his commanding officer picked this up and realised that the man, the same man actually wanted to go out with my mother. He thought that he would be taking my mother out. So, but that was, that was picked up and he did finish up and he says in his memoirs that he finished up with a category, “After New Year I was telephoned, this was a year and a half on, “I was telephoned by Group and I was promoted to squadron leader and was to Command Instructors Flight, Turweston. A satellite of Silverstone. I had two months earlier been categorised A2 by a visiting examiner from Central Flying School. An A2 instructor’s category was rare and the highest one could obtain in wartime.” I didn’t know that. But there we are. So, after, after Westcott he then went to [pause – pages turning] Ludgate, Lulsgate Bottom. Number 3 FI [pause] FI5 or FIS?
RH: FIS. And I don’t know whether that, I think that must have been further, that must have been further training.
CB: Let’s just stop there a mo.
RH: Shall we stop?
[recording paused]
CB: Right.
RH: Right. So after further training, advanced training as an instructor his European war ended on the 1st of May leaving Westcott.
CB: No. Turweston.
RH: Sorry. Leaving Turweston and he says in his memoirs when everyone else was celebrating VE Day he was with my mother and he had a miserable time because he’d just been told that he was going off to be an advanced party of Tiger Force then being formed to set up Bomber Command on Okinawa. But he was not allowed to tell my mother where he was going and he may or may not be coming back. So, he refers to that as, ‘The saddest day of my life.’ Do you want to know about Sue the dog?
CB: Yes.
RH: When he was, when he reached his twenty first birthday, as a little anecdote he, he was given an English bull terrier called, which he called Sue which he obviously loved. And when he got married to my mother they went to [pause] they found the two rooms in a council house in Brackley which was owned for the sake of it by a Mr and Mrs Blackwell. They didn’t, when father was posted away my mother who was heavily pregnant at the time went to live with, back to live with her parents in Carshalton Beeches and they didn’t know what to do with Sue. So they gave Sue the dog to Mrs Blackwell and my father used to say that every, every Christmas there and after they always had received a photograph of Sue the dog with Mrs Blackwell. He said they looked rather similar which looking at the photograph they did but Mrs Blackwell was always the one wearing the hat. He boarded a, he boarded a troop ship which had been formerly the Kaiser’s yacht and they were, they went through the Panama Canal. He found that fascinating. And they ended up they were in Hawaii when the bomb was dropped. The Americans, he said, didn’t really want us to, didn’t really want the British contingent which I think was about seven squadrons. They didn’t want them to be part of Tiger Force. The bomb was dropped and he said he and his fellow officers were horrified. Had mixed feelings. He discussed the situation with his fellow officers in his memoirs, “We were horrified that science had reached this far but grateful that our lives and probably about two million others had been saved.” They didn’t know what to do with them. They had a ship full of craftsmen, builders, and medical units, air sea rescue units etcetera. So after a certain amount of cruising around the Pacific they went to Hong Kong. He, they landed, they got to Hong Kong and it was about two days or so after, a day or so after the British Pacific Fleet. Before the Army had arrived and my father told me a story that it was after he arrived he said the crew on the Empress of Australia, the former Kaiser’s yacht, he said they were about, he said about the fourth rate scum that they’d dug out of the, out of somewhere in, somewhere in England. I think he said Liverpool. They had been cheating the, the servicemen on board by turning up heating and then serving them some sort of orange drink to which they would add a touch of salt so they wanted to you know, sell more. And he said they really were, they were very badly done by this group. When they arrived in Hong Kong he went ashore for twenty minutes and he came back and was speaking to a very worried sergeant, RAF sergeant who told him that the crew were mustering over there and, and they wanted, they were planning to loop the medical supplies that had just been unloaded from the ship on to the dock and what should he do? And he said it was the only time he took out his service revolver in anger. He said to the sergeant, ‘Sergeant, there’s a line there. Any man that crosses that line shoot him dead and I’ll show you how to do it.’ And he would have done too. But anyway, he, they had to keep the Japanese officers as fully armed because otherwise, he said the Chinese, the Hong Kong Chinese would have ripped the place apart and looted it but he said they gave, they gave away their food, their rations because there were other people who definitely needed it more. He said, ‘I scarcely slept for several days and was somewhat hungry as we had given up our rations to the ex-occupants of the internment camps. The Japanese were later used for hard work in repairing the colony. They lived in POW camps and were not overfed. And then after about a fortnight the Marine Commandos arrived and he did have, apart from the fact he was away from my mother and he did have a grand time, or a good time in Hong Kong. Although he’d never learned to drive he was given a jeep and he said that you had to guard it all times. If you left it for five minutes when you came back the engine would have been taken out. He said the Chinese, the Hong Kong Chinese were so resourceful he said they would, they used the engines for their, to power their junks. He was initially put in as supplies officer for the officer’s mess and he had an office in the Peninsula Hotel. He said that when you went into the Peninsula Hotel you turned right into a large room. In the middle of the room the room was completely bare apart from a desk, a chair and a filing cabinet and that was his office. He was supplies officer for the officer’s mess and he said he used to go out to the Navy ships to collect the gin. He said, ‘I always remembered going out.’ He always remembered going out but he never remembered coming back. He then, also in Hong Kong went on to do the rather unpleasant job of commandeering people’s houses for accommodation and he made some good friends from the Hong Kong Chinese for that. He said it was the most distasteful job. He also would do tribunals. Criminal tribunals. He said it was very difficult because the Hong Kong Chinese at that time would make things up and tell you what they thought you wanted to hear not what had actually happened. But I don’t know whether we can put that in. Anyway, he, my mother sent him some books to study, to carry on studying accountancy but he said that the social life was, it was difficult to study because the social life was rather too good. Anyway, back, then later on in it must have been I think it was May. In May 1946 he [pause] I’ll just get, we need to stop really.
CB: Yes.
[recording paused]
CB: In July.
RH: In July 1946 it was his turn to be demobilised and he set course for home by taking a passage in one of her, his majesty’s ships to Singapore and then got a place on, believe it or not the Empress of Australia again. He arrived at Liverpool one wet afternoon and the ship’s tannoy went, ‘Requiring the presence of Squadron Leader Hollis in Cabin —’ X. He proceeded there and was greeted by an air marshal who was there for the purpose of offering him a permanent commission. He said, ‘I’ve always been pleased that I didn’t accept. There were severe Service cuts a few years later and he has had a very interesting life.’ He went on to qualify as a chartered accountant. When he came back to England — do you want this? When he came back to England of course he then had to study. He had a young child. They had nowhere to live. They managed to find two rooms in the attic of a house in Dover belonging to a relative and he only spent the weekends there because he was studying during the week time in London living with his father which was, he said since his father liked to sit in silence it was the appropriate atmosphere but very poor for my mother. They literally had no money at all. Any money that they did, he got a small grant and any money they did have was spent on, on suits so that he was well dressed when he went to work. They then moved to a house of another, some cousins in Westcliffe on Sea in Essex but they were not, that did not go down. It did not work very well. But then in 1948 they found a flat to rent at the Paragon in Blackheath where they spent fifteen happy years and he passed the final exam and became a charted accountant. And my late sister Sylvia was born in 1949. Things got a bit better for him and eventually he was offered a partnership in a firm called Hugh [unclear]. A joint [unclear] with an assistant partnership prospects and he, in 1950 — do you want to continue in this? In 1950 he went out to Jeddah and he had some work in Jeddah to do and he said Jeddah at that stage was absolutely medieval. He said he felt that he was going back to the Old Testament. He did tell me one story that he was very keen on walking and one evening he walked out of the town and on to the outskirts of the town and got surrounded by a pack of dogs, wild dogs and he really did think that he was, that he was going to be attacked and killed. But he managed to find some sticks and stones and threw them at the dogs and he walked back into the town. But he said that was a very close shave. Unfortunately, my sister Sylvia when she was born was born very prematurely and was blinded by an oxygen, use of an oxygen tent. This was when he returned from Jeddah. He said it was very difficult. My other sister was doing well at school but he said, ‘How can you tell a child who says, ‘Will I be able to see next year? Or when I’m ten?’ ‘No. You won’t.’ In 1953 I was born. Unfortunately, my mother contracted polio whilst she was carrying me and it was another great burden on the family. My father and his career he worked hard and progressed well becoming a partner in [unclear] and company. He also took on the work from a small practice where the sole practitioner had died and the sole practitioner specialised in theatrical, in the theatrical and musical world and, and he met, and Yehudi Menuhin became a client amongst others. And Diana Sheridan, the late actress. He struck a great, had a great rapport with Yehudi Menuhin. Saved him from being clobbered by vast taxation and, and he was instrumental with others in setting up the Yehudi Menuhin School. He provided for us admirably. The family. We then in the early ‘60s moved down to a beautiful house down in Kent where he lived with my mother for fifty years and was very very happy there. He was highly respected and it was the house, he was highly respected in the village and became the sort of the elder statesman in the village. And he, my mother died in 2010 and in 2013 my father didn’t become ill he just one day went to bed and never woke up. And he was terrified of ever having to go into a home but he had his wish, he died as I say in his own bed in his own house and having lived an extremely full life.
CB: What a fascinating story.
RH: There we are.
CB: Thank you very much.
RH: Sorry, I’ve gone —



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Richard Hollis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 16, 2024,

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