Stan Hollis was Company Sergeant Major, D Company, 6th Battalion Green Howards. This battalion was one of two that were in the first wave of landings, King Sector, Gold Beach, at 07.32 on the morning of D-Day.
By 1944, Hollis was no stranger to combat having been at Dunkirk. He had fought with this battalion since El Alamein and had been wounded at the Battle for Primasole Bridge in Sicily. As one of the ‘old men’ of the unit he was looked up to by the younger soldiers, who often looked to him to take the lead when they got into a sticky situation.
Thirty-one years old on D-Day and being one of the most experienced men of the unit, he was put in charge of three machine gun and three mortar teams that were to cover the advance of the company off the beach, up a hill beyond and over the crest towards their main objective, the German heavy naval artillery position at Mount Fleury. The first company objective of the day was a house with a distinctive round driveway that overlooked the beach. It was here Stan performed the first of two acts of heroism that were to win him the only Victoria Cross awarded on D-Day.
When the lead platoons of D Company had just passed the house, they came under fire from a machine gun hidden in a pillbox against the garden wall. Hollis charged some thirty yards over open ground, under fire, stuck his sten gun into the pillbox slit and emptied the magazine.
He then lay on top of the pillbox and dropped a grenade inside, before jumping down and entering the fortification, where he took the surviving occupants prisoner. He then saw a slit trench leading away to a second pillbox in the garden of the house. He advanced down it alone and captured the fortification and all those in it. In all he captured 30 Germans single-handed.
Later, at approximately 11am, he was involved in the second action which contributed to his award.
By this time, he was acting commander of 16 Platoon, its officer having been killed in action. Having spotted a German field gun hidden in a hedge he decided to try and destroy it. Taking a PIAT (the British equivalent of a bazooka) he, accompanied by two Bren machine-gunners, crawled forwards through a large rhubarb patch to get close enough to the artillery piece to try a PIAT shot. Unfortunately, he missed and the gun, about 100 yards distant, turned and fired on them but miraculously fired high over their heads. Hollis shouted to the men with him to get back and retreated to cover behind a farm building. Unfortunately, the men either hadn’t heard him, or were too afraid to run.
Saying he had got the men into trouble, so he had better get them out, he took a Bren gun and advanced into the open, firing from the hip, to attract the attention of the field gun team. This enabled the two gunners to run back from the rhubarb patch to cover. Astoundingly, even though he was standing in plain sight of the enemy Hollis was not hit.