The Petworth Pilot – Sydney Henry Holland

Sydney Henry Holland was born in Petworth, West Sussex on 17th March 1883, where his grandfather was rector. Some time later his address was given as Imperial House, Grovesnor Road, Victoria, London.

At the outbreak of World War One he volunteered to join the army and served with the Royal West Surreys. In 1917 he got married and joined the Royal Flying Corps as an observer and after training was posted in September to No.9 Squadron, attending No.1 Flying School in 1918. He flew patrols over north east Italy with No.139 Squadron and was promoted to Lieutenant.

Demobbed in March 1919 and tiring of war-weary Britain, he travelled to South America where he flew commercial aircraft in Argentina and Brazil, and produced an airmap of the city of Buenos Aires. He later flew aircraft across the Andes for the Paulista revolutionaries. When government forces defeated the Paulistas, Brazil was no longer a safe place for Sydney, who took ship to England ‘leaving his devoted wife to realise his assets in Rio and get most of the money out by sheer diplomacy.’ *

Back in Britain Sydney set up house with his wife and young family in Crawley, obtaining his private pilot’s licence at Surrey Aero Club in 1933, followed by his commercial pilot’s licence.

At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Sydney showed an interest in ferrying war materiel to Spain but on August 19th 1936 the British Government imposed an embargo on this and threatened to suspend the licences of any pilots who tried to break it. Then Sydney and his friend and fellow pilot, Walter Scott Coates, heard that the Spanish government was looking for pilots to fly and fight in Spain. ‘The two mens’ love of adventure overcame the prudence of middle-age’ * and Sydney and Walter applied to fly under contract for the Spanish Republican Air Force. The pair flew via Paris to Barcelona
on an Imperial Airways flight with Vincent Doherty, a recruiting agent for the Spanish Air Force. ‘The Foreign Office had been made aware of their impending journey to Spain by the police, but noted that they “had no power to refuse them passports but they are committing an offence under the Foreign Enlistment Act”’

In Barcelona the foreign pilots received an enthusiastic reception and were then taken to Los Alcázares for flight tests before signing contracts. Hilaire du Berrier, who checked out the flyers’ ability, said: “I liked Holland at once. He was a small man with greyish hair, a quiet cold way about him, and turned out to be an inveterate gambler. Holland had brought his mandolin with him, and when not playing dominoes for a peseta a point he was playing it.” *

On 12th December 1936 Sydney piloted a Monospar ST-25 from its Sondica base on a mission with two other makeshift planes to bomb Lacua airfield at Vitoria. The bombers were escorted by a few Polikarpov I-15 Chato fighters, but they were spread across a distance of ten miles, making the job of escorting them extremely difficult. A flight of Condor Legion Heinkel He 51B fighters took off and one caught up with Sydney Holland just after he had dropped his bombs. The Monospar was shot down and almost completely destroyed in the crash that killed Sydney and the other two crew.

Pauline Fraser

Source: IBMT Volunteer Database, Surrey Comet 2nd January 1937 p16 “The Flyers”, by Brian Bridgeman. 1989 p87-97* Nottingham Evening Post – 15 December 1936 p1 West Sussex County Times – 18 December 1936 p7

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