Thanksgiving address for the life of Arthur Norman Hollis OBE, DFC

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Title

Thanksgiving address for the life of Arthur Norman Hollis OBE, DFC

Description

Thanksgiving eulogy for the life and times of Arthur Hollis OBE, DFC of Bomber Command which covers his childhood successes whilst at Dulwich College, his subsequent enlistment into the RAF in 1941, and his pilot training in Florida and the UK. It also includes details of a selection of his operational missions, experiences as a flying instructor and role as a Staff Officer in the Tiger Force during the closing stages of the war. After a successful career as a Chartered Accountant, he fulfilled his life playing an active role to his family and the Kent village of Westwell.

Publisher

IBCC Digital Archive

Rights

This content is available under a CC BY-NC 4.0 International license (Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0). It has been published ‘as is’ and may contain inaccuracies or culturally inappropriate references that do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the University of Lincoln or the International Bomber Command Centre. For more information, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/ and https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/legal.

Format

Five page printed document

Language

Identifier

MHollisAN124522-171107-06

Transcription

Thanksgiving address for the life of Arthur Norman Hollis OBE, DFC

Arthur Norman Hollis was born on [deleted] 8th [/undeleted] 11th August 1922 in Highgate. His father had been seriously wounded and traumatised twice during the First World War and was thus unable to enter the sort of profession that he would have normally have expected to follow. The family circumstances were therefore modest but nonetheless our father’s childhood seems to have been a very happy one. Following the birth of his younger brother Gerald and sister Rosemary the family moved to Carshalton in Surrey in 1930 where the acquisition of a bicycle at the age of 8 gave him a freedom totally unknown to today’s children. By the age of 14 he was cycling as far as Dover to visit his beloved maternal grandparents.

Thanks to a small family legacy both boys were sent to Dulwich College. Father admitted that he was rather idle for a few terms until he had a very strict and inspirational form Master and learnt that by working hard, he could be amongst the top few in the form. At Dulwich he achieved both Rugger and Boxing Colours, was the Middleweight Boxing Champion of the school and was an exceptionally strong Swimmer. Despite excellent academic and sporting achievements, it was decided that our father should leave at 16 and be articled to a firm of chartered accountants. Presumably the money had run out. He was deeply disappointed but true to character put a good face on it.

By far the youngest of the five or so articled clerks he was fortunately befriended by his immediate senior, Donald Draper, who remained a lifelong friend. When war broke out Father was only 16 so had to wait for 2 years before he could volunteer. He chose to sign up for pilot training in the RAF on the grounds that he was too young to be considered for combat duty in either the Army or Navy. After a short course at Manchester University, in 1941 he was sent by cargo ship with several thousand other young men to Florida to be taught to fly. He crossed the Atlantic in rough winter, at the height of the U Boat War.

Father’s leadership skills were recognised very early on. A few days after his arrival in Florida he was appointed Course Commander. As acting corporal (unpaid) he had general responsibility for the behaviour of the Flight (about 50 cadets). He was just 18 years old.

He returned home as a Pilot Officer and was immediately posted to Little Rissington to prepare for the larger machines of Bomber Command. It was extremely dangerous and a number of crews did not finish the course.. Father had several narrow escapes during this period. His flying jacket still hanging in his cupboard has a small nick on the shoulder. When asked why he hadn’t repaired it he replied because it had saved his life. While on a training flight with other pupils, [deleted] the [/deleted] [inserted] their [/inserted] aircraft flown by one of them went out of control. They had to bail out and as father jumped he realised that he had forgotten to fasten his parachute correctly. It went straight up over his head but caught on the edge of his flying jacket just giving him enough time to grab hold of it so that he could come down holding it by hand. After a few other narrow escapes, he moved on to Swinderby in Lincolnshire to convert on to Lancasters,. Out of all the Pilots on his conversion course to Lancasters, he was the only one to survive the war.. On finishing the course, he was posted to Skellingthorpe Lincoln to begin his tour of operations on what was afterwards known as the Battle of the Ruhr.

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This was a period of father’s life about which he spoke [deleted] very [/deleted] little as it was too painful for him. In his memoirs he simply states [inserted] of the Rhur [/inserted] “I hated the place” A bomber command crew member had a worse chance of survival than an infantry officer in World War 1. It is a huge tribute to father’s piloting skills that he and all but one of his crew members survived their tour of 30 operations. In May 1943 they survived a mid air collision with a Halifax over the Dutch Coast,, father got back only just, with bits of the Halifax’s propeller stuck in his own wing which had 6 feet missing. To father’s disgust there was no inquiry despite the near loss of 14 highly trained men and two valuable aircraft.
Two months later again he and his crew nearly became victims. The Daily Telegraph headline of the day read “Pilot brought home badly damaged aircraft: wins DFC”. Actg Flt.Lt. A.N. Hollis of 50 Squadron gets the DFC. In July when attacking Essen his aircraft was caught in a cone of searchlights and subjected to accurate AA fire. Much damage was caused to the machine, the “intercom” was rendered unserviceable, both tyres burst and many holes were made in the fuselage. In addition the aircraft was attacked by an enemy fighter and the rear turret was considerably damaged. Flt Lt. Hollis not only shook off his assailants but by skilful pilotage brought his charge safely home”

In August 1943 on his last operational trip he led a flight of less experienced Lancaster Pilots and crews across France and over the Alps to bomb the Railway Marshalling Yards at Milan. Whilst demonstrating how not to bomb short, he managed to bomb long, missed the Target and as he put it “knocked a Leonado da Vinci [sic] Mural off a Chapel Wall”. Not long afterwards, he used to tell us, the Italians capitulated.

He was highly valued by his crew. Some years later after two of them met and wrote to him :we came to the conclusion from our flying times, that you were about the best pilot and aircraft captain we had either of us flown with. we will spare your blushes but we really mean that”

After his tour of duty he was posted for instructor’s duties at Westcott, Bucks. Life was only marginally less perilous. The training aircraft were grossly underpowered [inserted] and worn out [/inserted] and on several occasions he found himself looking up at the trees while some hapless trainee pilot struggled to clear a hill. There were no dual controls. He was eventually promoted to Squadron Leader to command an instructor’s flight at Turweston having been categorised A2. This was rarely awarded and was the highest grade obtainable in wartime.

In March 1944 his beloved mother died which was a severe blow. Fortunately a month or so later he met our mother. They were married the following December and spent 5 happy months together before another blow struck. Whilst the rest of the country was celebrating VE day our parents spent what they later described as the saddest day of their lives. Father had been posted as a staff officer to the advance party of Tiger Force being formed to set up a Bomber Command presence on Okinawa to bomb mainland Japan. This meant almost certain death. He was not allowed to tell our mother where he was going., although she was already pregnant with my sister Jennifer, They said a profoundly sad farewell and father left for his tour of duty. He embarked from Liverpool and had got as far as Hawaii when he learned that the atom bomb had been dropped. As Father says, his feelings and those of his fellow officers were mixed. They were horrified that science had reached this far but grateful that their lives and about 2 million others had been saved.

He ended up in Hong Kong just after the Navy had arrived. From the Peninsular Hotel, his job was, as he said, running a cross between an information centre and a command post. Later with a few books sent from England by our mother [deleted] and [/undeleted] he

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started to study to be a Chartered Accountant. On his way home in July 1946 on arrival at Liverpool by ship he was summoned to cabin X where he was greeted by an Air Marshal who was there specifically to offer him a permanent commission. Father declined – He wasn’t going to be a Yes man, he remembered his mid-air collision and he never wanted to fly in a military aircraft again-he never did.

After two very difficult years with nowhere proper to live and no money, in 1948 he and my mother moved to Paragon, Blackheath where my sister Sylvia and I were born and father qualified as a Chartered Accountant. Any money they did have was spent on Bespoke suits and handmade shirts. He gained a reputation for being one of the best dressed men in the city….[deleted] with the white handkerchief slightly protruding from the sleeve. [/undeleted]

Accountancy is a profession which sometimes, quite erroneously, receives a bad press for being rather uninspiring. Father ensured that the opposite was the case. He acquired clients in Paris, Belgium Switzerland Germany and particularly Italy which he always adored. Frequently he went way beyond the call of duty helping Italian clients find homes and schools for their children when they needed them and giving help and advice on a great many issues outside accountancy. Several of them became firm friends and my parent’s trips to Florence and Venice were very happy occasions when they were received with open arms and wonderful hospitality by their Italian friends. On one occasion after lunch with some friends in Milan they visited a rather ruined church,. An important feature that was being restored was The Last Supper by Leonado da Vinci. [sic] He never let on but told me later that he took consolation from the fact that he had given a fair number of skilled craftsmen work for the last 30 years.

Other clients came from the world of theatre and music. During the 1950s, Father’s firm, Limebeer & Co. took over a small practice specialising in musical clients including Yehudi Menuhin. As father put it “we soon became good friends and I was able to help him become resident here without his being made bankrupt by our tax laws.” Once Menuhin had taken up residence in Highgate, he enlisted the help of Father as one of the key members in the setting up of the Menuhin School – a huge task but greatly helped by the appointment of an excellent secretary Monica Langford. Father was absolutely delighted that many years later when his eldest grandson married Monica’s granddaughter. Although unable to play or sing a note himself, Father’s love of music was profound. He was Vice President of the Menuhin school from 1989 onwards and from 1977-90 a governor of Live Music Now.

In 1963 he and my mother decided to buy a country cottage in Kent for Summer use. They saw Court Lodge and immediately decided this was where they wanted to spend the rest of their lives.. It was a huge undertaking both financially and physically. The Paragon flat was sold and the family moved down in January 1964 and camped for many months in a series of cold, damp, cheerless rooms with a total lack of any modern amenities while the house was gradually transformed into a lovely family home.. Father entered into the swing of local life with a passion while continuing to pursue a full and active life in the City. He was Chairman of Westwell Parish Council from 1976-9 and in 1980 became Chairman of Ashford Conservative Association and later South East England Treasurer. He was a terrific help and wise sage to the then MP Keith Speed the Navy Minister at the time of difficult Defence Cuts just before the Falklands War. For Political and Public Service in [missing word] he was awarded the OBE Back in 1963 he joined the Worshipful Company of Woolmen. In 1982 he was installed as Master and his ladies’ night banquet in the Goldsmith’s hall, he was able to point out in his address the Westwell silver-gilt flagons, now an important part of the Goldsmith’s treasures. These had been lying in a bank vault unused and grossly

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underinsured while the roof of this beautiful church was in real danger of collapse. After a huge battle with the church commissioners and the ecclesiastical authorities the pots were bought by the Goldsmith’s Company. Both my parents were extremely proud of the part they had been able to play in facilitating their sale and thus the restoration and saving of this magnificent church.

He had deep love of the countryside. His membership of 2 local shoots involved him in feeding and raising game as much as shooting, and in later years unable to carry a gun safely he thoroughly enjoyed accompanying the shoot just for the walk. Many of the beautiful trees in the Court Lodge garden and orchard were planted by him and he painstakingly built the paved garden commonly known as Arthur’s Folly. and rebuilt significant parts of the Church wall. He also spent many a happy hour in the early days of Court Lodge “millponding” as he called it when up to his knees in mud he and my long suffering brother-in law Maurice tried desperately to keep the millpond free of the mud and weeds that were then threatening to overwhelm it. This was followed by the era of Bloodhounds and the Alvis which were much loved……and the Peacocks…for which, to the whole village, we would like to apologise. Father was always a glass half full man – the Oyster Boys in particular will know what I mean by this. When the cruel ravages of an early bout of polio started to take their toll on our mother, he remained completely undaunted and as cheerful and determined to enjoy life as ever. By then well into his 70s, he would strap the wheel chair onto the back of his car and with the walker on the roof he and our mother would sally forth for a fortnight’s holiday accompanied by our blind sister, an elderly cousin and a mountain of luggage in the boot to explore the continent as they ate their way through some of the better restaurants in Europe. Into his eighties He and mother would also think nothing of joining his Brother Gerald and our Aunt Audrey on their Narrow boat for a holiday to check the suitable canal hostelries, were up to standard.

In 2009 he suffered a stroke but thanks to the superhuman efforts of our mother to get him to hospital on time and his own grit and determination afterwards, he made a full recovery. Our mother’s death in January 2010 shortly after their 65th wedding anniversary was a cruel blow but of course he put a good face on things and continued to live a full life at Court Lodge. He made frequent trips to London to visit friends and family He continued to entertain at home with impeccably cooked meals served as always, in full style in the dining room. Unfortunately the word “sensible” was not part of Father’s vocabulary. When quite alone in the house he continued to stagger up into the attic to find a suitcase or down a flight of the precariously lit and uneven stairs of the cellar to find a bottle of wine or two for impending guests. Only weeks before he died he had driven to the Isle of Wight, had driven to see Sylvia in Crowborough and was with difficulty prevented from driving down through France to stay with Jennifer. The happiest years of Father’s life were undoubtedly spent here in Westwell and he was deeply touched by the love and care shown him by its residents – particularly during these last few years. He was very touched by the deluge of cards he received following a short headline in the August edition of the Westwell Eye last year Happy 90th Birthday to Arthur Hollis and he was deeply honoured to be asked to light the Westwell beacon during the [deleted] Silver [/deleted] [inserted] Golden [/inserted] Jubilee celebrations last year.

A few years ago I asked him what had been the driving force behind his ambition to succeed and he told me that as a boy and teenager he had seen his parents struggle, through no fault of their own, yet he saw his wealthy cousins living in Chislehurst wanting for nothing. He was determined to succeed for his family and he did, we

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Have recently discovered that he also made generous donations to a fund at Dulwich College specifically to help boys whose parents could no longer afford the fees.

Arthur, Gramparfur, Father, Thank you. You died exactly as you would have wished – peacefully in your sleep in your own house in the village you adored.

And as you take off for the last time,…. Keep climbing…… fly well……, and at your final destination you know who is waiting for you.

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Citation

“Thanksgiving address for the life of Arthur Norman Hollis OBE, DFC,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed December 6, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/17049.

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