Born in the grounds of Oakley Hall in 1920, Fred led an interesting and varied life.
Fred Holding Eulogy
Many of the people here today, who knew Dad in his later years will be unaware of how varied his life experiences were.
He was born in the grounds of Oakley Hall where his father was the head gardener on the estate. He himself grew up to be both gardener and groom and he was in fact an excellent horseman. He lived a very happy life with his brother Robert and his sisters Rose and Phyllis. During this time his passion for gardening developed.
This idyllic existence was disturbed by the prospect of war and Dad, who was already in the Territorial Army, was somewhat economical with the truth about his age, claiming to be a year older than he was. This meant that when war was declared he was sent out to France the very next day. This was the start of a very distinguished and long service during most of the campaigns of the Second World War.
He began by fighting the rearguard at Dunkirk, defending the canal line to prevent the German army reaching the soldiers being evacuated on the beach. He was given three weeks to find his own way along the coast of France, travelling nearly 100 miles on foot after dark. He reached St Valerie en Caux where he swam out to a submarine whilst under rifle fire from the cliffs above for evacuation.
After a while around Caernarvon, calibrating the artillery guns he was sent out to North Africa where he served with the 8th Army under the leadership of several Generals including Montgomery. He fought through the entire campaign defending Tobruk, El Alemain, Sirte and the Qatara Depression. His main job was as a forward range finder and during this time he was commissioned by the War Office to take photographs for military surveillance. He made an amazing album from photos returned to him – moments of real history documenting the surrender of German generals, the capture of Italian prisoners of war and the destruction of tanks and planes.
Following this hard fought campaign he was sent to Italy where he was involved in the Sicily and Anzio campaigns, but then he sustained a shrapnel injury to the head during the siege of Monte Casino. Here he was operated on in the field hospital to remove shards of shrapnel from his brain.
Dad had a short period of recuperation on the Isle of Man before being sent out to Germany. He was then trained as a sniper with the intention of being dropped behind enemy lines in the Far East. The atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima saved him from further punishment and his war was over.
Dad cheated death on many occasions. At the beginning of the war his name was even recorded on the war memorial at Norton in Hales when it was thought that the ship he was travelling in had gone down. His gun team was directly hit during one onslaught and only two of the men escaped with their lives. At one point his entire unit was nearly wiped out and Dad became Commanding Office being the most senior in rank and at this point he was only a Lance Corporal!
Dad was most probably saved by his extreme of physical fitness. He was a qualified PT and Boxing instructor. He not only boxed for the army in Italy but was a Champion bodybuilder and incredible swimmer capable of swimming Ellesmere lake and back before breakfast.
This Physical fitness helped him also with the battles that were to come. Two years after he was married, Dad began to battle for his life. The Brain injury he sustained in Italy resulted in a Brain Tumour in 1949 and he became the first man in Britain to survive an experimental operation performed at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
When he was well he worked as a lumberjack before beginning a long career with the Ministry of Agriculture in pest control, grants and subsidies and farm inspection – a fact that made me very popular at Young Farmer’s dances!
1947 brought a new chapter in his life – he married my mum and he began to grow and show Chrysanthemums and Dahlias. He was a total perfectionist winning many prizes at flower shows both locally and further a-field. He was in fact a founding member of the still popular Whitmore Show. He worked hard in the garden, supplying local florists such as Foulkes, Penkhull Nurseries and Bridgemere Nurseries. Dad was also a talented artist, attending night school classes with his good friend Harry Leath.
The most impressive thing about Dad, however, was not his many talents but his modesty. His many show certificates were pinned on the walls of the chicken coup and his trophies were relegated to a chest of drawers on the stairs. He was in fact awarded 7 medals during the war, which we found last week, still in their original packaging in an After Eight box in his sock drawer.
In many of the letters we have received people have called Dad a Gentleman. I believe this was in the true sense of the word – a gentle man. He never boasted about his achievements and as for his experiences in the war, he bore no resentment towards the German people believing that the men were doing exactly the same as him – in his own words – ‘I had a job to do and I did it’. Dad often spoke about the futility of war and believed that people who glorified what they had done had seen no real action.
If Dad was here now he would say that his greatest achievement, however, was marrying my mum. They were childhood sweethearts and she was the love of his life. Looking at old photos with Barbara last week she commented that in all the photos of this last year he had lost the twinkle in his eye that everyone loved. His world fell apart when she died but he carried on the best he could for the rest of us, despite his agonising illness. His family meant everything to him and he was a wonderful dad who in my eyes could do anything – from knocking together a rabbit hutch when I really needed a cute little bunny at Hodgkiss’s farm to making a manger fit for the King for the school nativity play – and that was when I was a teacher! He loved being part of my life with Nigel, doting on Ben from the moment he arrived – not even minding the day Ben blew his nose on Dad’s spectacle cloth instead of his hanky!
More than one of my cousins has remarked that he was their favourite uncle and his generosity of spirit extended into the local community also. He was a loyal friend and helpful neighbour. Dad meant so much, to so many people – someone to be admired for his physical prowess, as a war hero, prize winning gardener and talented artist. He was someone to be loved, missed and remembered for his generosity and kindness, someone who crossed the social divide from ‘below stairs’ to a true Gentleman in every sense of the word.