Veteran Stories:
Brian Frederick Douglas Holliday

Air Force

  • Portrait of Brian Holliday taken after receiving his commission, 1941.

    Brian Holliday
  • Invasion currency Japan printed for intended use in India and Burma.

    Brian Holliday
  • Telegram to Brian Holliday's girlfriend indicating he had taken sick (ulcers), 1943.

    Brian Holliday
  • Map of Burma and Assan printed on silk, 1941. It would have been sewed into the seam of Mr. Holliday's flying suit in case of crash or capture.

    Brian Holliday
  • Photo album with portrait of Brian Holliday in "Bush Jacket" (right); and his girlfriend at the time, Margaret (left). Mr. Holliday kept this photo with him during the war.

    Brian Holliday
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"So we went back a little way from the airplane, a nice grassy spot and so, of course, I had the general’s attaché case and I’m picturing selling our lives dearly while we ate these important papers."


I got over there [England] just about the time the Battle of Britain was winding down. Lots of pilots. All of a sudden we were overstocked with pilots because the Canadian Commonwealth training scheme [British Commonwealth Air Training Plan] was getting into high gear and they were turning out pilots by the bushel. And so I got posted to India instead of England, but that was all right. The [No.] 20 Squadron [Royal Air Force] was one of the few squadrons that was always on active duty. They were on active duty between wars.

And so I was posted to them and I spent a month or two, and then they said, "would I like to go down to Burma?" And I said, "well, whatever you want." So they posted me down to Burma and it was a flight. Normally, it would be headed up by a flight lieutenant, but I was the only officer on the flight. We had three of these [Westland] Lysander [Mk. III (SD): army cooperation and observation aircraft], old ones, we called "Faith," "Hope" and "Charity," and one of them never did fly. The second one was good for parts and the one we kept flying. And that’s what we did our work with.

They’re quite a strange aircraft to fly. They do everything backwards from what most aircraft do. They can fly at very slow speeds. You can actually keep a Lysander in the air at 45 miles an hour. They had great big slots along the front of the wings, big flaps, and when the flaps went down, the slots came out and the thing would put its nose up. It had a big powerful engine and it could just hang on the prop... So you could land on a very narrow strip.

Air-Sea Rescue is squadrons around Britain where they specialize, like, if they go out and locate pilots that have crashed into the water. Okay. So down there [Southeast Asia], they figured they should have an air-sea rescue unit, that’s what we were. It’s sort of combined. It was usually Air-Sea Rescue and Army Cooperation. We had radio contact with a British general who had a commando group operating in Burma; and if he needed something, like if somebody was ill, we’d locate where they were, go and try and pick them up. You could land the Lysander in just about 100 yards, so you could go and rescue somebody that you couldn’t land other places. We rescued a few people, but not great numbers.

First day, we’d got a call that one of our pilots from Chittagong [Undivided India, located in present-day Bangladesh] had bailed out over the water. He’d probably been in a fight with some Japs and maybe got shot up, so he had to bail out, and he was in the water. He had rescue stuff that they carried but, so we would go and locate him and then radio to the launch that was up in Chittagong. That launch was a remarkable thing. It had four engines, each one driving a separate propeller. And it was heavily armed. You know, you’d call the launch and they’d go and try and find the guy. The other thing that might happen is if the guy was close to the shore somewhere, it might be there’d be a stretch of beach, we could go and land on the beach, and pick the guy up just off the beach. The idea was to be there to try and rescue fellows that had to bail out if we could and do anything else that was …

Well, I once had a call to pick up [British] General [William, "Bill"] Slim and take him down to the forward area. That was kind of fun because we landed at Mondaw [Burma]. It turned out the Japanese had bypassed during the night, so in effect, we were behind enemy lines. At least it was behind this patrol. And the general had one of these attaché case let’s say, British term there, like a small suitcase, leather, beautiful leather with brass fittings and everything. And I figured, okay, that’s the general’s important papers, you know, got to protect them. So we had a little place in the back of the Lysander, you could strap stuff in, so I took care of his attaché case there.

Well then we landed at Mondaw and there wasn’t anybody around. So he said, "well, maybe we should just take off again;" and I said, "well, we can’t, we have to have help to get started." So I said, "I suggest we just get back a little way from the aircraft and sit, and wait." We had a couple of [Hawker] Hurricanes [XII: fighter aircraft] circling up above that were our escort and they were going to report where we were. So we went back a little way from the airplane, a nice grassy spot and so, of course, I had the general’s attaché case and I’m picturing selling our lives dearly while we ate these important papers. He had a .38 calibre pistol with the bullets on a bandolier, shined, all brass, shined. I had a .45 automatic, a little heavier gun. And I figured, you know, we’d do the best we could.

So we get back and he opens up this attaché case. It’s coffee and sandwiches; so we had a cup of coffee with the general in the jungle [laughs].

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