With the RAF celebrating 100 years of service this year, we pay tribute to Group Captain Peter Holland MBE, who died last March, aged 81.
Peter was a former Hastings schoolboy who, through a love of flying, rose through the ranks of the RAF to enjoy a distinguished career.
Peter Holland, son of Captain George William Holland (d 1956) and Margaret May, nee Clark (d 1976), was born 7th March 1935 and was educated St Michaels College Leeds and Hastings Grammar School.
Peter grew up and served in the Royal Air Force family, relishing an eventful career that spanned almost four decades. During this time he progressed from a 17 year old raw recruit to the rank of senior Group Captain, the Queen awarding him the Order of Member of the British Empire when he was just 32, which in 1967 was a rare honour.
Peter Holland’s RAF career started at the height of the Korean War and finished as the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union collapsed. Peter joined the RAF aged seventeen as an airman, was a corporal by eighteen and an officer aged just nineteen.
He served with the RAF Regiment in Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Cyprus, then on Supply and Movements duties as Senior Air Movements Officer at home in the UK and overseas, including accompanied tours in Cyprus, Singapore and Germany.
Due to his subject matter expertise, Peter was also an Instructor at the Joint Warfare Establishment and Commanding Officer at the RAF Movements School. Peter was Command Movements Officer at HQ RAF, Commanding Officer Supply Wing RAF Henlow and Chief of Materials and Movements and Assistant Chief of Staff (logistics) at HQ RAF Strike Command.
Peter served as airman; infantryman; air defender; fire officer; effectively developed and ran military air terminals in the UK, Cyprus and Singapore; was chief logistician in joint service, Commonwealth and NATO assignments throughout the world; commanded numerous units and thousands of men and women; saw active service and was at the centre of Operations at RAF Headquarters in High Wycombe during times of Crisis and War.
As a great raconteur with an easy and amusing style, Peter’s charm and popularity meant that during his RAF career he was further tasked with the secondary duty of being President of the Mess Committee (PMC) at many Postings. He had so many accomplishments within the RAF, it is a testament to his contribution that, to this day, he is remembered with fondness and respect by countless former colleagues around the world.
On retiring from the RAF, Peter was dedicated to Public Service. He devoted his initial years as Chairman of School Governors, President of the NW London Catenians and trying to put an honest face on local politics.
Throughout, the RAF thread was never far - in North West London he improved the sense of community by creating the ‘Adastral Village,’ unveiled by the local Mayor and still in existence today. On returning to permanently reside in Hastings, Peter took up the position of Senior Officer Air for Hastings and the surrounding area and remained an active Catenian. Whether giving Addresses at various Forces events or encouraging an old naval veteran to receive his Chevalier Legion d’Honneur from the French Consul, orchestrating both ceremony, attendees, dignitaries and venue, Peter’s unwavering sense of duty, loyalty and decency always prevailed. Peter was the consummate officer and gentleman.
Like many of his townsfolk, Peter met the love of his life, his Swedish wife Kerstin, at a dance on the Hastings pier 1961. In 2012 the Bishop of Stockholm renewed Peter and Kerstin’s wedding vows after 50 years of marriage. At the time, Hastings Observer captured this in their article: Swede Dreams are made of these!’
Kerstin introduced Peter to many cherished Swedish traditions, such as Santa Lucia and celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve (Jul Afton). For over half a century, immediately after a huge Swedish feast, Peter would go out to ‘hunt for Santa’ – who would always of course arrive in his absence, sit by the family Christmas tree and hand out all the presents.
Peter and Kerstin had four children; Peter, David, Kristina and Ann-Marie and five grandchildren; James, Matthew, William, Peta and Sam.
For wife and children, accompanied RAF tours meant adventures to exotic lands, different cultures, tastes, sounds.
His daughter Kristina said: “Hastings always offering a homecoming from the dynamic RAF lifestyle, with its pebbled beaches and ice-creams; windsurfing; swimming; fireworks in the park; walks in beautiful Fairlight; Old Town carnivals; Amusements on the Pier; mass at Star of the Sea; extended family gatherings and an ever changing seascape.
“Peter had a plethora of brilliant achievements and tales of ‘Derring Do’, but the thread that ran through all was a kind and genuine interest in others, and the gentle selfless way in which he helped us all. He was a wonderful husband, father, grandfather and our best friend:
“From our earliest memory, through his wit, charm, anecdotal stories, unwavering love and compassion, every problem was resolvable, any fear surmountable, the world was never black and white but laced with adventure, humour and promise – a rich tapestry of colour and vibrancy.
“The last of 13 children, Peter had a full and wonderful life, caring deeply for his large family and the Royal Air Force, with a tremendous sense of duty and unerring loyalty to both. Peter was kind, witty, charming and above all a gentleman, his charisma and wisdom echoed forever in our memories and his writing.
“Much loved by everyone, he will continue to live on in our thoughts, words and actions, his core ethos shaping our approach and response to the world.
“Churchill once said, ‘history would remember him well because he would write it’. Peter had a passion and talent for writing and wrote his own potted history of life from child to senior officer within the RAF in ‘Salute He Moves,’ an amusing anecdotal depiction of military life and accompanied tours with his Swedish family Holland. Other stories included Caius the Cad and his mischievous adventures; his ‘Letters from Abroad’ and ‘A Boy from Hastings’.”
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