AIRMEN'S STORIES - Sgt. K. C. Holland
FINDING SERGEANT PILOT KENNETH CHRISTOPHER HOLLAND
Sergeant (Pilot) Kenneth Christopher ‘Dutchy’ Holland was one of over 540 pilots who fought and died during of the Battle of Britain. He was the 10th Australian casualty and, at 20 years of age, possibly the youngest casualty. I found Kenneth Holland by chance when I last visited my parents and friends in England in May 2006. During this stay I spent many hours scrambling around the West County exploring old war-time tunnels, graveyards and aerodromes. It was during a stop for refreshments on the way to the Charmy Down airfield that I come across Kenneth Holland’s Memorial on the A36 at Woolverton near Bath. Curiously while I had lived in this area for most of my life, I had never stopped to look or read the memorial before. Later in my local library at Warminster I leafed through Battle of Britain histories for mention of Holland and, only then, discovered that he served in 152 Squadron – a unit that had caught my attention since boyhood as they had been in action over my hometown of Warminster. This captivated my interest. While there have been many publications, feature films and documentaries produced about the Battle of Britain, most are concerned with the famous names and squadrons that were based in and around the South East of England. As I grew up in Wiltshire, my interest was in the fighter squadrons who defended the West Country - 10 Group.
I was also excited by the discovery that Holland was an Australian, indeed he came from Sydney, my home since 1989. I determined to find out more. But while Holland’s name appears in official accounts such as the Battle of Britain diaries and Dennis Newton’s The Few of the Few (1990) provides some significant information on his flying career, very little about his life in Australia. The primary purpose of my research has been to find out more about Holland’s Australian story. I hope that this will generate more Australian interest in his life.
By: Chris Taylor, Sydney, Australia. February 2007
Kenneth Holland was born in Sydney around 1920. His parents were Harold George Holland and Ina Gladys Holland (Newton, 1990).. His father was born in Cowra and served in the Australian Imperial Forces (AIF) during the First World War. His mother Ina Gladys (nee Moynihan) came from Cork in Ireland and met Holland’s father when he was based in England during 1916. They were married at Weymouth in Dorset. The “Holland’s” returned to Australia at the end of 1918. H.G Holland was medically discharged from the AIF in February 1919 suffering from “Shell Shock” (National Archives) Army records indicate that H .G Holland was discharged from the Victoria Barracks in Paddington and that his mother also lived in that suburb during the war.
Sydney during the 1920s
At the time of Kenneth Holland’s birth the population of Sydney was around 830,000. (Spearritt 1978). In this period Paddington was an inner city working class suburb consisting of Victorian style terraces. Kylie Tennant described the Inner City during the 1920/30s in her novel Fouveaux.
There were ‘shops on every corner’. Most of the houses were ‘in the form of clay coloured terraces. There was certain quaintness in the ornate wrought iron, gilded and tortured into balcony rails, edgings, cornices and possible projection until the houses looked liked they had been trimmed with mouldy lace. In these terraces the builders had resolutely striven to preserve all narrow discomforts of Victorian architecture’.
During the 1920s Sydney went through a period of rapid growth and development. Modern flats were becoming popular around the city while many left the inner city suburbs to live in outlying areas where detached houses were the norm. In 1932 Sydney Harbour Bridge finally linked Sydney with its northern suburbs. Between 1921, the year after Kenneth was born, and 1929 the population of the inner city fell by 10%.
The “Hollands” association with the Waverley area can be traced to the early twenties. Sands Directory 1924-25 indicates that the Holland’s were living at the beachside suburb of Bondi. Their residence was at No. 67 Sir James Mitchell Drive, a relatively new street in the heart of Bondi. The Electoral Roll describes Kenneth’s father listed as a commercial traveller while his mother took care of ‘home duties’. In 1929 they moved again, but this just a round the corner to No. 9 Forest Knoll Ave, Bondi. This would be Kenneth’s home for the next five years before he left for England. His parents were to remain in Bondi for the rest of their lives.
9 Forest Knoll Avenue with modern additions
The writer John Kingsmill has described his own childhood in Bondi in the 1920s, an era when most people rented rather than owned their own home:
Beach culture took off in the 1920s. The famous Bondi Pavilion, which still dominates the beachfront, was opened in 1929. It contained changing rooms and a dance hall. The suburb become the centre of Australia’s burgeoning surf life saving movement and a place of celebration of the ‘bronzed life-saver’ who now challenged the revered Anzac as the ideal Australian type. Kingmills mentions that during the summer were many parades and life saving carnivals to watch. The “march pasts” and championships were major events and drew large crowds of onlookers. Deck chairs chairs were put out and rented to the onlookers. In the evening visitors and locals walked the promenade.
For most people transport to and from Bondi was by Tram. The line initially went to Campbell parade and looped back. Later it was extended to North Bondi heights.
The latest form of popular entertainment was going to the movies. Bondi had three cinemas. By this stage the Australian film industry had lost ground to the Hollywood produced films . Locals could people a large choice of the latest American films to watch. In the twenties going to the cinema was much cheaper than going to the theatre. The cost of a cinema ticket was one shilling compared to nearly three shillings for the theatre.(Spearritt 1978)
The Holland’s lived near the two local Government public schools in the area, Bondi Public School at Wellington Street and North Bondi Public School at Campbell Parade. Bondi Public School was set up in the 1880s and started with under 100 enrolments. By 1913 the enrolments had reached 1200. The other school that Holland may have attended was opened in 1923 in response to over crowding at the Wellington Street School. Formally called the North Bondi Public school it was situated opposite the beach in Campbell Parade. (Dowd 1959) Both these schools are still operating as government schools today with North Bondi now called Bondi Beach Public School.
North Bondi Public School, built in 1923 to ease overcrowding
at Bondi Public School.Holland could have attended one of
two public schools in the area
There were also two Catholic Colleges (Marist and Christian Brothers) operating within the Waverley area during the 1920/30s that Holland could have attended. However even with his mothers Irish background there is no evidence to suggest that he was brought up in the Catholic faith. According to Army records his father’s denomination was Church of England. (Anglican). Holland was also cremated which until recently was against Catholic traditions.
Living in England during the 1930s
Children typically left school around the age of 12 in New South Wales during the Great Depression. If this were the case with Holland, he would have finished his schooling in the early 1930s. However Denis Newton’s research shows that by 1935 he was living in England as a ward of Hugh Ivor Emmott Ripley in Cornwall and attending the Airspeed Aeronautical College in Portsmouth some distance away in Hampshire. Just how this turn of events came about is unclear. Kenneth was not an orphan. His father Harold lived until 1962 and Ina died in 1968. There is no evidence that they had separated or divorced. The household was not large as were no other siblings. It is probable, therefore, that Hugh Ripley sponsored Holland’s tip to England and possibly his further education.
Little is known about Kenneth’s benefactor and guardian. There is no evidence that Ripley was a related to the Hollands. However like Holland’s father he saw service in the First World War as a Captain in the Worcestershire Regiment. This is where he could have met Hollands father.
Shipping records show that Ripley arrived in Sydney in late November 1934 on the ship “Cathy”. Kenneth Holland left for England with Ripley in early 1935 which suggests that arrangements for the boy’s care and education overseas had been planned beforehand.
Ripley was based at Camelford, a small town in North Coast of Cornwall. The town was most famous for its connection with the legend of King Arthur. Close to King Arthur’s legendary castle at Tintagel, some have argued that the name Camelford is derived from Camelot.
Holland enrolled at the Airspeed Aeronautical College at Portsmouth while Ripley was living in Camelford. The College was part of the Airspeed Company, founded in 1931. One of the co-founders was Neville Shute Norway who would later become well- known in Australia as simply Neville Shute, the author of A Town Like Alice. In the 1930s he was an acclaimed engineer.
The college was set up after a successful public float which allowed the Airspeed company to modernise and expand (Shute, 1954). The Airspeed Aeronautical course lasted three years and cost 250 Guineas – a substantial cost that Holland’s parents would have found hard to afford. Over 200 students were enrolled in the college during its existence. It must have been an exciting time at the Airspeed Company. The company is best known for its development of the retractable undercarriage and the design of the much-loved Oxford trainer. Aeroplane sales were picking up during the 1930s as countries rearmed and prepared for war. In England the Fascist “Black-shirts” led by Oswald Mosley were marching in London’s East End. Civil War broke out in Spain in 1936. Hitler used this theatre to test aircraft and tactics for his new airforce. The Airspeed Company posted its first profit in 1938.
Holland stayed with Airspeed until 1939. He did not complete his three year aeronautical engineering course before joining the RAF on a full time basis. During his time at Airspeed Kenneth would have made his first contacts with RAF pilots employed to test fly the Company’s aircraft. According to Shute, RAF commanders allowed some of their pilots to engage in such extra curricula activities whilst on leave to gain up-to-date experience and knowledge.
While Newton suggests that Holland remained in England throughout the 1930s, shipping records held by the National Archives of Australia show that he returned with Ripley to Sydney on 27 October 1936. Just how long Holland stayed in Australia is unclear. Ripley made another journey to Sydney in 1938 arriving on November 13 on the “Tiranna” . Holland did not accompany him. He became a member of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve [RAFVR] in 1939 at the age of 18.
During the 1930s Holland would have been aware of developments within the Royal Air Force. By the middle of 1934 the British Government was becoming aware of the threat of air attacks from other European nations. In response it announced in July of that year that the size of the RAF would be expanded to accommodate 128 first line squadrons within five years. From 1934 the British Government began a major personnel recruitment and training campaign. At the same time airplane design was also moving forward. By 1935 the Hawker company had developed the first British high speed monoplane later to be known as the “Hurricane”. Mass production of the “Hurricane” was under way by 1938. (Royal Airforce Force History)
Aircraft development and RAF personnel recruitment were advanced further in 1936. Two important events in that year were to shape Holland’s destiny. In March the Supermarine Model 300 made it maiden flight to great acclaim. This plane was soon to be renamed the “Spitfire”. This maiden flight took place over the Solent near Southampton. Being in the aeronautical engineering industry and based at Portsmouth. Holland may well have witnessed this historical event. Three months later in July the Government announced the formation of the RAFVR. It allowed volunteers to undergo free flying training at weekends and during 15 day annual training camps. By the outbreak of the war in 1939 there were 2,500 RAFVR pilots. (Bishop, p.46)
Kenneth Holland would have joined the RAFVR after he turned 18, some time in 1938/1939. Enrolled at the Airspeed College in Portsmouth he was in the right place and the right time. For Hampshire was already a centre for flying and aeronautical development. By September 1939 the world was on the brink of war. All enlisted RAFVR were called up on a permanent basis. Holland was then posted to Number 11 Elementary Training School at Scone near Perth in Scotland (Newton, p38.) His service number was 754503 This airfield was originally set up by the local government to expand passenger air services to the area but by the 1930s the focus had shifted to pilot training. (Royal Air Force History)
The Number 11 Elementary and Reserve Training School was established in 1936. It was setup and run by a private company called Airwork Ltd. As part of the government’s promotion of air training, private companies were allowed to contract for and provide training for military personnel. J. H Ginger Lacey, the RAF’s most successful fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain, trained with Airwork. Another famous student was George Pinkerton who was the first pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft over Britain. (History of Scottish Aero Club, 2002 ) At the outbreak of the war in 1939 the title Reserve was dropped from the training school title.
Holland was familiar with at least one of the planes used in the training program - the Airspeed Oxford. When he was stationed at Perth the principal plane for pilot training was the DH 82 Tigermoth which first came into service in 1931 as a two-seated trainer. The Tigermoth was designed by de Havilland which had built many of the most successful fighters of the First World War. The company took over Airspeed in 1939. By 1940 the Number 11 Elementary Flying school was operating 90 Tigermoths. Holland would have developed his navigational skills in the Oxford but honed his pilot abilities in the Tigermoth. With its open cockpit, the DH 82 would have sorely tested the endurance of trainee pilots during the bitterly cold winter months In Perth.
In the early stages of the war there were few demands to cut training time and courses to fill front line squadrons. This was to change within the space of a few months. During the fall of France in May 1940 the RAF suffered its first significant pilot casualties. The need for pilots was now a matter of urgency. June 1940 brought with it some respite from Hitler’s onslaught, but it was to be the last month of pilot training for K C Holland. As the air war over Britain began to intensify he was called up to join 152 Squadron at Ackrington in Northumberland. The Squadron had reformed as a fighter squadron with Gloster Gladiators – an outdated bi-plane that stood little chance against the Luftwaffe’s Me-109s. By January 1940 the transition to Spitfires was underway. By the time Holland joined the squadron in July, it had already been earmarked for the move south. The squadron moved on July 12th, two days after the beginning of the Battle of Britain.
The Squadron transferred to RAF Warmwell in the West Country as part as 10 Group. The airfield site is situated between Weymouth and Dorchester in the heart of the Dorset countryside. Warmwell was constructed in 1937 as part of an air gunnery training facility. During the early stages of the war it was a large and busy airfield. Between 1939 and 1941, 33 RAF squadrons were to spend time at the airfield (Control Towers, 2002). Warmwell’s central location boosted the air defence of the Portland Naval base and key West Country cities such as Southampton, Bristol and Exeter.
Compared to airfields in the South East it was quite isolated. At the time it was operational the nearest village was Warmwell about 3 miles south of the Airfield. Its rural setting contains many archeological features. Hill forts and Roman roads would be visible from the air. The ruins of the 11th century Corfe Castle would have made an impressive landmark for pilots flying back to base. The landscape would have been familiar to readers of Thomas Hardy who described the local countryside in his many novels and poems. In the thirties T.E Lawrence lived in a small cottage at nearby Moreton where he wrote about his own experiences in the RAF (The Mint) before his untimely death in 1935.
A distant view of the remaining buildings at Warmwell, 2006.
(Photograph by the author)
Holland would not recognize the Warmwell site today. Most of the airfield infrastructure has disappeared. It was sold off in 1950 after five years in RAF care and maintenance to a quarry company for sand and gravel mining. (Control Towers 2002). Next to the airfield land a new village has been built called Crossways. A fitting memorial to all the pilots who served at Warmwell has been installed on the village Green. Surprisingly the Airfield Control Tower survived the quarry developments and is now a house not far from the quarry entrance. Opposite the village of Crossways two Bell Hangers and a Nissan hut on the south corner of the Airfield perimeter can still be viewed. In the village of Warmwell the Holy Trinty Church contains the Graves of about thirty RAF Servicemen including some of pilots who flew with K C Holland as part of 152 Squadron (Control Towers 2002).
Life in 152 Squadron 1940
The Squadron was stationed at Warmwell in Dorset for the duration of the Battle of Britain. Holland joined a squadron under the command of Squadron Leader P K Divitt. Divitt is mentioned by Bishop (2003) as someone who could recognize when pilots needed a break. For pilots on the “edge” a pub in the small seaside town of Swanage was used for much needed rest and recreation. Weymouth and Bournemouth would have also been within easy reach of any pilot with a leave ticket.
Life in 152 during 1940 has been very well documented by Rooker (2002).His web site contains many photos of life at Warmwell during the Battle of Britain. There is an excellent photo of Holland as part of ‘”A” flight taken around September 1940.(see below) Sadly this photo was taken only days before his death. Many of the pilots that Holland would have flown with are pictured on the Website. It also features pictures of key buildings such as the dispersal hut and living quarters including tents.
The atmosphere at Warmwell at the time of the Battle of Britain would have been tense and uncertain. On one occasion Holland and other pilots had to report to the dispersal hut with their service revolvers as it announced the invasion was imminent. For many weeks Pilots would get up early in the morning not knowing if they were going to be still alive by the evening
There were lighter moments. Holland would have certainly encountered the Squadron Mascot a fierce looking English bull terrier called P O Pooch. His biography states that he was a dog that could recognize fear in any thing. (Rooker 2002) It’s reported that P O Pooch survived the war including a number of Luftwaffe air attacks on 152 airfields. As in most close knit organizations the pilots had nick names. Holland was “Duchy” perhaps less welcome L C Withhall was called “Elsie”.
Holland would not have been given much time to gain experience in Spitfires. Combat diaries show that the Squadron was in action during all four months of the Battle of Britain. There were constant pilot causalities. Reports of squadron losses gives a clear indication of the area that 152 were expected to cover. (Battle of Britain 2003) . Three casualties were sustained in the Portland area, two occurred near the Isle of Wight, two near Swanage,one near Portsmouth, one over Bogar Regis and one on the Somerset/Wiltshire border. According to records on two occasions the squadron suffered the loss of two pilots in the same day. (August 12th and September 25th).
152 Squadron taken in September 1940.
(Holland is kneeling on the far right in the front row)
The Final Sorties
By mid September the Battle of Britain had moved into a new phase. The Luftwaffe began to concentrate mass air attacks on London and other key regional centers. Their failure to destroy the RAF on the ground and in the air had been a significant factor in the High command’s decision to postpone the German invasion of Britain code named “operation Sea lion” (Bishop). The new strategy had two objectives firstly to demoralize the civilian population and secondly to destroy key areas of war production. The change in German strategy had significant consequences for 152 Squadron. As part of 10 Group they now had to defend the cities of Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth from mass bomber raids.
The last days of Holland’s life are well documented in combats reports and the Battle of Britain Diaries. In the period between 17th September and the 25th Holland was involved in the destruction of three German aircraft. Combat records state that on the 17th of September three planes of 152 Blue section were patrolling Portland Bill when they were was ordered to fly north to intercept a Junkers Ju 88 sighted over Shepton Mallett. This aircraft was located and attacked over the Somerset countryside. All three Spitfires were involved in the combat that resulted in the German plane crashing near Warminster. Newton (p183) mentions that Holland’s plane was hit in three places by return fire. According to F.Lt Marrs in a letter to his father, the next day the pilots from Blue Section drove to Wiltshire to inspect the plane they had shot down. They found the plane near the village of Imber, five miles North of Warminster.
Two days later Holland was scrambled from Warmwell late in the afternoon as part of Green section to investigate a radar contact near Swanage. A Junkers Ju 88 was sighted and engaged by the two Spitfires from Green section. According to Newton Holland led the attack, as P O Williams radio set was not working. The German aircraft was reported to have crashed in the sea and its crew reported as missing. (Battle of Britain Diaries.)
The weather conditions on Wednesday September 25th 1940 were fair to fine in most areas. Following reports of large aircraft movements along the French coast an incoming raid of sixty plus German bombers and escorts was detected around mid morning flying in over Weymouth and heading North West towards Bristol. Three squadrons (601, 609 and 152)and one section were scrambled . Reports that the raiders were visible from Warmwell Airfield as 152 Squadron took off in pairs to intercept. The target for the bombers was the Bristol Aero plane Company at Filton. The attack on Filton occurred at around 11.30. According to the Battle of Britain Campaign Diary only one squadron was able to intercept before the bombers hit their target. Official reports indicate they dropped high explosive bombs from 11000 feet causing widespread damage to production facilities and many civilian casualties. (Battle of Britain Diary). As they turned for home they met waves of British fighters. Eye witness indicate that there were a series of "Dog fights" as the fighters got between the formations of German bombers. (Bath Chronicle 28/9/40). Combat reports indicate that Holland as part of Blue section attacked a Hienkel bomber over the City of Bath as it headed in a South East direction. It is stated that he made several sweeps before the doomed plane began to emit smoke. Holland ceased firing and went closer to inspect the damage. Reports suggest that a German gunner still at his post opened fire hitting Holland in the head. His plane lurched and dropped towards the ground. Both planes crashed in the fields of Church farm behind the village of Woolverton 12 miles (20km) South East of Bath. The choice of large open ground suggests that both planes may have made some attempt to land. Taking into account war time censorship restrictions it is interesting that this account in the Bath Evening Chronicle only mentions a German Aircraft crashing in the field.
“One man’s parachute failed to open, the other man was badly injured he spoke perfect English ,two and perhaps three more were in the plane and must have been killed or burnt to death.”……….. “The field lies at the back of a church and the war memorial stands on the main road”
Reports state that Holland was found in cockpit of his plane (Newton p 196) However the article in the newspaper invites speculation that Holland may not have died at the scene of the crash. There is no mention of Holland’s plane in this account Holland could have been the badly injured man who spoke perfect English . The Battle of Britain diary lists Holland as died of his wounds.
Bath Chronicle report on the
Air Battle of September 25th
Holland’s death was registered at the near by town of Frome in Somerset. His age is given as twenty. His body was taken back to Dorset for an RAF funeral. What is not known is why Holland was cremated at Weymouth and not buried with other RAF personal killed at Warmwell in the local church. While there are no obvious reasons why this occurred there may have been a problem in contacting his Guardian/family to advocate on how his body should be disposed of. The Weymouth Crematorium was opened in 1939 and Holland was one of the first of 14 service personnel to be cremated there during the Second Would War. His Guardian H I E Ripley was clearly moved to do more, erecting a stone memorial at the crash site in Woolverton. In 1976 this was moved out of the field to the road side (A36) as it had fallen into some disrepair. (United Kingdom Register of War Memorials 2006)
Holland's Monument at Woolverton
Standing in front of his War Memorial at Woolverton in Somerset I resolved to find out more about the life of Kenneth Holland. My initial research indicates that he led a remarkable life that sadly lasted just twenty years. During this short time he would have witnessed many changes and historical events. As a young boy growing up in Sydney he would have seen the building and opening of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the expansion of the Citys suburbs. In the early 1930s he would have experienced the poverty and misery caused by the Great Depression. Living in Bondi he would have also seen its rapid development as one of Sydney’s “premier” beach suburbs.
He arrived in Europe during the mid thirties to witness the emergence of Fascist movements and their impact on European nations. As a student of aeronautical engineering he would have also been involved in the rapid developments in Aircraft design. Less than twenty miles from where Holland attended college the prototype Spitfire was developed and flight tested.
The most significant moment in his life would have been learning to fly with the RAFVR. Like most pilots of this period he would have learnt all his basic flying skills on Tiger Moths. This would have no easy task Holland would have to demonstrate to his instructors that he had all the skills and aptitude to be a fighter pilot. In the last few months of his life he would have stepped into the cockpit of a Spitfire for the first time as a pilot in a fighter squadron. Sadly it was in the cockpit of a Spitfire that K. C Holland fought and died in the Battle of Britain. Holland was one of 540 allied pilots who died in this momentous battle.
My final thoughts are that the life of Kenneth Holland should be commemorated in Australia. His name is in stone at Woolverton the site of his crash near his final combat. It is also listed at the Weymouth Crematorium Memorial and on the Battle of Britain Monument in London. Taking into account all the historical revisions of the importance of the Battle I think its time we gave him due to recognition as one of Australia’s youngest Battle of Britain Pilots who fought and died in a conflict where the outcome was crucial to the future of so many countries.
Principal Book References
BISHOP.P Fighter Boys Harper Collins , London ,2003
Principal Web references
Day by day accounts of the battle see The Battle of Britain Home page
Battle of Britain Historical Society
Royal Air force History
Information on 152 Squadron
Information on RAF Warmwell
Final Resting place
Bath Chronicle 28th September 1940 ,page 8.
Research compiled with the assistance of
Dr Ian Hoskins Stanton Library
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