Company Sergeant Major Stanley Elton Hollis was 28 on D-Day. He was married and had two children Brian Elton aged 10 and Pauline aged 5. His wife' s name was Alice and they were married in February 1932. He lives at 33, Henry Taylor Court, Old Ormesby, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire. He is a sand blaster by trade.
He saw action in France in 1940 and had been evacuated from Dunkirk. He fought with the 8th Army in Egypt and North Africa, then came the invasion of Sicily and finally D-Day, all with the 50th Division.
Single handed he had captured a gun in Sicily and was mentioned in despatches. He had been wounded four times before D-Day. Three times he had been asked to take a battlefield commission, but it would have meant leaving his 50th Division.
He was a tall, quiet man of simple tastes, he rarely got angry, but when he did he seemed to be colder, almost oblivious to what was happening around him. This generally happened when men of his own battalion, boyhood friends from his own town of Middlesbrough were killed or wounded. He had been known to cry with anger. He was tough as a Sergeant Major. At no time did he think he would be wounded or killed. But "I was always able to tell the men who were going to get it. I don't know how-- but I could sense it. 80% of the time I was right."
He was with the 6th Battalion of the Green Howards. He was C.S.M. of D Company. The Green Howards in his opinion "were the finest trained group to go in on D-Day, but within a few weeks their losses were so terrible that the Battalion was shot to pieces and the reinforcements weren't the same - it was never the same again."
"Fear is a grand thing for a man. It educates you. It teaches humility. Once upon a time I thought I was the bravest man in the world. I was bigheaded. But fear taught me humility and in that way God."
He's not a religious man although C. of E. The only time he had been to church during the war had been a memorial service in Sicily. That day in an open field with 700 soldiers a German sniper opened fire from somewhere and damned near hit him. The bullet hit a tree on which he was leaning. " The only time", he said, "I go to church during the war I damned near get killed."
He killed 102 men throughout his entire war career. One he beheaded with a machete (he came across a machine gun post by accident; the German raised his Schweisser pistol. Hollis swung the knife and was surprised to see the man's head roll off!) In his first bayonet charge in Sicily he bayonneted a German directly through the stomach with such force that his bayonet punctured the circular belt buckle (with the words "Gott mit Huns" around the edge) went in and came out of the man's back. He pulled out the bayonet. The German stood there looking at him without saying a word. Then he turned and walked steadily away. Hollis watched him, amazed. He raised his rifle when the German was more than 100 yards away from. Then the German fell dead. Hollis couldn't understand what made him walk that far.
He had often lain for 2 days at a time watching a machine gun post before attacking it. He was cold but not brutal in his way of fighting. He appeared to take chances, but actually it was all finely calculated, carefully worked out. It was in a sense the perfect example of the hunter and the hunted. Hollis was a superb hunter.
He was fighting "to prevent somebody stepping on his front and back lawn". When he landed back in England from Dunkirk (minus his pants - somebody had stolen them and he was wearing a blanket) and when he saw the roadblocks and hastily erected strongpoints along the coastal roads, he was dumbfounded. He had no idea of the size of the debacle. He had thought that only his division had suffered. It wasn;t until much later that he realised the full scope of the defeat.
He had been at sea from 1929-1933; and a lorry driver from 1933 to 1939.
- 2 - He had two girl friends, nurses who had attended him in a Danish hospital and after the war began he wondered what had happened to them - Oreida Eingebourg Christiansen and Ylva Neilsen. He was so worried about them that he even resolved that if England was invaded he ’’might do away with his wife and daughter”. He had never told them of this and he knew in his heart that he would never do such a thing but he kept on saying to himself that he "might have to do it". He remembered in Lille during the retreat back to the Froich coast ( he had been a despatch rider at the time) he had run into a cul-de-sac and suddenly, horrified, he saw hundreds of men, women and children who had been machine gunned in a body. ” There were hundreds and hundreds of spent machine gun bullets all around ”, he said. "They had been herded into the cul-de-sac and brutally murdered. Up to that time I had thought that it was a clean war”. It was this sight more than any [crossed out] thing [end crossed out] other single experience that made Hollis, from that moment on, a killer - a ruthless, calculating one at that. From that moment on, "I had no mercy, no compassion” and ” if I took a prisoner, it was by coincidence.”
He knew he could never be a regular army peacetime sergeant because "I could never put a man on charge for not cleaning his boots!" On the other hand during the war he could have cheerfully killed a member of his Company for running away. Although tough as a Company Sergeant Major had to be he also was the type to look after the less experienced, the young soldiers.
One of them was Private Youngs, batman to Lieutenant Kirkpatrick, a platoon commander of D Company. Somehow he knew Youngs was going to get it. (No explanation) Sergeant Rufty Hill, killed the moment the ramps went down. "Rufty” lived about 8 miles away. He was frightened of nothing. They had been through the war together ” when the war is over”, Rufty said ’’I’m going to come over and live in France. They tell me the French girls are really smashin”. "I just want to come back home”, Hollis told him.
Rufty always carried more ammunition than anybody else ’’Where did you get all the ammo", Hollis asked. "That 's my business Stan - no questions, no pack drill”, Rufty answered. "But I'll sort out old Fritz when I get there. Anyway they can afford the ammo - it 's a big firm Stan. You're not buying it so why worry."
It was the ammo that killed him. When they landed Rufty went into a shell hole. The ammo pulled him down and before he could swim to the surface the landing craft drifted over him.
They hit the beach at 7.30 in the first wave. D Company and A Company were the two assaulting Companies for 50 Division. There was about 108 in each Company and they were landed in LCA's- about 16 in each craft. About 10 craft in all.
In Hollis' craft was the Company CO, Major Ronald Lofthouse ( got MC for D-Day).
His Company’ s objective was the battery at Mont Fleury. Their assault area was about 200 yards on their left were two assaulting companies of the 5 East Yorkshire Regt and Hollis' right 2 C6's of the Dorsets and 2 of the Hampshire Regts plus 47 Commando.
Going in with Hollis is two of his pals, Private Paddy Mullally and Private Charlish a Bren gunner. Charlish said ’’There’ s no need to worry about it - when it’s time you’ll get it and you can’d do nowt about it.” Rufty said ” Ah well, lets get at them now and sort them out”. Mullally said "By the Holy fortune, here we go.”
There was smoke and fog covering the beach. They knew there was a marsh that was mined back of the beach, beyond the high water mark and beyond that a coastal road running parallel with the beach. They could see their objective as rget made their run in. It lay at the top of a road running
- 3 - from the coastal road. There was a house to the left, the battery was on the right. "It was the biggest damn thing I've ever seen" said Hollis later. "Each emplacement had walls 6 feet thick and each separate gun emplacement was 30 or 40 yards square with four pillboxes in front of the three guns and communication trenches linking them all. The guns were heavy naval 11 inchers. The whole lot was camouflaged with black and green netting with sacking in a variety of colours."
Several landing craft hit mines on the way in. There were shouts from A Company men in the water only about 40 yards away, for help. But they couldn't stop. The guns didn't hit the boats of D Company. There were two Marines on each landing craft, one looking after the engines, the other steering. There was a stripped Lewis gun propped up against the front of the assault craft and Hollis wondered why it wasn't being used as they were getting heavy machine gun fire from a bathing chalet which had been turned into a strongpoint near the high water mark. He grabbed the Lewis gun, climbed up on the top of the ramp and began firing. It was loaded with tracers and he happily watched the stream of red tracer spatter about the chalet. He fired the whole pan in one burst. Forgetting the red hot barrel he grabbed with his hand when he'd expended all the ammo and in that moment got his "most painful wound" of the war - a badly burned palm. He dropped the Lewis gun with a yell. Just then the LCA ground to a halt. The ramp went down and Hollis leading the way with a sten gun in his hand yelled "Forward the Yanks and for Christ's sake get off the beach". As he raced up the 200 yards of beach with Mullally on one side and machine guns bullets flaking the sand all around he said to Mullally "I've been in better places Paddy" "So have I Sarge," said Mullally.
ADD tank - Holles thinks - to their right suddenly blew up and the hatch bowled across the beach at incredible speed. All he remembers of that moment was "Oh, if that gets among the Company it will do more damage than the Germans" but he couldn’t take time to find out. He raced on up to the high water mark and he and Mullally flopped down on their bellies. Ahead of them was the minefield surrounded by concertina forked wire. As they waited for the remainder of the Company to come up - and many never would because many men were lying wounded on dead behind - Mullally pointed to two birds sitting calmly on the wire. "No wonder, they're not flying Sarge" he said, "there's no room in the air for them".
When the Company came up and assembled their two engineers set out through the marshy minefield with mine detectors. Quickly he got through with the Company in single file following the gape which the engineers had laid.
Everyone knew what they had to do after they got through the marsh. Nobody oddly enough at this stage got hit. On the coastal road in single file on either side of the road they began the advance on the batery. Now the casualties were felt- Mullally was one of those killed but Hollis didn't know about it until the end of the day- machine gun and mortar fire fell around them. In the next few minutes on this quarter of a mile approach 11 men were hit.
Now 16 platoon turned left to attach the house while 17 and 18 platoon went for the battery. The Company Commander, Major Ronald Lofthouse and Hollis were behind 17 and 18 and when they got near the perimeter pillboxes, they noticed that one pillbox had been bypassed. Hollis spotted two machine guns moving in the slits. He didn't say anything but sprinted across towards the pillboxes and as he started to run they opened fire. Somewhow, even though they were firing at 250 rounds a minute they didn't hit him. He flattened against the wall of the pillbox, poked his sten gun into the gun slit and pressing the trigger waved the gun around inside like a hose with his right hand. With his left he yanked a grenade from his belt, pulled the pin out with his teeth and tossed it in. Next he jumped on the roof, put another chip on his sten and walking across the top of the pillbox yelled "Come out you bastards". (There was screaming and yells inside the pillbox at his firing.) Now the Germans came out through the door at the back of the pillbox. He doesn't know why he didn't shoot them and there- instead he handed them over to other members of the Company who had come up.
- 4 - Just then he spotted half a dosen of the enemy running towards him along the communications trench. He just stood there pointing the sten gun. Theu too surrendered. In a matter of minutes he had captured 20 and killed two. By this time the guns had failed. Next the Company regrouped and continued the advance towards the village of Crepon. They advanced quickly ahead in line on either side of the road - very quietly, no talking. As they approached the village along a narrow lane Hollis saw two dogs about 100 yards ahead frisking about. Hollis was ahead of the Company. He quickly held up his hand to halt the Company behind him and hurried back to the Company Commander. "There's something in the hedge” he told him. Then he crept forward. Behind the hedgerow he saw a field gun, with a crew of 4 with two supporting machine guns. He returned and informed his Commander. Lofthouse told him to takea piat ( Projectile, Infantry, Anti-Tank) and two Bren guns to divert their attention while the rest of the Company attacked the position. Hollis with the piat and two Bren gunners went through the hedge into the kitehen garden of a cottage which was not more than 15-20 yards from the gun (you have to get that close with a Piat to have any effect otherwise its suicide). They found themselves lying in tall rhubarb. Hollis moved the stalks of thubarb in front of him to get the Piat into position hoping to put the "bomb” on the breech block with his first shot. He knew he'd have only one shot - its trajectory is slow and it can be seen as it sails through the air. As he moved the rhubarb he was spotted. The field gun almost instantly opened fire on them - even before the Bren gunners could. The first shell hit the cottage wall behind them and latterly brought the house down about them. Apparently under the impression that they had hit Hollis they stopped firing. Hollis said ”Let's get out of here”. Believing that they were following, he crawled out of the rhubarb and back onto the road. There he saw his Company Commander who told him that the CO of the Battaliah had been up and had ordered the gun to be bypassed. They were to push on. So they did. After they had gone about 200 yards somebody said to Hollis Hollis looked around, but couldn't see them. He hurried back to his CO and told him that they must be still- back in the kitchen garden. "I took them”, he said, ”and I'm going back to get them out”. He could hear machine guns chattering behind him and he figured that his two men were pinned down. He took a Bren gun and returned. He crept up on the German position and poking the gun through the hedge fired a blast at the machine gunners. They answered fire, but again miraculously Hollis escaped and by this time his estimation of the German army had reached a new low. [crossed out] [illegible] [end crossed out] The gun crew had disappeared. He kept up firing from various parts of the hedge, dodging back and forth along the hedge, until the two bren gunners reappeared on the road. He was glad to see them but he gave them a tounge lashing just thesame "Next time I tell you yo follow me, do it and quick- that's how you get other people killed." Hollis was quite sore at the whole incident- it was definately unsoliderly in his book.
Timing: Land 7.30; battery taken by 9.00; approach on Crepon by 12.00; attack on field gun by about 13.00; marched towards Crepon again by 14.00; returns fot Bren gunners 14.10 attack on position 14.15; Bren gunners 14.30; continue advance without any opposition into Crepon.