Fighting for the village of Guillemont began in July 1916 and it was eventually captured on 3 September by the 20th Division and a brigade of The 16th Irish Division. Two men from The Irish Division were awarded The Victoria Cross during the final attack, Private Thomas Hughes and Lieutenant John Holland. On our tour, Recalling the Somme in April 2012, we had the privilege of taking a member of the Holland family to visit the site. During the fighting on the Somme in 1916, a number of locations gained notoriety for the bitter fighting which took place around them and Guillemont was certainly one of these. Its position made the village ideal for preventing British progress in this sector of the battlefield. Geoffrey Malins, the famous World War 1 photographer, described the village after its eventual capture. “ _ _ the village of Guillemont did not exist , in fact it was an absolute impossibility to tell where the fields ended and the village began. The village had been turned by the Germans into a veritable fortress; trenches and strongpoints, bristling with machine guns commanded every point which gave vantage to the enemy.”
Captain John Vincent Holland
John Vincent Holland was from Athy in County Kildare, the son of the local vet. Though he began veterinary studies himself, he was obviously an adventurous character and by 1914 he was working on railways in Argentina. He returned home immediately on the outbreak of war and was commissioned into The Leinster Regiment. He was wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres with The Royal Dublin Fusiliers and by September 1916 was a lieutenant in The 7th Leinster Regiment as a bombing officer. His action on 3 September was seen as crucial in the final capture of Guillemont. Not content with bombing dugouts in the area of his initial objectives, John Holland led a group of 26 bombers through the British artillery bombardment into the main section of the village still occupied by the Germans. He led his group in continuing to bomb dugouts, eventually taking 50 prisoners and breaking the resistance of the defenders. For this action he was awarded The Victoria Cross. Remarkably, he was quite ill during this action and after the capture of the village was immediately admitted to hospital. Five of the group of 26 were killed in the action. Of the others, two were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal , six were awarded The Military Medal and one was recommended for a commission.
Michael Holland at the memorial to The 16th Irish Division in Guillemont. John Holland was the son of his grandfater’s brother. Michael and John were born in the same house.
Though he received a civic reception on his return home and was celebrated as a local hero at the end of 1916, political events in Ireland took on a dramatic change. Popular opinion turned against the British government and the British army and at the end of the war, John Holland left Ireland to live in England and in Kenya. However, this was not the end of his military career. Both he and his two sons fought during World War 2. John served as a Major in The Indian Army and his eldest son, Captain Niall Holland MC, sadly died of wounds and is buried in Burma. His youngest son served in The Royal Artillery. John Holland eventually emigrated to Australia and died in Tasmania in 1975.
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