Memoir by Arthur Hollis



Memoir by Arthur Hollis


Second page has colour photograph of Arthur Hollis, wearing blazer with medals, standing in a field at an event. Narrative covers early life in Hornchurch and Carshalton including schooling and hospital admissions. Writes of Dulwich College studies and sport. Mentions visit to Paris. Career as chartered accountant. Joined local defence volunteers in 1940. On 18th birthday decided to apply for pilot training. Covers training in Manchester and the United States. Life in the States and training on PT-17, Vultee BT 13-A and Harvard. Describes subsequent training in Canada, journey back to United Kingdom and training on Oxfords and Wellington. Goes on with conversion to Lancaster, posting to 50 Squadron and describes life and operations. Instructor tour follows and goes on to describe meeting future wife and subsequent career in RAF including posting to Tiger Force and trip to Hong Kong and subsequent activities. Finishes with post war career and activities.




Fifteen page printed document with one colour photograph


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A Memoir
Arthur Hollis
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[photograph of Arthur Hollis]
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A Memoir by Arthur Hollis
I was born in Highgate, North London, on 11th August 1922. My parents who had married a year earlier had an apartment there.
In 1924 they moved into a new bungalow near Hornchurch in Essex. It was all very rural then. We had gas for lighting and mainly coal for heating but no electricity. A special treat for me was to be taken down the lane to a forge to watch the horses being shod. At the age of four or thereabouts I was sent to a local "dames" school. It was mainly girls but there were a few boys. I didn't like it as the boys were not particularly favoured. I did have one little girl friend, Tina Branston. We were inseparable for years - in fact until my parents moved from the area around my eighth birthday. Tina was the penultimate child of a large family; the eldest was 22 years old and taught at the school. I was reproved by my mother for calling her "Christine" as, of course, all her family did. I was told very firmly "Miss Branston to you". Such were the manners of those days. Tina and I did have a favourite pastime which was to get into the long grass to explore in detail the differences between boys and girls. I thus had a very good early education between the ages of 6 and 7. I could also read, write and recite the multiplication tables up to number 12.
Events which took place during our stay in Hornchurch were the births of my brother Gerald and sister Rosemary. On each occasion I was sent off to Dover to stay with Grandpa Leigh (mother's father) and Aunt Mary who house kept for him. I loved my stays there in an old house in the lovely old town it was then and I was "spoilt rotten"
A great day at Hornchurch was when my mother was given a wireless - an old set which was operated by batteries. In the evenings we used to sit "listening in" with headphones over our ears.
As I have already recalled during the summer of 1930 my parents decided to move. The Ford motor factory had just come to Dagenham and the whole area was changing. They bought a house in Carshalton Surrey. The move took place during August. My parents chose a school for me to go to, more on the basis that I could walk there taking Gerald with me than for its academic attractions. It was an awful place and taught me very little. Anyway in the course of events I would have moved to a local secondary school at the age of 9 or 10.
My principal activity outside school was in the Cubs. By the time I left, when I went to Dulwich, I was a Sixer (platoon sergeant) with an arm full of badges indicating my ability to boil an egg or sew on a button or swim a length.
As mentioned later I was at the age of 8 in hospital for a mastoid operation. Shortly after discharge I was back in hospital again for a few days having gashed my leg very badly while riding another boy's bicycle. My parents thought things might be safer were I to have my own bicycle. For my 9th birthday I was taken to the then cycle manufacturer James and Co. in Holborn and bought a simple bicycle. This made a huge difference to my life. Apart from a few main roads which were taboo, I was free to cycle all over the district and beyond. It gave a great sense of freedom. Before my 12th birthday the bicycle was passed to Gerald and I was given a larger machine - a Raleigh with hub brakes and a three speed gear - a veritable Rolls Royce. For years thereafter Rodney Dove and I used to cycle frequently together all over Surrey and on some days would get to the south coast and back. When I was about 14½ years old I cycled alone down to Dover to stay with Grandpa Leigh. It was useful to have a bicycle there as another school friend (one "Clod" Jarvis) was in the Dover district at the same time
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and we were able to spend time together. I have used the word "Clod" as that was his nickname. He went to Rhodesia after leaving school and we wrote to each other rather infrequently. I found it difficult to write to an elderly gentleman as "My dear Clod" but I found out only from his widow that his name was Alan.
In 1932 my mother received a legacy from the estate of a widower uncle, Harry Webb, which amounted to about £2000. This gave my parents the background capital which was a financial protection for them. The plans for me were that I was to go to Dulwich College at the age of 11. Shortly after my 10th birthday I sat the Entrance Exam but was found to be weak in all subjects. I was immediately removed from the awful school mentioned above and sent to Wallington High School as I was now deemed old enough to cycle or take a bus. I flourished there under the headmaster who was an excellent teacher and determined that I should pass the Dulwich Entrance Exam next summer. I responded well and happily worked hard for and passed the exam.
In September 1933 I started in the 2nd form at Dulwich. It was hard going. Most of my contemporaries were there on scholarships from the London, Surrey or Kent County Councils and were therefore a pretty bright bunch. I was rather idle for the first few terms and content to coast along halfway up the form. When my time came to go into the Upper 3rd I was put into "Treddy's" form. Mr Treadgold is a legend to many Old Alleynians as a very strict task master. Personally, I respected and liked him. Whether through fear or dislike of failure I soon learned that by working hard I could be amongst the first few in the form. This stood me in very good stead later on.
I have jumped about slightly and could have mentioned that in the summer term of 1935 I was persuaded by my great school friend Rodney Dove, who was a very good swimmer, that we should try for a quarter mile standard medal (under 10 minutes for a bronze and under 7½ mins for silver). We both got a bronze, I in 9 min 7 seconds and he in under 9 mins. Not bad as we were both about 13 years of age. Rodney was an exceptionally strong swimmer. This may have contributed some years on in 1942 to his being picked, as an RNVR sub lieutenant, to carry out the horrendous task of riding a "human torpedo" and putting an explosive charge under an Italian troop ship. He did this and received a well earned DSO but was a prisoner of war until 1945. He was also a good boxer and we used to box together a lot when we were about 11 or 12. I later went on to become the Dulwich Middleweight Champion in 1939.
My mother spoke fluent French having spent some months at the age of 16 living with a French family. Between the two wars my mother's married brothers, Norman and Jack, lived and worked in Paris. Both had French wives. My parents visited them for Easter 1936 and took me with them. I had a tourist's view of Paris. During September 1937 I was kindly allowed to visit them for a fortnight on my own and spent many hours in the International Exhibition then on there as well as wandering on foot around Paris and Versailles.
I tend to be rather cynical when I hear someone say ''the best days of my life were at school." My reply is apt to be ''what a dull life." Nevertheless I did enjoy my years at Dulwich. I had many friends, some of them lifelong I was very sad when in the spring of 1939 my father said "I think that you have achieved most worthwhile things at Dulwich. I think that you should leave now and I will help you to become a Chartered Accountant." He was probably right and I was grateful. I had sat under some excellent mentors. I had obtained credits in all subjects in school certificate. I had obtained rugger and boxing colours. I was a corporal in the OTC with Cert "A". I was Form Captain and had been so on previous occasions. There was not much more that mattered to do. The Master (i.e. the Headmaster) was rather upset at my going but that was natural.
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So in early May I reported to the offices of Legg and Smith Chartered Accountants in the City of London. There were about five other Articled Clerks several years older than I was. My immediate senior Donald Draper became a life long friend. As junior I was given only rather menial jobs to do and I was rather bored but when war broke out four months later the managing clerk and myself were the only staff left, all the others being mobilized in various territorial units. My Principal, J.F. Legg said to me "You have rather quick promotion. I will give you any help you need." I had eighteen months very hard but rewarding work ahead of me.
One could not have had a more excellent man to work for than J.F. Legg. He was a friend of my father, they both having been soldiers in the 1 st battalion of the London Rifle Brigade when it went to France in 1914.
Unfortunately during the May of 1940 I suffered a burst appendix and was in the War Memorial Hospital at Carshalton for some weeks. This was a very serious condition at that time as there were no antibiotics although I think I did have penicillin when I had rather a relapse after three weeks.
I had had a four week stay in the same hospital when I was 8 years old having a mastoid operation, again very serious. During my stay there I was very sad to be told that Tina Branston had died of meningitis. That, together with scarlet fever and TB, were killers of children on quite a large scale. I mention these rather grisly facts to record how medical science has made great strides during my lifetime.
As soon as I was well enough after discharge from hospital I joined the LDV (Local Defence Volunteers) when invasion by the Germans looked a probability. A parade looked like the Peasants' Revolt - no uniforms, no arms (apart from the odd shotgun or pitch fork). Afterwards as arms became available from the USA the Home Guard replaced the LDV. Although we all enjoy a good laugh at Dad's Army it was generally more efficient than that. There was not much time between the two wars. Men who had fought in the trenches were still only in their early forties; they could shoot fast and straight. There would have been a lot of dead Germans had invasion been attempted. I was made a corporal probably on the strength of having Cert A from the OTC. About this time I embarked upon my life of crime. I was cycling on Home Guard Duty without front or rear lights when a special constable loomed out of the blackout and charged me. I had to go before the local magistrate. I made an impassioned plea and thought I had won when he said "Very dangerous, Mr Hollis, pay ten shillings." A severe punishment - it was a week's allowance.
After my 18th birthday in August 1940 I felt eligible to join one of he [sic] services. Not the Army or the Navy as I was too young to be considered for combat duty and I decided therefore to go for pilot training in the RAF. I mentioned this to JF (as Legg was known). He was very sympathetic having himself risen to the rank of Lt. Col. in the 1914-18 war but he asked if I would defer for a few months to allow others to catch up with me for work in the firm. I agreed and volunteered my services to the RAF early in 1941.
The RAF had rather a bottleneck of potential pilots at that time and for a start I was sent on a 6 month course at Manchester University to study such subjects as higher mathematics, mechanics, meteorology, air navigation etc. I arrived at Hulme Hall, Manchester in early April 1941 and found myself with about 20 other RAF cadets. We were a happy bunch who helped each other along. Some were more advanced than others in various subjects. I do remember our being always hungry. Although the food in Hulme Hall was well cooked and wholesome, the whole country was now severely rationed and we were very lacking in meat and fats. We used
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to meet in each others rooms of an evening and make toast; a small amount of butter and plenty of jam was produced.
After leave in September we were ranked as LACs with white flashes in our caps to indicate air crew in training and mustered for a sea trip to the USA to be taught to fly. We sailed from Avonmouth at the beginning of November in a 7000 ton ship which in previous days had done the New Zealand meat voyages. We were now the carcasses. The North Atlantic in November is a cruel place. We had an escort of naval corvettes for the first part of the voyage but one could seldom see them as the poor devils spent much of their time half under water. We were in hammocks close slung together and as most people were sick, the nights were very unpleasant. I volunteered to fetch food from the kitchen to mess table, partly because I was the only one interested in eating anything and the kitchen was warm and fairly close to the centre of the ship thus having the least movement. It was a great relief to reach Halifax, Nova Scotia. I shall always remember that first breakfast on shore. Plenty of eggs and bacon etc. etc.- things then unknown in the shortages of the UK. Life was not very comfortable in this staging station where we stayed for three weeks. It was December, the outside temperature was -20c., the huts were grossly overheated by primitive coal stoves and the latrines outside in the open air were very primitive.
After about three weeks we boarded the first of several trains on our journey to Florida. A most interesting journey. In three days we passed from the snow covered land of eastern Canada to the semi-tropical atmosphere of Florida.
The RAF station of modem comfortable huts around a parade ground and a swimming pool was just south of Lake Okeechobee (Fort Myers 70 miles west on the Gulf of Mexico, Miami 100 miles south east on the Atlantic). After the sun went down the insects on the screens to our living quarters had to be seen to be believed. Four engined mosquitoes. We slept under nets. The station was run by three RAF officers. The flying and ground instructors were American civilians. The flying instructors were good, the ground instructors were useless. If we were to pass the written wings exam we should need to study our manuals very resolutely.
After a day or so of settling in, we were paraded and inspected by the CO Wing Commander Kenneth Rampling. He appointed me as Course Commander. I was made an acting corporal (unpaid) and had general responsibility for the behaviour of the Flight (about 50 cadets). There were four Flights in the school at one time. As one passed out another one arrived. We trained on the PT 17 which was the primary trainer of the US Army Air Corps - like a Tiger Moth but rather more solid. After about eight hours in the air, most of us went solo. Thereafter the training continued until the mid-term ten days leave. People went various ways. Some adventurous chaps got as far north as New York. I preferred to stay with a couple of fellow cadets, Peter Cowell and "Flossie" Redman on the Gulf of Mexico coast. We ended up at the home of three elderly ladies who had befriended us. I have since renamed them "The Golden Girls". I have also since been told that one of them took "a particular shine to me". - the opportunities one misses in life!
After leave we went onto the Vultee BT13A - a monoplane, and after a further short leave, onto the Harvard, at that time the fighter aircraft of the Army Air Corps - just as well they didn't have to fight the Battle of Britain although the Harvard was a very nice aircraft to fly. At the end of that course we took the Wings exam and qualified. On the evening before the Wings Parade I, together with my two section leaders, was invited by the three officers to a celebration at the Clewiston Inn where they stayed. What a night. I arrived back at camp wearing the C.O.'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
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correct. Sir." He said "Christ you look 'orrible" to which I replied "not 'alf as 'orrible 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.
We were at that time officially sergeants although a number of us were expecting to be commissioned officers once we got to Canada. We set off on an evening train. After three days of various stops and changes, including several hours in New York, we arrived at Moncton, New Brunswick, from where we had set off the previous winter.
Life was better. I was now a Pilot Officer. I met up again with other friends of the horrible voyage out. They were now fellow officers, some of them destined for distinction such as Bill Reid V.C.
After several weeks wait at Moncton, we boarded a train for New York where we went aboard the Aorangi, the ship which was to take us back to UK. This had a maximum speed of about 15 knots. I have since learned that it was the worst month of U Boat sinkings. We were nevertheless oblivious of this and had a happy voyage. As we neared UK shores the Americans on board, feeling that they were entering a war zone, mounted machine guns around the deck rails. After they had nearly shot down a Spitfire, which was foolish enough to come too close, we RAF officers were detailed to stand by the guns telling them when not to open fire.
We landed at Greenock, the port of Glasgow, and boarded a special train which took us all the way to Bournemouth where we spent two or three weeks getting uniforms, having medical and dental checks, several days leave etc.
I was then posted to Little Rissington in the Cotswolds to fly Oxfords, twin engined machines, so as to practice map reading (much more difficult than in USA) and to prepare for the larger machines of Bomber Command. After several weeks I was posted to a Wellington OTU at North Luffenham, Rutlandshire where I crewed up with FO Dick Palmer (navigator), Sgts Ted Kemp (bomb aimer), Tom Cheshire (wireless operator) and "Jock" Walker (rear gunner). We started working together on cross country flights, range bombing etc. It was all rather dangerous; a number did not finish the course. When we stepped out at night there was generally a blaze indicating that Cottesmore, our neighbouring station, was flying. As opposed to the Wellington Mark Ills which we had, they had only MKICs which I had later to discover by experience were underpowered. I had one or two near scrapes. I was a pupil one night with others when the aircraft flown by another pupil went out of control. It was righted by the instructor who then "bailed out" the remainder of the personnel. I had my parachute incorrectly fastened so that when I jumped the harness would have gone straight up over my head. Fortunately it caught on the edge of my flying jacket, giving me just enough time to grab hold of it so that I could come down holding it by hand and I slipped it off on landing. As I lay on the ground sweating somewhat, although it was a cold dark December evening, I heard a voice "Don't shoot Dad ! It may be one of ours". I yelled "Don't shoot I am one of yours!" Soon afterwards I was before the fire of a Fenland labourer's cottage being restored with cups of tea. I should have liked something somewhat stronger! Soon I was pleased to learn that all had landed safely. I still have the flying jacket with the small tear in it that saved my life.
The last exercise at the OTU was to fly over enemy territory. I set out with three other aircraft to drop leaflets over Nancy one night. There was a massive cold front over the English Channel with dangerous cumulonimbus clouds. Two older more experienced pilots turned back. I pressed on but as there are dramatic wind changes on the other side of a cold front, it is unlikely that our leaflets went anywhere near Nancy. After a rather eventful return I landed at base. The fourth aircraft was missing. I will just elaborate on the words "eventful return". The whole of our journey there and back over France was over cloud. When I judged on our return
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journey that we had reached the English Channel or the low lying land over northern France I ventured to break cloud. I was then able to see what I thought to be the Cherbourg Peninsular. It was in fact the English coast, probably near the Isle of Wight. Feeling now completely lost I called May Day (the SOS signal). Immediately what appeared to be every searchlight in England lit up and waved me towards North Luffenham. I was so impressed that I forgot to cancel "May Day". I duly landed to be met by a very irate Wing Commander (Chief Flying Instructor).
We next moved on to Swinderby, Lincolnshire to convert on to Lancasters. There I collected two more crew, Sgts Bob Yates (mid upper gunner) and Don Adshead (flight engineer). The only incident there was a fire in an engine on a night cross country flight. The curious thing was that there were no visible signs although the engine was burnt out. Another lucky escape.
On finishing the conversion course we were posted to 50 Squadron at Skellingthorpe, very close to Lincoln.
I have heard since the war from Tom Cheshire (wireless operator) and quite recently from Bob Yates (mid upper gunner). Both son with wife and grandson of Bob Yates have been to Westwell to see me. Letters are in my Log Book.
Our tour of operations was mainly spent in what was afterwards known as the Battle of the Ruhr.
The Ruhr area, although separate towns, constituted the German industrial area and was therefore very heavily defended. Its one consolation to us was that it was reasonably near (large bomb load, small fuel load). I hated the place. Late in our tour I was badly shot up over Essen, the main town. This is recorded in the citation for my DFC and written up in the Daily Telegraph. I'm told that it is also on the internet. Earlier in the tour I had about six feet of wing cut off over the Dutch coast and had to make my only early return. In order to achieve the maximum concentration of aircraft over the target, the practice was to congregate together over the Dutch coast and then move on to enemy territory. As it was very dangerous from the collision point of view to have so many aircraft circling around, the instruction was if one was early to do a "dog leg" so as to arrive at the rendezvous at exactly the right time but not before. One aircraft, I think flown by a Wing Commander no less, did not follow the instruction to "dog leg" but was circling with disastrous results for my wing and our morale. I could just about hold the aircraft in the air back to base.
We also carried out raids on the U boat pens at St Nazaire (rather useless as the concrete was too strong for the bombs then carried), Berlin, Pilzen, Hamburg etc. An interesting trip was with a special force chosen to bomb Friedrichshafen where special radar spare parts were stored. As it was then mid-summer, there was not enough darkness to return to the UK. We therefore went on over the Med to North Africa. The personal map which I marked up and tucked into my flying boot is in my log book.
The last trip of my tour was to Milan. Italian targets were regarded as fairly soft. My 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 at another Station to be available and took me personally in his staff car to that Station .. My crew were taken there by bus. There was at that time an accusation going around that crews were bombing short. I maintained that the aircraft cameras which were meant to record where the bombs landed were wrongly set. I therefore arranged with Ted Kemp that when the target came into his bomb sight he would give me a sign. I would count to ten and then call Bomb. We brought back an aiming point photograph. Many years later Bun and I were lunching with some Italian friends in Milan.
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After lunch we were taken for a walk and visited a rather ruined church which had been bombed in August 1943. An important feature which was being repaired consisted of a mural of The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. As we were going home, I said to Bun "Guess who destroyed the Last Supper?" Shortly after August 1943, the Italians withdrew from the war. I think that the destruction of a religious artefact was too much for them! I recently told the story to an artist friend who remarked dryly that the bomb damage was not half as serious as the damage inflicted by the subsequent garish and overdone restoration.
I was then posted for instructor's duties to an OTU at Westcott, Bucks. I felt it was rather like leaving the Brigade of Guards for the Ordnance Corps but there was no choice. Most of the instructors were New Zealanders - a very jolly bunch of chaps. My immediate senior and Flight Commander was one Squadron Leader Fraser Barron DSO DFC DCM., a New Zealander.
He ranked at the age of 21 as a Pathfinder ace and was killed next year as a Group Captain, the immediate successor to Kenneth Rampling mentioned earlier in this narrative.
I also mentioned earlier the underpowered Wellington Ic. Westcott and its satellite station Oakley had Ics. I was sitting one night in the instructor's seat next to an Australian pupil pilot who was doing a cross country exercise. On returning he made rather a mess of the landing approach and I said "Go round again." Immediately ahead of the main runway at Oakley was Brill Hill. 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 3000 ft and we will change seats". The aircraft used for cross country flying at Oakley had no duel controls.
The autumn and winter continued. During March 1944 I had a message that my dear mother needed a surgical operation for kidney disease. I got compassionate leave and spent a week visiting her and we had nice talks. Alas, the other kidney, which had been expected to pick up and do the work of two, did not do so. She died within a few days. It was a severe blow to the family and her many friends as she was much respected and loved.
In the late spring of that year I had the great good fortune to meet Betty Edmunds, one of the staff in the watch tower at Oakley. I was OC 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 a ball I was completely unnerved and my mind was not on tennis. On her days off, if I was on leave, we met for a day in London. We also visited Cambridge on one or two occasions to see my brother Gerald who was spending two terms at Jesus College prior to National Service. In early September we got engaged. I said at the time " I suppose we ought to wait until the end of the war to get married.". She said" Oh do you? I was thinking about this coming 2nd December". And thus it was. We had a very quiet wedding as most young people were away on active service and anyway catering was very difficult to arrange. But it was a very happy day and we set off by train for honeymoon in Torquay.
We already knew that we both wanted children. Betty wanted four. I thought this might be rather too many to educate properly. Thinking about things over the years and knowing my darling Betty's quiet way of getting what she wanted, I think she had made up her mind to start our family on her honeymoon. I had no hesitation in helping.
After returning to duty, we used to cycle into Thame to spend the night at a hotel. This is rather an exaggeration; they were mainly rooms over bars in pubs. The beds were generally
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rather primitive and rattled terribly. I often wondered why the bar conversation would suddenly cease. We spent Christmas with Betty's parents at The Bull in Aylesbury.
At New Year there was an officers' dance at Oakley. As Betty was only a Sergeant she had to get her CO's permission to attend. 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 as the signs were that Betty was pregnant and would therefore automatically leave the WAAF.
I have raced ahead and not mentioned that throughout our engagement we frequently spent nights with our friends Steve and Sylvia Hogben in their caravan. Betty slept on one of the narrow beds and I slept beside her on the floor. She had a firm intention, which I respected, of going to her wedding a virgin. I mention this as most young people these days would consider such conduct rather strange.
About two days into New Year I was telephoned by Group that I was promoted to Squadron Leader and was to command an instructor's flight at Turweston (Northants) satellite of Silverstone (now a racing track). I had 2 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. At about the same time Betty was posted to Upper Heyford. Still in the same Group but quite far apart. Anyway news reached me that Betty was in hospital at Stoke Mandeville. She was suffering from the family weakness of cystitis which combined with the pregnancy and being generally run down made her quite unfit for RAF duty. After about a fortnight she returned to Upper Heyford to be discharged from service. I had previously phoned up the senior medical officer at Upper Heyford, explained the situation and told him rather emphatically that I didn't want her having to wander round the Station getting clearance chits which was the usual procedure. She told me afterwards that she got out remarkably quickly. She went to stay with her parents. Meanwhile I was searching for somewhere near Turweston for us to live together. A hard task. Any sort of accommodation was very difficult to find. Fortunately a Flight Lieutenant was posted and offered me his billet which consisted of 2 rooms with facilities in a council house in Brackley.
The tenants of the council house, Mr and Mrs Blackwell, made us very welcome and were pleased to accept some rent. I had at that time Sue, a miniature bull terrier bitch, a 21st birthday present from cousins Harold and Vi Fuller-Clark. When I was posted overseas as I later record, I was in some quandary as to what to do with Sue. Betty and I decided that we would give her to the Blackwells. They were delighted to have her and gave her a very happy life. Nearly every Christmas thereafter we were sent a photograph of Mrs. Blackwell with Sue. There was a strong resemblance but Mrs Blackwell was always the one wearing the hat.
After only four happy months at Turweston I was telephoned by Group to say that that I was posted as a staff officer to the advance party of Tiger Force then being formed to set up a Bomber Command on Okinawa. I was to proceed as quickly as possible to the assembly point which was a dreary RAF equipment storage station in Staffordshire. Having said a profoundly sad farewell to my beloved pregnant wife I proceeded there on VE day. The saddest day of my life as there was a strong risk that we would not see each other again. Events changed that somewhat as it became apparent that British Forces were not wanted in the Pacific by the Americans although Winston C was determined that we should go. I had a series of embarkation leaves and I finally sailed during early July.
During our stay at Turweston I was sent for a month to the Advanced Administration Course at Hereford. Betty came to visit me over a long week-end. We attended the Easter Sunday service
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at Hereford Cathedral. I was informed during the service that "the Widger'' (later named Jennifer) had quickened. I don't whether anything is to be read into that.
The ship that was to take me to Okinawa was the "Empress of Australia", a 25000 ton ship with four funnels. It had been the Kaiser's yacht (quite a yacht) until it was taken over by the British in 1919. Apparently our route was to be across the Atlantic, through the Panama Canal across the Pacific and then on to Okinawa. We set forth from Liverpool.
The weather got warmer and warmer. As we neared the West indies we were amused by dolphins playing alongside in the bow wave. A wait for a day or so in the mouth of the canal and we then had the wonderful experience of passing through it. Fabulous locks and tropical birds of many colours flying alongside. For about two weeks we crossed the Pacific to Hawaii where we docked and were allowed shore visits over two or three days. Wonderful swimming and we were well entertained by the local residents. I was flirted with and mildly seduced by a beautiful young woman in the presence of her husband and boyfriend. I should put it the other way round as the boyfriend was clearly the favoured one. How one envied him.
While we were in Hawaii the atom bomb was dropped. I remember the mixed feelings with which I discussed the situation with my fellow officers. We were horrified that science had reached this far but grateful that our lives and probably about two million others had been saved.
What was to be done with us? There was a shipful [sic] of about 3000 craftsmen, builders, medical units, air sea rescue units etc. Surely we must be useful somewhere. After a certain amount of cruising around with a shore stop at the Admiralty Islands we went through a formidable storm to Hong Kong.
At Hawaii something must have got into the ship's drinking water. The whole ship's company was smitten with sickness and nausea. I went round to see the senior medical officer and said "Can't you do something?" He replied "Hollis, old boy, you'd better have some of my pink stuff-this is what I am giving out today but it won't do you any good."
We docked in Hong Kong a day or so after the British Pacific Fleet. They were very pleased to see us. They had declared martial law and were trying to stop the Chinese from looting the place. Headquarters had been set up in the Peninsular Hotel on the mainland side of Hong Kong. The original colony is on Victoria Island reached by Ferry. I had an office on the ground floor of the Peninsular Hotel. It was a cross between an information centre and a command post. I had a constant queue of ex civilian internees wanting a passage back to UK, Australia etc. , Japanese officers fully armed who with their discipline were being sent for guard duties etc etc. 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.
After about a fortnight things became rather more normal. Marine Commandos arrived from Burma as did elderly colonial administrators from UK, the latter dressed in Colonel's uniform straight from Moss Bros. And I moved over to a newly formed RAF Headquarters on Victoria Island which at that time had a small provincial town atmosphere. There was Government House, the Cathedral, the cricket pitch and, of course, the statue of Queen Victoria and, about two miles away, the race course. At about this time I had word from the UK that I had a baby daughter and that Betty and she were both well. I think that a signal had been most kindly arranged by my father-in-law, Chase Edmunds, who had important contacts in maritime circles.
The air journey Hong Kong/UK was six days. One went by Dakota. The route leaving Hong Kong was Kung Ming then "over the hump" to Karachi -Aden-Cyprus-Rome-UK.
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Although distressed to be deprived of my loved ones, one could not have been in a better place than Hong Kong at that time. The weather was perfect between the great heat of summer and the murkier weather of winter. In winter it does not get very cold.
Although we wore normal blue as opposed to tropical kit, I swam in the sea on New Year's day. I was alone. There were few non Chinese apart from the forces. We had all the transport. A jeep was always available to me. We virtually owned Hong Kong. As Org1 (as I was in RAF language) I was involved in accommodation for growing numbers of RAF personnel. This involved a small amount of requisitioning but I did this distasteful task with great sympathy towards the Chinese population , a number of whom became good friends. I was invited to dine on several occasions with one H.S. Mok who was a fellow Old Alleynian . I was also involved in conducting Courts of Enquiry on various matters. A difficult job as the Chinese coolie always gave as evidence any story that came into his head. I also sat on a number of Courts Martial, being sometimes president, During my stay in Hong Kong both brother Gerald and cousin Dan Hollis arrived at different times on HM ships. We were able to see quite a lot of each other.
I had earlier put my name down for a permanent commission in the RAF. After my marriage Bun and I decided that this was not a good idea and the intention was that I would revert to the original plan of being a Chartered Accountant. Bun sent me out some books and I started to study - not very hard as the social life was too good.
In July 1946 my turn came to be demobilised. I set course for home first by taking a passage in one of HM ships to Singapore. After a pleasant three weeks there I got a place on the Empress of Australia (by a strange coincidence) and set course for the UK. I arrived in Liverpool one wet afternoon. The ship's tannoy went requiring the presence of Squadron Leader Hollis in cabin X. I proceeded thence and was greeted by an Air Marshal who was there for the purpose of offering me a permanent commission. I have always been pleased that I didn't accept. There were severe service cuts a few years later and I have had an interesting life.
I arrived home to Carshalton Beeches where Betty and Jennifer were. My first memories of Jennifer were of a nappied bottom hastily disappearing under the bed - no doubt to avoid the strange man who had suddenly appeared ..
After a short holiday period I had to get down to work. The final exam to become a Chartered Accountant was a formidable hurdle. We had no home but were offered a flat in Dover. Betty and Jennifer lived there and I went there at week-ends. I spent the week getting more practical experience with Legg London (as my original firm had become) or staying with my father to study. I had the right atmosphere for this as my father liked silence. All very well but for poor Betty it was a lonely life. After some months we received an offer to share a house with some cousins of Betty in Westcliff-on-Sea in Essex. At least we could be together although we disliked the area.
In summer 1948 three events almost coincided: we moved into a flat in the Paragon Blackheath where we spent fifteen happy years, I passed the final exam and became a Chartered Accountant and Sylvia was conceived. Our joy at the last happening was tempered by the fact that Betty had five months of very intense pregnancy sickness. At about the end of this time she contracted measles. As a result Sylvia was born very prematurely and her life was only saved by being put into neat oxygen. It was discovered a short while later that neat oxygen destroyed the retinas of premature babies. Thereafter the oxygen was mixed with air but too late to avoid Sylvia's blindness.
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After some months I joined the firm of Hugh Limebeer as an assistant with partnership prospects. It was an interesting firm. After some weeks I was engaged on an audit in Paris and in the summer of 1950 I was asked to spend some months with a client in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The British had been a powerful force in the Middle East until about that time; shortly after my visit it was to change. I flew first to Paris, thence to Cairo where I was well entertained by representatives of the client. Lunch at Shepherds, a visit to the Pyramids, then tea and dinner before I boarded an Aden Airways Dakota to Jeddah.
Jeddah was then a very primitive town. I felt myself back in the Old Testament. Through the initiative of the client I was visiting, ducts had been built to take water from mountains about 100 miles away into Jeddah. Prior to that the water supply had been by donkey cart. Non Saudis were allowed to have alcohol provided that this was kept strictly private. I arrived on a Thursday; there was a party that evening which was normal. It was a place for parties but one met always the same people. The next day, Friday, was the Sabbath and therefore a holiday.
The custom was for small parties to meet at lunchtime on the Sabbath and drink beer. I was taken to a party and amongst the guests was St John Philby, the famous Arabist and Muslim. This didn't stop him drinking a large quantity of beer before going off to say his prayers. During my three months there I attended a few Arab parties; one in the desert given by a prince who I think was Foreign Minister. They were deadly dull affairs. Refreshments normally tea and sweet cakes, no alcohol, no women.
When my time came to go back to UK I decided to travel by sea and land. I first flew across the Red Sea to Port Sudan and waited there for the British India ship which was expected to arrive that week. It did arrive on the Saturday and after I had returned on board hospitality to my friends there, we sailed. This B.I. line started in Mombasa and called at all the African ports up to the Suez Canal. Thence Marseille and the U.K. I intended to disembark at Marseille, take the Blue Train to Paris thence to U.K. This I did. The Med can be very unpleasant in February.
During my absence in Jeddah Betty had some gynaecological pains. She consulted the local expert Keith Vartan. He advised that all would be well if she had another child. So on my return we bore this in mind. After a few months she was again pregnant but had a miscarriage. We put things on the back burner for a few months. After starting again Richard was conceived. Betty had some hormone injection to prevent any miscarrying. Shortly after that she was smitten with polio in July 1952.
During the period after my return from Jeddah in February 1951 and July 1952 Betty and I were very occupied with the girls' education. Jennifer was doing very well amongst the juniors at Blackheath High School - that was normal - she was always a self starter. Our problem was helping Sylvia with her blindness. A very harrowing experience. How does one teach one who has never seen about colours? How does one answer the question "Shall I be able to see when I am ten?"
I had a very full Autumn 1952. Apart from daily visits to Betty in the Brook Hospital, Jennifer also had a spell in hospital. Sylvia was living with her Edmunds grandparents. A cheering note was when in November I was offered a partnership with Limebeer and Co. starting next 1st April.
Becoming a partner did not immediately change the work I was doing. One is for at least a year or so doing work and services for clients provided by others. I inherited from others work in Belgium and Germany. In doing some work for an Italian client I met William Middleton who was a Solicitor. He had an Italian mother and English father. He had been brought up in
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Rome and had law degrees from both Rome and London Universities. His English and Italian were impeccable. Many leading Italian companies were putting a toe into U.K waters at that time. The first thing they did was to go and see Middleton and he invariably involved me. He must have been very impressed by our first working together. Also during the 1950s Limebeer and Co. took over a small practice through the death of a sole practitioner. He had rather specialised in musical clients but when we took over, some famous names had either died or disappeared. However one of those left was Yehudi Menuhin. We soon became good friends. I was able to help him become resident here without his being made bankrupt by our tax laws.
He expanded his activities and always involved me. I soon got to know his leading Swiss lawyers and they produced some work for me. I was well away. I also got involved with some stage clients - Dinah Sheridan and her daughter Jenny Hanley. All these people were not only clients but became good friends.
Soon after Yehudi had taken up residence in Highgate he set about his long held ambition of founding a school. For the first year or so it had few pupils, shared premises and no money. A management committee, of which I was one, was formed. Things changed shortly with the appointment of an excellent secretary, one Monica Langford. I well remember visiting with her and a fellow committee member (an old friend), F.R. (Bobby) Furber the premises which are now the Y.M. School. They were discovered by Monica They were then much simpler and on sale for around £25,000. We decided to persuade our fellow committee members that the premises must be bought and the money raised. What a task. I was looked to as the person to go about this together with a newly appointed Governor, Major General Sir John Kennedy. We gradually enlisted help from corporations and individuals, Lord Rayne being prominent. Sir John unfortunately died after a short while. Bobby Furber and I were joined by Lord Redesdale (Clem) and Sir Maurice Fiennes (Maurice). We got things well underway and had a lot of fun in doing so. I well remember some rather noisy and lengthy lunches at the City of London Club of which I was a member. I have been Vice President of the school since 1989 and from 1977-90 I was a governor of Live Music Now.
One of the Governors of the Y.M School was Ruth, Lady Fennoy (a Lady in Waiting to the Queen Mother and grandmother of Princess Diana.) She was a fine musician and very close to the Royal Family. Following her death the Prince of Wales organised a concert at Buckingham Palace in her memory. Betty and I were invited and when we were seated the whole royal family from the Queen downwards entered to sit in the front row.
During the late 1950s Bun and I had the idea of leaving the Paragon flat as our main home but buying a country house with some land for mainly summer use. A silly idea but whilst we were looking around we suddenly came upon Court Lodge. I immediately said "That is where we are going to live. Sell the Paragon flat and go for it." So in 1963 I bought Court Lodge. It was terribly run down and needed a lot spent on it. We bought from a most charming person, Mrs Harvey Moore. She was a niece of Lord Baden Powell and therefore keener on camping than creature comforts.
We moved in January 1964. It was rather cold and cheerless. There were open :fireplaces in every room but keeping them stoked was a full time task. We virtually camped from one room to the next while a team of artisans did their work. Anyway, we were able to put things back as they should have been and being a house of at least three periods of history we set out gradually to acquire furniture etc. to suit the rooms. I am forever grateful to my son-in-law Maurice Fitz Gerald for guiding me in the realms of books and paintings in which he has considerable knowledge. We attended many sales at Sotheby's and Christies where we had a lot of fun.
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Betty and I became very active once we were settled into Court Lodge. I particularly so during the late 70s and early 80s. I was Chairman of Westwell Parish Council from 1976-9 and in 1980 became Chairman of Ashford Constituency Conservative Association and in 1991 Vice President. Ashford Constituency extends from Chilham near Canterbury in the north and southwards almost to the sea on the Sussex border. During May 1982 I was installed as Master of the Worshipful Company of Woolmen for the coming year. I later wrote a full account of my year which was typed and bound. Copies are amongst my mementos. I was delighted when Richard later became Master in 2008.
During the 1970s/80s Betty and I enjoyed a considerable amount of social entertaining at Court Lodge. One highlight of our year was the occasion that came to be known as Jesus Night. This took place when our friends Peter and Belinda Gadsden (Sir Peter ex Jesus Cambridge and about that time Lord Mayor of London) stayed with us for the weekend so that Peter could shoot with me. We had a number of friends in the vicinity who were also Jesuans. We were joined by my brother Gerald (two classical firsts at Jesus) and his wife Audrey. I, although without the benefit of a Cambridge education, represented my grandfather Hollis who was at Jesus where he obtained two mathematical firsts in about 1880. Later as the older Jesuans tended to pass into higher service it opened into a Cambridge occasion and we were joined by a number of younger Cambridge friends including my nephew Adam, Gerald's son, and his wife Sarah, and of course Jennifer and Maurice.
Betty and I were very lucky with our continental travels during the 1970s and 1980s as apart from my fairly frequent visits to Italy, Maurice was in the Diplomatic Service and he and Jenny were during the 1970s resident first in Paris then in Strasbourg and finally in The Hague. We had most enjoyable stays with them. At least once a year when I went to Florence I took Betty with me and we used to manage about ten days holiday either in Florence or Venice where we were lent an apartment on the Canale Grande by friends Manfredo and Veronica Moretti degli Adimare. We also used to go annually in July to Geneva where I had some work to do over a few days. We stayed at the Hotel du Lac in the charming little village of Coppet.
One year in December I had various continental visits to make so we booked a rail journey starting in Amsterdam and ending in Rome, leaving the train at Mannheim, Milan and Florence en route. The whole of the journey was in snow. Rome was free of snow but very cold.
Whilst writing about travel I must not fail to mention a very good friend at Westwell, Simon Jervis Read C.B.E., M.C., scion of a distinguished family, Wykehamist, Chindit, Lt. Col., Diplomat and very knowledgeable naturalist and ornithologist. He quickly invited me to join in shooting activities, not only on shooting days but also for rearing and keeping. He was about to become UK representative of the EEC Field Sports Association when he suffered severe heart problems and was unable to travel. I was invited to stand in for him where travel was involved. This entailed travel to various places in Europe - Brussels, the Ardennes, Nuremburg, Paris, Zurich. Later Betty and I were invited as private guests on visits to Copenhagen and Senegal. The last was especially interesting. Senegal has great virtues in climate and people. The only disturbing thing was the poverty. On one occasion I was particularly moved to be asked by a young girl for "un stylo pour aller a l'ecole." Alas I didn't have any; I would like to have given her a boxful.
I have now lived in Court Lodge for more than four decades. During this time the house from many sources has acquired great character and beauty. When my darling Bun was in hospital for the penultimate time, just after our 65th wedding anniversary, she complained "I shall never see my lovely house again". I was warmed by the thought that she viewed it thus and she did see it again but, alas, not for long.



A N Hollis, “Memoir by Arthur Hollis,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 21, 2024,

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