When Gerald Edward Holland arrived at Holyhead in 1907, aged 47, to take up the position of Marine Superintendent for the London and North West Railway Company (LNWR) he had already completed an illustrious career as a senior officer in the Royal Indian Marines (RIM), spanning over 25 years.
Gerald E Holland was born in Dublin in 1860, the son of Denis and Ellen Holland. He was educated at the Ratcliffe College in Leicestershire and in 1877 joined the ship Plassey of the G D Tyser shipping line as an Apprentice. He was discharged from the vessel in 1880 before completing his apprenticeship to allow him to join the Royal Indian Marines at Calcutta. He was commissioned Lieutenant in 1882 and Commander in 1893. He served with the Burma Expeditionary Force, 1887-89, and in the Chin-Lushai Expedition. For his services he was created a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1890.
He was in command of the RIMS Warren Hastings when that ship was lost off Reunion Island in 1897. He was court-martialed, and the result was a simple reprimand. At the same time he received an exemplary order from the Governor of India for his fine conduct and saving of life during this incident. During the Boer Wars he served on the Naval Transport Staff, Durban, and as Divisional Officer, 1900-1. For three years he was principal Port Officer at Rangoon where he was responsible for a number of patented designs to aid the loading and unloading of ships. He retired from the RIM in 1905 as Commander. For his services he was awarded the Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire (CIE).
He married Mary, elder daughter of Edmund Dwyer Gray MP in 1896 at Dublin and by the time they arrived at Holyhead they had three young children. They settled at Bryn y Mor, Holyhead and he soon set about organising the Marine Department to improve its efficiency. He quickly gained the respect of the workforce, being both strict but fair in his dealings. He was a man of boundless energy and was involved in numerous local charities and organisations, including President of Holyhead Football Club. The creation of the Holyhead Golf Club was due to his initiative. His wife, Mary, also involved herself in many local good causes and was sorely missed by many at Holyhead following her death after a long illness in June 1913. In the same year, during the Irish Goods Strike, which ran for 14 weeks, Commander Holland found work for the men of the Goods Department at the Holyhead Golf Club rather than see them laid off.
At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 he was instrumental in forming the No. 2 (Holyhead) Siege Company, Royal Anglesey Royal Engineers, mainly from skilled workers from the Marine Department. His son, Bertram, was commissioned as Second Lieutenant for the company. At the same time, as Marine Superintendent, he oversaw the rapid conversion of the four LNWR ships – Hibernia (HMS Tara), Cambria, Anglia and Scotia for Admiralty service.
Shortly afterwards he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel, Royal Engineers and Assistant Director of Inland Water Transport (IWT) in France. It was largely owing to his efforts that this corps was created. He encouraged over thirty local seafarers and others from the town to join the initiative. He became Colonel and Deputy Director in 1915. He became Director in 1916, and promoted Brigadier General in 1917, but was head of the Department in France since its creation in 1914. The IWT was responsible for the movement of war materials along the canals of France and Belgium to keep the army supplied. This means of transport at times proved much more reliable than road and rail and contributed much to the final outcome of the war. For his services he was three times Mentioned in Despatches; received the CB and CMG; was decorated by the King of the Belgians with the Order of Leopold of Belgium, and also by the King of Italy with the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus.
In 1917 after the German army retreated to their prepared defensive positions on the Hindleberg Line, Brigadier General Holland took upon himself to personally inspect the condition of the inland waterways in the abandoned and battle damaged areas. This involved much physical exertion in sometimes atrocious weather. It is believed that this eventually led to him becoming exhausted and ill. He returned to the UK on sick leave but died, aged 56, on 26 June 1917 at St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex.
When his remains were brought back to Holyhead for burial his coffin ‘laid in state’ overnight at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. During which time it was reported that over 2,000 people came to pay their respects. His funeral took place the next day when his coffin, borne on a gun carriage, was drawn through the town by sailors from the LNWR Marine Department. Reports mention that over 8,000 of the town’s inhabitants lined the route to St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery where he was laid to rest alongside his late wife, Mary. There was a full military Guard of Honour and three volleys were fired at the graveside. Many local dignitaries, directors of the LNWR, War Office representatives, numerous ship’s officers and captains, military personnel and members of the Holyhead Marine Department, amongst many others, were in attendance. Eight captains of the LNWR fleet acted as pall bearers.
This post war tribute was later paid to him.
Brigadier General Holland was an officer of great foresight and powers of initiative with wide experience in connection with the services, civil, marine and mechanical engineering problems, a born administrator with a particularly strong capacity for the mastering of details, he had worked whole-heartedly to make the IWT service in France efficient and capable of meeting any demands upon its resources.
As can be seen Brigadier General G E Holland’s contribution to the war effort was considerable. The nation marked this by bestowing him with many awards and decorations. He was truly a very remarkable and able man. He remains Holyhead’s most senior fatality and highly decorated soldier of the Great War.
Contributed by the Editor.
© Holyhead Maritime Museum.
This is part of a collection of posts telling the sometimes overlooked stories of some of Holyhead’s brave heroes.
With thanks to Geraint S Griffiths for information previously supplied.