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The Airmen's Stories - F/Lt. J B Holderness


John Browning Holderness (always known as 'JB') was born on 16th November 1911 in Rhodesia, the son of James Edmond Holderness who, as a young man, had emigrated from Yorkshire in 1892. In the early days, before JB was born, James worked as a law clerk in the law practice which Sir Thomas Scanlen had started in 1890 in Salisbury, Rhodesia. Eventually James was granted a partnership with Scanlen. The firm of solicitors has continued to operate in the same location under the unchanged name of Scanlen & Holderness.


Above: Holderness in Rhodesian uniform. Although the date, location and his companion are undocumented, Ward & Salmons was a gents outfitters in Durban, South Africa and the departure port for the 'Warwick Castle'.


As was common practice at the time sons followed their father's profession and JB and his three brothers all studied law.

JB Holderness was commissioned in the 1st Battalion, Rhodesia Regiment, (Territorial Force) as a 2nd Lieutenant and attached to the Air Section of the regiment on 1st November 1935. He transferred to the Air Section as a Lieutenant on 17th July 1936 (the section was renamed the Southern Rhodesia Air Unit from 1st April 1938) before relinquishing this commission and taking one for five years in the General Duties Branch of the RAFVR as a Flying Officer on 12th May 1938.

Holderness was in the first draft of airmen from Southern Rhodesia who embarked on the MV Warwick Castle at Durban under the command of F/Lt. JFF Finnis and arrived at Liverpool on 12th August 1940.

Within days he was posted to 5 OTU Aston Down to convert to Hurricanes, after which he was posted to No. 1 Squadron at Tangmere, arriving on 1st September 1940.

On 7th September he shot down a Do215, the claim was confirmed though it was probably a Do17.

He moved to 229 Squadron at Northolt on 17th October and was posted away in December 1940.


Above: P/O S Stegman, Holderness, P/O J Poplawski, 229 Squadron


Above: F/O RE Bary (NZ) and Holderness in the office of the dispersal hut.


Above: His Hurricane ground crew, Fitter LAC Roberts and Rigger ACI Withey.


Above: his personal insignia.

His subsequent service is undocumented until he rejoined the Southern Rhodesian Forces on 26th August 1945.

Holderness went back to Rhodesia and farmed until 1971. He then sold his farm and returned to the family law business.

Holderness was killed in a road traffic accident near his home in South Africa on 15th April 2008 aged 96.

JB Holderness had one older and two younger brothers. The eldest, Richard, went into the clergy, the other two served in the RAF.




Above (L to R): HHC Holderness, JB Holderness, AJ holderness


Harold Hardwicke Clarke Holderness served with 502 (Ulster) Squadron, Coastal Command, operating the Halifax in the anti-submarine role. After several engagements with surfaced U-boats he was awarded the DFC, he already held the AFC from his time as an instructor.

In the period leading up to D-Day the squadron prevented U-boats from operating in the Western Channel before moving to Stornoway to operate at night off the Norwegian coast. His service here and in later sorties in the Skaggerak and Kattegat resulted in July 1945 in the award of the DSO for '...outstanding determination, leadership and courage'.

In August 1945 he returned to law practice in Southern Rhodesia and in 1954 was elected as an MP in the Southern Rhodesian parliament at the start of Garfield Todd's premiership. He served for four years but, disappointed by the political situation, moved in 1975 to England with his family.

He died in 2007 aged 92.




Anthony James Holderness is recorded as being posted as an Acting Pilot Officer to 248 Squadron, operating the Blenheim at Hendon, on 30th October 1939. He does not appear in the squadron records after June 1940 but is known to have flown Mosquitos on intruder operations against German night-fighters later in the war. His service is currently undocumented until he was released from the RAF and joined British European Airways. On 10th January 1954 he flew the first non-stop service from Heathrow to Mallorca, operating the Vickers Viscount.


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