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Vivian Hollowday George Cross

Born: 13 Oct 1916 Ulceby. Died: 15 Apr 1977 Bedford.
Age when awarded: 24

The George Cross is the UK's highest award for bravery by a civilian or a military person where the award of the Victoria Cross (VC) is not applicable.
It was instituted by the Royal Warrant of King George VI on 24th
September 1940 and intended as an award of equivalent status to the
VC, superseding the Empire Gallantry Medal, the Albert Medal, the
Edward Medal and several other awards that existed for acts of great
heroism performed in circumstances other than battle. To date 155 have been awarded directly, with a further 244 translated from other

"The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the GEORGE CROSS to the undermentioned:
935282 Aircraftman First Class Vivian HOLLOWDAY.
One night in July, 1940, when returning to camp, this airman observed
an aircraft crash and burst into flames. He immediately proceeded to
the wreckage and made his way through the burning debris which was 
scattered over a wide area by the force of the impact. He found the
pilot whose clothing was on fire, and put out the flames with his bare
hands. Had the pilot not been killed instantly in the crash this
action would in all probability have saved his life. During August,
1940, this airman was again returning to the camp when an aircraft
suddenly spun to the ground and exploded. He immediately went to the
crash and a second explosion occurred. Ammunition was exploding  all
the time but despite this, he borrowed a gas mask, wrapped two sacks
over himself and spent some time in the flames, making four attempts
before he succeeded in releasing the first occupant. He then
re-entered the burning wreckage and successfully removed the second.
All three occupants, However, were already dead. Aircraftman Hollowday
displayed amazing courage and initiative on both occasions."
(London Gazette - 21 January 1941)

One of the earliest awards of a George Cross was to an airman
stationed at RAF Cranfield. He was AC1 Vivian Hollowday, a member of
14 FTS (Flying Training School), who in July and August 1940 performed
two acts of exceptional bravery. One version of the citation reads:

“Planes taking off and landing at Cranfield aerodrome in August 1940
were a common sight, for this was wartime. Aircraftsman Vivian
Hollowday, off duty and strolling back to camp, was paying no
particular attention to the evening’s air traffic – until, suddenly, a
bomber crashed on the airfield! The plane burst into flames as
Hollowday rushed to the rescue. He was first at the scene and though
alone, he tried to get into the blazing bomber. But the fierce heat
and exploding ammunition forced him back. By this time, an ambulance
had arrived, but there was still no equipment to stage a rescue
attempt. Wrapping himself in some blankets from the ambulance and
borrowing a gas mask, Hollowday returned to the inferno. With this
slight protection, Hollowday managed to enter the plane and bring out
one of the crew. Twice more he entered the blazing wreckage and
brought out two more crew members. This was bravery of the highest
order, but Vivian Hollowday had done it all before! By a strange
coincidence, he had figured in an almost identical rescue on the same
airfield only a month previously. On that occasion he had entered the
blazing cockpit of a crashed plane, and beating out the flames with
his bare hands, had brought out the body of the trapped pilot.”

Extract from Operations Record Book for 14 FTS ... “21/1/41
935282 AC1 Hollowday V awarded the George Cross for conspicuous
gallantry in attempting to rescue the crews of two aircraft which had
crashed and were burnt out at Cranfield on the nights of July 2nd 1940
and August 7th 1940.”
The first incident appears was Miles Master N7695 (Mk I) of
14 FTS, which hit the ground after a night take-off and was damaged by
fire. The 14 FTS ORB entry reads ... “2/7/40 Cranfield. Master N7695,
754516 Sgt Davies (pilot) crashed on airfield boundary during night
flying. Pilot fatally injured.”

754516 Sgt (Pilot)
Noel Francis Lloyd DAVIES, RAFVR, 20, of Barnoldby
le Beck is buried in Cleethorpes Cemetery, Lincolnshire.

See seperate page for details on Noel Davies

This second crash is certainly that of 17 OTU Blenheim MkIV P4902 that stalled on a night navex and spun into the ground near Cranfield on the evening of 7th August 1940. At the Public Record Office is the following abridged Accident Report:

Mertlands Farm, North Crawley, Bucks, at 2235hrs on 7th August, 1940.

The pilot’s instructions were to fly from Upwood to Bicester 53 miles, Bicester to Northampton, 25 miles and back to base 33 miles. At a time when the aeroplane should have been near Northampton it was seen flying in an easterly direction 20 miles SE of the scheduled course and close to Cranfield aerodrome where night flying was taking place. When opposite the wireless telegraphy station the machine was seen to stagger. Five seconds later at about 1500 ft and while still in flying position it lost speed and spun to the ground.

The aeroplane struck the ground at a moderate speed and came to a stop pointing east, the engines were not at the time. From its position and the proximity of trees immediately behind it could be judged to have been flattening out, probably in a left hand spin. Fire occurred immediately and destroyed all the centre of the machine. All safety belts were burnt. One body was found in the navigator’s compartment and one in the gunner’s cockpit. The third, that of the pilot, was lying face down 72 yards east of the wreckage and he had evidently fallen from a considerable height. His parachute was unopened and was on the ground 4 ft away; the harness was free. The rip- cord had not been pulled. No parts broken or otherwise were found to show the circumstances under which he left the machine.

The engines were extensively damaged by fire were stripped but appeared to have been in good order at the time of the accident.

Examination of the pilot’s parachute harness showed that the release ring had not been turned and while in the locked position had been driven back by direct impact on the front. This had forced the spin- loaded plunger out through the aluminium casing and had released the catches and then the harness. From this it may be seen that the harness was in position on the pilot’s striking the ground.

The investigation concluded that the pilot may have lost his way, was trying to identify Cranfield aerodrome and on suddenly becoming aware of the risk of collision with the night flying machines stalled the aeroplane while climbing. Alternatively it was thought possible that on loosing sight of the aerodrome flares he lost control in the “black-out”. There is no reference to the heroic actions of Aircraftsman Hollowday, but in respect of date, aircraft type, number of casualties and other details, it is consistent. 

  The men killed were :

Flt Lt (Pilot) Edward Patrick MORTIMER RAF

Sgt (Air Gnr.) Dennis Frank ALVES RAF, aged 21, son of James and Ethel Alves, of Walsall, Staffordshire

Sgt (Obs.) David Allen GIBBS RAFVR, son of Frederick Henry and Kathleen Ethel Gibbs, of Paignton.

Gibbs is buried in his home town while Mortimer and Alves were buried in Bury Cemetery near RAF Upwood.   

Vivian Hollowday served with 14 FTS at a number of UK locations and in
Algeria, Sicily and Italy before and after the events of summer 1940 rising to the rank of Corporal.

Vivian Hollowday’s impressive medal group.

L to R - George Cross, 39/45 Star, Africa Star, Italy Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal 1939 - 1945, War Medal 1939 - 45 including a mention in dispatches denoted by the oak leaf.

In addition to his British Military decorations and campaign medals he has a group of unofficial 'Veterans Association' medals pictured on the right, which include the Cross for European Confederation, Australian Bronze Medal, Cross of French Societe des Anciens Combatants, the Belgian Albert I Merit Cross with one gold and one silver palm. They are court mounted side by side and sewn down.

In later years this ebullient young man became President of the Military Medallists League, actively participated in the Royal Society of Saint George, and was a member of the Legion of Frontiersmen. It was, however, as the Committee Member of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, for whom he genially managed the arrangements for the overseas members of the Association at their biennial reunions, that he will be remembered best.

He was demobbed in 1946 and moved to Bedford where he married and eventually became director of a firm of millers and grain merchants at Turvey, near Bedford, "Bob" Hollowday traveled widely and worked untiringly to make the reunions the huge success they are.

A quiet and unassuming man he was, during his
service, apparently reluctant to wear his medal ribbon. In 1971, while
staying at a hotel in London his medals were stolen and a duplicate
was eventually issued after the necessary authorisation process. He
died in April 1977, aged 61, and was cremated at Bedford where his
ashes were interred. In 1986 his widow put his medals up for auction
at Sotheby’s and they were purchased by the Royal Air Force Museum,
where they are now on display - an fitting repository for the one of
the first George Cross’s to be awarded to a member of the RAF.
With thanks to Derek Hollowday and Ruth Portus Craig (see the
Family web site
) and the Legion of Frontiersmen New Zealand Command for the excellent detailed account on their web site

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