If you were to meet Stanley Hollis after World War II, you wouldn’t have a clue that a humble sandblaster and then later on “The Green Howard” pub owner gallantly fought during the Normandy Landings that day of June 6, 1944. Moreover, who would’ve thought that this meek family man was actually the only soldier that became a Victoria Cross Recipient of that war— an award so infrequently given and so prestige that those who got the chance to receive it became a part of an exclusive pantheon of war heroes, Hollis included.

Stanley Elton Hollis. (Image from D-Day Overlord)

Before the D-Day Invasion

Hollis was born and raised in Middlesbrough, North Riding of Yorkshire, England, where he also studied until 1926. His family soon moved to Robin Hood’s Bay, where he helped with his father’s fish and chip shop.

In 1929, he became an apprentice to a Whitby shipping company as a Navigation Officer. There, he made regular travel to West Africa until he caught blackwater fever that ended his merchant navy career. He went back to North Ormesby to work as a lorry driver, where he also married Alice Clixby and had two children with her: a son and a daughter.

Stanley Hollis with his wife Alice, daughter Pauline and son Brian
Stanley Hollis with his wife Alice, daughter Pauline and son Brian. (Image from D-Day Overlord)

Experienced in War

In 1939, he enlisted in the Territorial Army, which was part of the British forces, in the 4th Battalion called Green Howards. He was then sent to France in 1940 as part of the British Expeditionary Force, where he was assigned to be the dispatch rider of the commanding officer. Soon, he was promoted to the rank of sergeant at the time of evacuation from Dunkirk. He also became part of the El Alamein to Tunis as a member of the British Eighth Army during the North African Campaign. Not long, he again climbed the ranks and was promoted to company sergeant major just before the invasion of Sicily in the year 1943. It was at that time that Hollis was wounded in the middle of the battle of Primosole Bridge.

But all these could not rival what he was to do and experience in the Invasion of Normandy.

Landing in Normandy

Hollis arrived on board a ship on the shore of Gold Beach that day, just like the rest of the thousands of British soldiers and Allied forces. He jumped and waddled his way from the drop point to the shore, which took an hour with all the German bullets showering them like a typhoon of death. He made it safely inland. The first thing he noticed was a suspicious-looking shack next to a house. His comrades shrugged it off and thought nothing of it, but Hollis felt the need to check and peek inside. To his surprise, he saw a machine gun protruding from a slit, as the shack turned out to be a German pillbox. He didn’t spare a second and slapped a new magazine in his gun before reaching the enemy and spraying them with his bullets. The Germans appeared to be surprised, too, as they fired back but missed Hollis miserably. He then threw a grenade into the building and waited for the explosion before barging in and taking the survivors as prisoners of war. A few moments later, he found another group of German soldiers in another pillbox. Again, he took them as prisoners: single-handedly capturing dozens of POWs at that moment.

As he moved forward into the village, he saw a German gun nestled in a hedge, and so what he did as an acting commander of the platoon was to take two machine-gunners with him to crawl closer and take out the operators. The Germans spotted them, however, and opened fire. His two companions were pinned down and were too terrified to move while he managed to take cover behind a wall.

Stanley Hollis memorial statue in Middlesbrough. (CD1965CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

To him, at that moment, there was nothing left to do but run out into the open to the German gunners’ attention and buy his men some time to run for cover. He miraculously was not hit and managed to run to safety. He was wounded in the leg in September 1944 and was evacuated to England. King George VI decorated him with the Victoria Cross on October 10, 1944.