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Battle of Britain 80th Anniversary: Newbury Spitfire pilot youngest in the country

Daring ace Dennis Holland killed in battle

During the Second World War, Spitfire fighter planes for the RAF were manufactured in Newbury. The Vickers factory was at Turnpike Road. But Newbury also provided one of the Spitfire pilots – the youngest man to qualify as a pilot in the whole of the country.

His name was Dennis Holland. Dennis was born in 1917. His father ran a gravel business in Enborne Road. Dennis lived with his parents and sister in Queens Road and attended the local Council school. In common with many young lads of his generation, Dennis was captivated by flying; but was one of very few to make it into a career, however short-lived. At the age of just fourteen, Dennis took up civilian flying – he must have been the envy of many of his contemporaries.  Mostly flying from the airfields at Woodley and Southampton, he was the youngest in England to qualify for his A and B certificates, at 15 and 17 years old respectively. Obtaining his Instructor’s licence at 18 made him the youngest Air Guard instructor in the whole of Britain, travelling around the country to train other pilots.

The NWN reported that before the war, Dennis entertained his Newbury neighbours of a Sunday afternoon with “many a wonderful exhibition of aerobatics over his parents’ house”.  Current regulations  make that unlikely to happen today!

When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Dennis had completed around 3,000 flying hours, and immediately volunteered to man fighter aircraft. 

In 1940 he was described as “the best type of British manhood, well- built, full of vigour and always in high spirits”. He was by all accounts popular, making friends wherever he went. His fellow pilots nicknamed him “Dutch”.

As a Spitfire pilot, young Dennis was confirmed as bringing down seven enemy aircraft, and was the likely source of several more “possibles”. During the London Blitz he was engaged in aerial dog-fights almost daily.

The average life expectancy of a fighter pilot in 1940 was a matter of a few weeks - only a lucky few survived the war.

Dennis’ luck ran out on 20 September 1940. Based at Biggin Hill, he was flying over Maidstone, engaged in a fight with a Messerschmitt when another, unseen from below, attacked his Spitfire and he was forced to bale out. His parachute landed safely, but he was badly wounded from the gunfire, and died in hospital shortly after admission. He was 23 years old.

His last reported words were to the doctor: “I’m alright, old pal, Dutchy can take it”.

Members of the RAF acted as bearers at Dennis’ funeral at Chaddleworth Church, which attracted a large attendance. The wreath on his coffin bore the inscription “In affectionate memory of Pilot Officer Dennis Holland, RAF, known to us as Dutch, a very gallant officer whom we all loved”.

In September 2011, a memorial bench was unveiled at Chaddleworth Church in Dennis’ memory.

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