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Brigadier Reginald Edward Holloway, C.B.E.
Royal Engineers

by
Lieutenant Colonel Edward De Santis, 1993.

PREFACE

In 1989 I wrote a biographical account of the life of Major General William Lionel Douglas Veitch, C.B., C.B.E. General Veitch was the Commandant of the Bengal Sappers and Miners during the years of the Second World War. In 1946 Veitch relinquished his command to Brigadier Rex Holloway, the subject of this book.

It was while writing Veitch's life story that I first came across any mention of Holloway. coincidentally, while the Veitch work was in progress, Rex Holloway's medals were put up for sale in Canada. I was fortunate enough to be able to purchase them for my collection. Since I had a good start on writing the Veitch story, and since many of the individuals who knew and supplied information about Veitch also knew Holloway, I felt that the search for biographical data on Holloway would be a relatively easy one. My assumption was correct. Information on Holloway was readily available and it was found to exist in great detail. Other projects kept me from starting on the Holloway work; hence, the passing of almost four years since I completed General Veitch's life story.

After Independence Veitch opted to go to Pakistan while Holloway stayed in India. Both men provided valuable services in the developments of the Engineer Corps of both countries. In many ways they were very much alike; that is, in their love for the Indian sub-continent and its people, their love of sports, their professional and technical skills, and their dedication to their work. Both were very private people. Veitch was a dedicated bachelor; Holloway had married twice and had two sons. Veitch's style of command could lean toward the stern side, while Holloway's methods were smoother but just as effective. Both men were greatly admired by the superiors, peers, and subordinates. Having the opportunity to study both men and the times in which they lived has given me a greater insight into India prior to the Second World War, and the works of the Bengal Sappers and Miners and the Indian Corps of Engineers during the period from 1930 to 1950.

1. THE EARLY YEARS

Reginald Edward (Rex) Holloway was born on the 16th of January 1902 in Calcutta, India. He was the first of four sons born to Major (later Major General) and Mrs. Benjamin Holloway.

Rex's father, Benjamin Holloway, was born on the 27th of August 1861. Benjamin Holloway was commissioned a Lieutenant in The Oxfordshire Light Infantry on the 22nd of October 1881. Lieutenant Holloway was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the Regiment that was then serving in Burma under the command of Colonel Harry Armstrong Brett. On the 11th of May 1883 he was assigned to the Madras Staff Corps, an assignment which would take him out of his regiment, and one which in fact would effectuate his transfer to the Indian Army. By 1889 he had mastered Urdu and was qualified as a First Class Interpreter of the language.

Lieutenant Holloway was promoted Captain in the Indian Staff Corps on the 22nd of October 1892. He continued his general staff duties until the 27th of June 1900 when he was temporarily assigned as D.A.Q.M.G. (Intelligence Branch) India. He served in this capacity until the 14th of December 1900 when he returned to his normal staff duties.

During the period between 1892 and 1900 he attended and successfully completed the staff college course. His next major re-assignment came on the 11th of May 1901 when he was appointed Assistant Secretary, Military Department, Government of India. On the 10th of July 1901 Captain Benjamin Holloway was promoted Major in the Indian Army.

Benjamin Holloway had married somewhere along the way and it was while serving in the position of Assistant Secretary that Rex was born. The Holloways had three other sons besides Rex. Their second child, Harry Benjamin was born in 1904.

Major Holloway was promoted Lieutenant Colonel in the Indian Army on the 22nd of October 1907 and was subsequently promoted Colonel on the 14th of January 1912. With this promotion came greater responsibilities. He was appointed Deputy Secretary, Army Department, Government of India on the 1st of April 1912 and continued to serve in the Deputy Secretary position until the 12th of December 1914. In the interim, the Department was expanded and renamed the Army and Marine Department, Government of India.

Benjamin Holloway continued to receive more challenging and prestigious assignments. On the 13th of December 1914 he was appointed Secretary of the Army and Marine Department, Government of India. He was also promoted Temporary Brigadier General. Seven months later, on the 10th of July 1915, Benjamin Holloway was promoted Temporary Major General. The Great War was already almost a year old by this time. Holloway had seen no war service yet, but he had risen to the rank of Temporary Major General by virtue of his excellent staff work and administrative skills. He was obviously highly thought of by his superiors in the Indian Army.

Young Rex spent his early childhood with his parents and brothers in India. He certainly watched with pride as his father was promoted to the rank of Major General and was entrusted with the position of Secretary of the Department. To be sure it was during this time that Rex developed his love for India; a love which was to influence many decisions made by him during his own military career.

When he was old enough, Rex was sent to England for his education. He entered Tonbridge School for the Michaelmas term of 1915. While at Tonbridge School he was a member of School House and played on the football XV.

During Rex's first year at Tonbridge School his father's career advanced even more. Benjamin Holloway was made a member of The Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (C.I.E.). On the 16th of July 1916 he left his staff duties for the command of a brigade, presumably of Indian infantry.

Rex's younger brother Harry entered Tonbridge School during the Michaelmas term of 1917. The brothers were thus companions for each other during the two-year overlap in their time at Tonbridge.

Rex left Tonbridge School in 1919 and in 1920 he received a Cadet Scholarship to attend the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich where he earned a Rugger Blue.

2. PRE-WAR SERVICE IN INDIA

Rex Holloway received a regular commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers on the 22nd of December 1921. This was the same year that his brother Harry graduated from Tonbridge School. Following his commissioning he attended the Young Officers Course at the Royal School of Military Engineering at Chatham, Kent. Upon completion of the course he was assigned to the 56th Field Company, Royal Engineers and spent the next five years with that unit, the RE Mounted Depot, and in the Training Battalion Royal Engineers. During this period he played Rugby football for the Army. Rex's brother Harry graduated from Tonbridge School during this year.

In 1922 2nd Lieutenant Holloway was appointed an Associate Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers. His brother Harry emigrated to Canada where he went into farming. Harry became the owner of a place called Woodstock Farm near Silton, Saskatchewan. He remained in Canada for the rest of his life. In turn, Rex's would emigrate to Canada as well. It was indeed a strange turn of events that of four boys born and raised in India, all with basically the same childhood experiences, only one would choose the Army and India while the other three chose the far different climate and terrain of western Canada.

On the 23rd of December 1923 Rex was promoted Lieutenant while still serving at Chatham. Holloway remained at Chatham at least until June 1926.

On the 5th of January 1929 Holloway sailed for India and in February he joined King George V's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners. He was posted to the 5th Field Company at Rawalpindi which was then commanded by Captain (later Lieutenant General Sir Kenneth) Mc Lean. Holloway was Second- In- Command of the company when, on the 4th of January 1930, Captain (later Brigadier) E.F.E. Armstrong arrived to assume command of the unit. Armstrong recalled that, "Rex was a fluent Urdu speaker, a sturdy games player, and greatly liked and respected by our men. I certainly knew that I could have complete confidence in his judgement and his action."

It comes as no great surprise that Rex Holloway would have been proficient with Urdu. His father had qualified as a First Class Interpreter many years before. Unlike his brothers, Rex surely had stronger ties to India; its people and its language. Having decided that he would make the Army his career, and that he would spend most, if not all of that career in India, it was only natural that he become as fluent as possible in Urdu.

A year following his arrival in India he was stationed on the Northwest Frontier where he saw active service in the Kajuri Plain Operation in 1930 and 1931. Major Armstrong had the following to say about Holloway's service during these operations:

"Rex was imperturbable in action and in any task we had to do. As the operations closed the company remained to build a bridge across the Khajuri River [1] - the Mazarai Bridge. I asked Rex to take charge of the actual launching of the Inglis Bridge. This was a tricky launch at maximum possible main span over a high pier which we had constructed on a step in the side of the river gorge. Rex was at his quiet and calm best in this task. He received a well-earned M.B.E. for his services in these operations." (London Gazette, 6 May 1932).

During the Khajuri Plains operations Holloway's company also constructed the Jhansi Post and bridge defences.

In addition to the M.B.E. mentioned above Holloway also received a mention in despatches and was awarded the India General Service Medal 1908 with bar NORTHWEST FRONTIER 1930-31. The London Gazette of the 6th of May 1932 published his mention in despatches for "valuable services in connection with military operations on the NW frontier of India during October 1930 to March 1931."

The 5th Field Company returned to Roorkee at the completion of the Khajuri Plains operations and on the 17th of December 1932 it arrived in Noushira in the North West Frontier Province of India.

On the 22nd of December 1932 Holloway was promoted Captain. Shortly after the end of the year he was posted to No. 2 Company of King George's Own Bengal Sappers and Miners and served with that company during the Mohmand Operations.

Captain Holloway returned to England on the 13th of November 1934 and in October of 1935 he was enrolled as a student in the Junior Division at the Staff College at Camberley. Holloway and Armstrong attended the College together and went out skiing together each year that they spent at the Staff College. Armstrong recalls that:

"Rex was a sturdy and competent skier. On our first expedition to Sestrieres, Rex and I took the first early morning lift to the mountain top and emerged as the only runners to see nothing but dense mist and no visible tracks. Neither of us had skiied [sic] for many years and the view was somewhat daunting. At his first (and early) fall one of Rex's skis came adrift and disappeared into the misty and unknown depths. This was a moment to test a person's ‘unflapability.' Rex, calm, unperturbable [sic], taciturn as usual said nothing but, 'See you tomorrow, I hope' and cheerfully started down on his one ski."

He and Armstrong successfully passed the Staff College course in 1936. Holloway was then assigned as the AH CE Aldershot for a short time. He remained in this assignment 1937 until the 25th of February 1937 when he returned to India. Holloway was posted back to the Bengal Sappers and Miners as Second-In-Command of the Training Battalion on the 21st of March 1937. His assignment to the Training Battalion was a short one, as he was posted to Army Headquarters India at Simla along with his old friend Armstrong again shortly after taking up his new duties. Holloway left AHQ after a short while and was re-assigned to the Training Battalion of King George V's Own Sappers and Miners. After Holloway's posting to the Training Battalion, he never saw Armstrong again. Armstrong remembered his old friend fondly with these words:

"Never exuberant, Rex had a very real sense of humour and I value his companionship greatly.

I shall remember him as a Sapper Officer to look up to; a person of strong sturdy character, utterly dependable and a very true friend."

On the 28th of January 1938 Captain Holloway left his Training Battalion posting and was assigned as General Staff officer, 3rd Grade, Directorate of Military Operations and Intelligence, General Staff Branch, Headquarters Staff of the Army of India. During 1938 he married. The Holloways subsequently had two sons, but the marriage did not last. After the divorce, Holloway retained custody of his two sons. As his military duties precluded him from caring for the boys in the manner he would have wanted, he sent the lads to Canada to live with his brother.

3. SERVICE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR

On the 22nd of December 1938 Holloway was promoted Major. He became the Secretary and Editor of the Journal of the United Services Institution of India on the 13th of January 1939, a position he held until the 30th of April 1940. On the 11th of May 1939 he was appointed Deputy Assistant Adjutant General (D.A.A.G.) for the Headquarters Staff of the Army of India. He relinquished this position on the 14th of May 1940 and five days later he was posted to Eritrea as the GS0 2. He pushed to get back with troops in a field unit and was successful in his efforts. On the 24th of October 1940 he took command of 4 Field Company, King George V's Own Bengal Sappers and miners in the Western Desert. His unit was soon heavily engaged in combat operations. In December of 1940 they supported 5 Indian Infantry Brigade of 4 Indian Division in the attack on Tummar West Camp. This was the first successful British offensive of the war, the left hook across the desert by 7 Armoured Division and 4 Indian Division which, taking the Italians completely by surprise, captured four defended camps to the south of Sidi Barrani and opened the way for the advance to Bardia and El Agheila. It was not an engineer's battle, but Holloway's company supported the brigade in the attack and afterwards helped to collect and remove the mass of prisoners and captured equipment.

In January of 1941 Holloway's company was again engaged with the enemy. This time the company took part in the advance of 4 Indian Division from the Sudan to Eritrea. The company took part in the actions at Agordat and Mount Cochen. At Agordat the advance was held up by Italian forces in the wooded hills around the town. 11 Indian Infantry Brigade gained a hold on Mount Cochen, the key to the position, but the situation deteriorated and a section of 4 Field Company, which had been making tracks up the rough hillside, was ordered to reoccupy positions evacuated by the infantry. Holloway was ordered to take charge and organize the defence of the summit, still held by British infantry, but hard pressed. This he did with distinction. In the course of the battle a detachment of the company made a bayonet charge to capture a machine gun post, for which action Jemadar Kirat Singh was awarded the Indian Order of Merit (IOM). After the fall of Agordat the Divisional Commander, in a special order of the day drew attention to the part played by 4 Field Company which, he said, "contributed to a large degree to the success of the operation on Mount Cochen."

Holloway was promoted acting Lieutenant Colonel on the 28th of April 1941 and had to relinquish command of his company. On the 10th of May he was appointed G.S.0. 1 and then received a promotion to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel on the 28th of July. On the 14th of December he was appointed G.S.O. 1 (Liaison) between India and the Middle East with Headquarters South Army. For a short period he also served as Commander Royal Engineers (CRE) of the 19 Indian Division Engineers. On the 30th of December 1941 the London Gazette published a mention in despatches for this outstanding services in North Africa and the Western Desert.

Lieutenant Colonel Holloway served as a staff officer liaison between the Middle East and India all through the year 1942. Starting early in 1943 he received a number of appointments beginning with his appointment as S.O.R.E. 1 made on the 9th of January. He did not relinquish his post as G.S.O. 1 until the 1st of March 1943 and assumed his S.O.R.E. duties the following day. He continued in this job for most of the year and then on the 25th of November he was reassigned the duties of G.S.O. 1. Within a matter of just ten days (5th December 1943) Holloway was assigned to Army Headquarters South East Asia Command and SOI of 33 Indian Corps. These later positions appear to have been additional duties for him as he continued as G.S.O. 1 until the 9th of July 1944 when he relinquished that position and two days later assumed the duties of S.O.R.E. once again. This last assignment was to be short-lived however, as Holloway was destined to go to the Imphal front to take part in the fiercely fought operations going on there.

Holloway joined Headquarters, 23 Indian Division Engineers at Palel on the 27th of July 1944. The following day he was appointed C.R.E. for the division. In the process of taking over the duties of C.R.E. from Lieutenant Colonel A.G.P. Leahy, R.E., Holloway toured the engineer works going on in the Shenam, Tengnoupal, Staircase, and Lokchao Bridge areas. These tours were made on the 29th and 30th of July. On the 1st of August he made a tour of inspection of the slip at M.S. 44 and again visited the bridging site over the Lokchao. The following day be returned to the Lokchao Bridge site and also observed the ongoing work on the Tengnoupal to Sita track. During this period the Headquarters of Holloway's 23 Indian Division Engineers was located at Happy Valley Shillong.

On the 5th of September, after assuring himself that his units were performing their assigned tasks to his satisfaction, Holloway proceeded on a much needed leave. He returned from leave on the 25th of the month and resumed his duties as C.R.E. The following day he proceeded by jeep to Sylhet and thence by air to 14 Army Headquarters to discuss the move of his division engineers. He arrived back at his headquarters on the 30th of September.

At some period between September 1944 and July 1945 Holloway left 23 Indian Division for another temporary posting or for extended leave. In July of 1945 he resumed his position as C.R.E., 23 Indian Division Engineers and took part in the operations on the Imphal front. On the 5th of September Holloway landed in the Port Swettenham - Port Dickson area during the reoccupation of Singapore.

By December of 1945 Holloway's headquarters was at Batavia. He again went on leave to India on the 8th of that month. After returning to 23 India Division from leave, Holloway finished out the final months of the war in Burma. For his war service he was awarded the 1939-45 Star, the Africa Star, the Burma Star, and the Defence and War Medals.

The arrival of 1946 found Holloway with the occupation forces in the Dutch East Indies. He was still C.R.E. of 23 Indian Division and was assigned engineer works tasks in the western half of Java. On the 21st of March 1946 he relinquished command of 23 Indian Division Royal Engineers and went on leave to Canada, via the United Kingdom, to visit with his two sons. For his service in Java he was awarded the General Service Medal 1918 with the clasp SOUTHEAST ASIA 1945-46.

4. COMMANDANT OF THE BENGAL SAPPERS AND MINERS

On the 7th of July 1946 Holloway returned to India where he was assigned to the Headquarters and Depot of King George V's Own Sappers and Miners. On the 31st of that same month he was appointed Assistant Commandant of the Bengal Sappers and Miners. Holloway received yet another mention in despatches for his war service that was gazetted [2] on the 19th of September. On the 18th of November Lieutenant Colonel Holloway was appointed Commandant of the Bengal Sappers and Miners.

Holloway received his permanent promotion to Lieutenant Colonel on the 31st of March 1947 and, as befits the Commandant of the Bengal Sappers and Miners, he was appointed Temporary Colonel on the 17th of May of that year. Following the partition of India and Pakistan Holloway returned to Roorkee near the end of 1947. He had been witness to much of the violence of the partitioning procedure and was very disturbed to see his beloved Bengal Sappers at Miners caught up in this tremendous period of upheaval. He found the Bengal Sappers and Miners badly shaken. Nearly all the British officers had been repatriated and all the Mohammedan Sappers had left for Pakistan, taking half the equipment and stores. The Sikh Sappers had nearly all lost relatives and friends in the Punjab. Nevertheless, as soon as he arrived, helped by his effortless command of Urdu, Holloway managed to restore morale and was able to send off several field companies to the operations in Kashmir. For his prominent role in a major Indian Engineer command at this time Colonel Holloway was awarded the India Independence Medal.

On the 11th of February 1948 Colonel Holloway relinquished command of the Bengal Sappers and Miners to Colonel Dhillon, the first Indian Commandant of the Bengal Engineers. Thus, Holloway was the last Commandant of that famous Corps, the Bengal Sappers and Miners, a Corps that had served the British Empire faithfully since its creation.

At independence, when Indian officers had to assume full responsibility for the functioning of the armed forces, the Corps of Engineers was very short-handed, far more so that some of the other arms of the service. The reason for the shortage was that "Indianisation" in the technical arms had started later than in the infantry and cavalry and had gained little momentum. This was strikingly borne out by the relative ages of the senior-most Indian officers in the different arms at the time. The Corps was not only shorthanded, but also its officers lacked experience in the higher ranks in command, in works, in staff duties, and in instructing. A few of the senior Indian officers of the Corps had brief experiences as Commanders Royal Engineers or engineer battalion commanders towards the end of World War II, but the great majority had served in engineer units as platoon and company commanders only. After the war, when it became apparent that Indian independence would not be long in coming, an attempt was made by Major General Hasted, the then Engineer-In-Chief, to prepare Indian officers for the responsibilities that lay ahead by appointing them to posts where they might pick up some of the kinds and levels of experience that they lacked; however, the interval between the end of the war and independence was too short and disturbed for this attempt to make any significant difference.

Because of this extreme short-handedness of experienced officers it came as a welcome help that some British officers agreed to continue to serve in independent India. Major General Williams and Brigadier Pigott became Engineer In-Chief and Director of Works, respectively, but the majority of the British officers who stayed worked at the College of Military Engineering (CME), where as Commandant and a team of instructors they played a valuable role in setting up the school. The Corps benefited greatly by having these British officers at the CME. In holding instructional positions they released Indian officers for executive and staff appointments. Also, they brought to their work much wider experience than was available within the Corps. Their presence produced a cross-fertilization effect, injecting innovative ideas that were stimulating and readily accepted in a new establishment which was finding its way in developing a character and tradition of its own.

5. COMMANDANT OF THE COLLEGE OF MILITARY ENGINEERING

The outstanding contribution to the CME by a British officer was unquestionably that made by Rex Holloway. Holloway departed Roorkee shortly after turning over command to Colonel Dhillon and proceeded to Kirkee. On the 8th of June 1948 he was appointed Temporary Brigadier and Commandant of the new School of Military Engineering at Kirkee (later to be known as the College of Military Engineering). Colonel A.W.G. Lawrie served under Holloway for three years at Kirkee. Lawrie knew him well and thought very highly of Holloway as a soldier and as a man. The two men were so close that Holloway was godfather to Lawrie's youngest son. Aitken Lawrie had this to say about Rex Holloway:

"Rex Holloway's last job was Commandant of the College of Military Engineering at Kirkee, India where I served under him for 3 years. I was able to revisit the College in 1988 and he is still warmly remembered. One thing he did was to found the Holloway Primary School there, which now [in 1988] has 300 to 400 children and is a flourishing institution."

By temperament Holloway was the right man for the appointment. His position as head of the School was a delicate one as, obviously, it would have been inappropriate for him to impose British ways of thought and action in an environment in which India’s youth was keen to give expression to their own cultural heritage in newly independence and responsibility. Holloway was sensitive to this situation. He was far from being the self-assertive, fire-breathing type that was associated with British officers of Poona connections. He had a good understanding of, and a deep sympathy for the young Indian officer. He never displayed the least arrogance or hint of feelings of superiority. Added to this he possessed a talent for organization and his mind delighted in grappling with detail. These gifts were brought to bear on the problems to be faced in setting up a great new school of instruction.

He played a big part in the planning of the CME. He had sound common sense, was practical in his thinking and had a strong feeling for economy. These qualities earned the respect of the DMT, QMG, financial advisors and others concerned with the planning and he was able to guide their discussions to reach conclusions, the wisdom of which were reflected in the end result. Observing him at a planning conference was an object lesson in the how the user should handle those vested with the power of decision. His utterances were quiet and his passions were never ruffled, though he was just as deeply involved as those who were close to him well knew. He would back his statement with meticulously drawn up staff tables, charts and graphs that told their story simply and definitively.

In organizing the administration and instruction in the CME no detail was too small for his attention and interest. He would take great pains initially in setting up an organization or method of instruction and when he was satisfied that it was good he would pass it over to the officer concerned and leave him to work it. His creative talents lay in just this type of work and it found a fruitful outlet at the CME. To cite but one concrete example, he designed in minute detail the method of accounting for the CME Officers Mess, whose membership of 350 made it one of the largest in India. The method was simple, sound and adaptable and continued in use, unmodified, for many years.

Brigadier J.A.F. Dalal recalled Holloway and his days at the CME.:

"I had joined the SME as the first Chief Instructor (Survey) in January 1948 when in the 5000 acres (2025 hectares approx.) for the project, there were only temporary hutments. Everything had to be started from scratch. Precis prepared, model rooms to be started, instruments to be acquired, playing fields laid out and so on all under the benign leadership of the late Brigadier Sir John Forbes. Then in June 1948 came Brigadier R.E. Holloway, medium built, well-knit, thin-lipped, soft spoken and stiff-hatted! "Now we've had it," said Jim Fitzgerald Smith, my neighbour and C.I. (Bridging)."

"But there was no need to fear him. He had a quiet, efficient way of doing things himself and getting things done. Though he appeared standoffish, we became friends, always bearing in mind, "on parade, on parade, off parade." To me and to the other instructors and his staff officers, he seemed omnipresent and omniscient."

"We used to start our classes early - 7 a.m. was the first lecture. Woe betide any instructor or student who was even a second late for any class whatever the weather. Without raising his voice he briefly told off the offender in icy tones and with no smile. The sinner never sinned again.

"He had a wry sense of humour. In those days an instructor never addressed a student as "Sir," however senior the latter may have been. I recall the late Subedar E.G. Warier, M.A. (Mathematics) giving a lecture to the Senior Officers' Class when one of the students, Lieutenant Colonel (later Brigadier) Ashley Gomes was not apparently listening. Warier in his nasal voice pulled up the Colonel saying "Colonel Gomes, please pay attention." The Commandant was near the door and could hardly restrain himself from laughing, but seeing me he smilingly walked away!"

"He was always busy. Once a half-hour before my survey class I was walking to our cricket ground passing by the verandah of his hutment, when I heard him clicking away on his typewriter. After greeting him I asked what he was typing. He shyly replied that it was a storybook for his two sons in which they were the main characters. This was their usual birthday present! He got these printed at his own expense in a private press - never any misuse of government facilities."

"He was everywhere, walking from class to class to class then back in his office disposing of files very quickly and giving clear directions to his staff before going to see how the new building was coming up - the F.E. Wing building was the first of the large buildings. He would push the back of a pencil into a corner and if it went through, then the contractor just had to redo quite a large portion with a fresh mix. "I don't know how he does it,' the late Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Stiffles, his staff officer, used to say repeatedly."

"By 4 o'clock he would be at the sailing club or on days when he could not sail walking around the campus watching us at games or merely thinking of his "baby" the SME. He had to have his two hours of exercise every evening. He hardly ever went to Delhi to expedite sanctions. The E-in-C, Major General H. Williams, persuasively and effectively managed matters.'

"I left the CME to go to the Staff College in 1949, but kept in touch exchanging greetings and occasional letters. In 1953 when I congratulated him on his CBE he wrote:

"There was a hectic time leaving the CME, but a quiet voyage enabled me to recover. I was sorry to go of course. Amongst a long, happy time in India, the last five years have been especially pleasant and interesting. I have enjoyed making friends, among whom I can count on yourself ..."

Other personal reflections on Holloway are provided by Brigadier C.R. Mangat-Rai, an Indian officer who had served closely with Holloway during this period of formation of the CME. Brigadier Mangat-Rai had met Holloway earlier in his military career, but it was not until March of 1950 in Poona that he began to know him well. Brigadier Mangat-Rai writes:

"At that time he [Holloway] was Commandant, College of Military Engineering, Kirkee and I was Chief Engineer, Southern Command in Poona next door.

"Originally the CME, then called the SME, was established in Roorkee during World War II. Its main role was to give YOs [3] commissioned into the Corps of Engineers their basic engineer training. At the end of the war it was moved to Kirkee which was to be its permanent location. It was placed on a large open area on the banks of the River Mula, an excellent site for the type of school it was to become. It was first housed in temporary buildings that had been put up during the war. Meanwhile, the plan for its permanent shape was being drawn up and the project for its construction started. I, as Chief Engineer, Southern Command and Rex as Commandant, CME were both concerned in the planning and I was responsible for building the new structures. We worked in close cooperation and I learnt to respect Rex for his common sense and good professional judgement. It was just one of my projects but as it was for my own arm of service I had a special interest in it. The collaboration between Rex and myself continued over three years and it was a delight and education for me to work with him."

Brigadier Mangat-Rai goes on to explain that Holloway was also responsible for building up the CME as a training school. This was an exciting and challenging task for him. India had just recently become independent and the armed forces were expanding and learning to function without the leadership of British officers. Holloway knew that it would be extremely important to set up the new school on sound lines and with the highest of standards. Holloway did such an outstanding job in the establishment of the CME that on his departure the College had gained recognition as a national institution. The Institution of Engineers, India, a civilian body began to accept Young Officers' training as equivalent to that of an engineering degree from a university. The CME soon became a showpiece and was visited by Pandit Nehru and other VIPs.

Holloway continued in this assignment for the next four years on the 1st of January 1951 he received his permanent promotion to Colonel while still serving as an Acting Brigadier in command of the School of Military Engineering.

Brigadier Holloway kept a diary during his time at the CME that gives some interesting information on the man and his work during the year 1952. The following extract from his diary covers the period from 17 January to 10 February 1952 and then skips to the period from 2 June to 31 July of that year [4]:

Jan 17 (Thursday) Hassels came in, the Sunderrajs motor-cycled in to drink a bottle of beer and dine at the Desais. Rich Parsee meal. Pocha also present.

Jan 18 (Friday): By Deccan Queen to Bombay. Meeting rapidly disposed of by autocratic chairman.

Jan 20 (Sunday): Up about 7 to a place enroute to Kharakvasla. Didn't try very hard and found no fish. Saw black-headed bunting and brown shrike (?)

Jan 28 (Monday): Regatta. Gen. W [Williams] changed in my house. Dinner [Corps] went off reasonably.

Jan 29 (Tuesday): Wrote Bill [Major General Williams, E-in-C] re extra year in India. Late for dinner at Mangat Rai’s. Gupta, Sebastian and wife. Harbhajan Singh and wife.

Jan 30 (Wednesday): Meeting - very belated - E-in-C. Patel, Kothari in the meeting, then with Mangat Rai round CME, and all lunched with me. In office with E-in-C till 1630, stayed on till 5.30. Chowdari came in.

Great depression for no reason.

Feb 1 (Friday): Walked up W/T nullah. Saw what might have been black headed babbler, white-eyed buzzard. Angela came in for glass of beer followed by her daughter Jane.

Feb 5 (Tuesday): Walk up W/T nullah. Sun birds beginning to go into summer plumage. Bay-backed shrikes pairing.

Feb 6 (Wednesday): Cleared filter, adjusted tappets, oiled speedometer cable. Set out after tea along Bombay road on cycle which began going wrong. Returned to bridge-hard boat house, then back and worked on cycle. Drink party at Hassels. Choudharis from A'Nagar, Mrs. Khanna, Inderjit Singh, Mehra, Datta, stayed to dinner.

Feb 7 (Thursday): Holiday. Wrote Bill [E-in-C). Tidied writing table. First sail with Rosemary to cover below botanical gardens. Decent W wind. Visited mess before lunch and played a game of darts. Sunderrajs, Inderjit Singh's, D. Stiffle to dinner. Played liar dice.

Feb 8 (Friday).- Symposium on Nitration at HE factory. Dinner at Factory. Drinks first at Broughtons.

Feb 10 (Sunday): Up at 5.30 and on water at Phatghar by B. Caught one small fish about 9, another 3-1/2 lb at 10.15. This gave a good fight. Back by 3.10. Slept.

With the Hassels to a Western and then gave them a poor supper.

June 2 (Monday): Gen. Atal arrived. Loombas to dinner.

June 3 (Tuesday): Atal’s inspection. Sailing final in which I was easily disqualified and Corps of Engineers won. Guest night.

June 4 (Wednesday): Very heavy storm.

June 5 (Thursday): Sailing lessons to Loombas. Angela, John and Dulcic came to drink.

June 8 (Sunday): To Chinchwas by about 0630 and by 8 a.m. had one 6 lb fish. Went on upstream by car, but appeared useless for fishing. To the flickers with the Hassells in the evening.

June 10 (Tuesday). Went to Poona to buy stuff for shirts, etc. for self and boys.

June 11 (Wednesday): Sailed in No 6 in light breeze and easily beat all others. Good party in ladies room by Harichand [Harichand was an Infantry Major who developed the Chemical Warfare School at the CME]. Loombas, Prestons, Beckets, Kumars, Percivals, Roberts, Datta, Hart.

June 14 (Sunday): Easy win in No 2 with Mangat Rai as very good crew.

June 16 (Monday): At 3.30 to AFMC prize giving. Sat with Mangat Rais, and at tea with Harry and Basu. On to RSI and sat drinking with CHs and Williams's. Changed at Hamilton's house and attended a very pleasant guest night at Mahrattas.

June 18 (Wednesday): Beaten in 3 by Ken in 2 [Ken was Major Kenneth Stiffle, who during his subsequent 13 years at the CME did a great deal for sailing in the Corps, and for India]. Dorothy [Mrs. Stiffle] sailed very well and was in front much of the way.

June 20 (Friday): Sailed in 2 with Douglas as crew, a bad second to Dorothy in newly painted No. 1. Mangat Rai out but no one else.

Immense party at the Prestons - about 40 there. On to RSI.

June 22 (Sunday): Very good walk (but wet) above Vadgaon. Saw fairy blue bird (?) and pied crested cuckoo (?). To film 'Pandora and Flying Dutchman" and Hassell's back to dinner.

June 23 (Monday): Went to a dance at Kirkee Hospital.

July 1: Dined Pinto - Bose and Shridharan. Typed till about 11.45. Then slept till 0115. Flew down.

July 7 (Monday): Called on Governor and went on for walk on hills about National Chemical Laboratory.

Dined Anand: CHs, Loombas and various other strange characters.

 July 10 (Thursday): To a good flick "Seven Days To Noon and then back to dine with Jenkins.

July 15 (Tuesday): Met Silky Wilky at Poona at 9.30.

July 16 (Wednesday): Drinks at Bhagats (Tutu).

July 17 (Thursday): Inspected by D.M.T. - usual trouble in stores, otherwise OK.

July 25 (Friday): Dinner party for Shahaney, Soni, Kumars, Boses, Dases, Stiffles, Engineers, Menon. Quite an amusing party actually.

July 28 (Monday): Went down to boat house. Found one YO without crew. So, about 10 mins late, set out to catch up and did so, getting very wet in the process.

July 31 (Thursday): Lunched Rashtrapati Bhavan. Sat next to incoherent Mrs but talked mainly across table to Mr who had a silent woman on either side. Walk. Still raining.

Much can be learned about Rex Holloway, the man, by reading these entries in his personal diary. Here are just a few observations one might make:

He thoroughly enjoyed socializing, whether for tea, drinks, dinner, or parties. He liked fishing. He was a bird watcher, although he appears to have been an amateur. Many of his observations concerning birds are qualified or followed by a question mark when entered into the diary. Most of the entries in his diary are social rather than work related. He did not note routine work in his diary; rather, he only made reference to special events such as inspections and visits by Generals. He was meticulous about noting the names of people with whom he did things or those he met for the first time. On January 30th he wrote "Great depression for no reason.' one wonders if he was subject to bouts of depression frequently or whether there was something bothering him during this period which he does not write about. The diary is rather bland in a certain regard. He wrote no highly personal or sensitive things in it. One wonders where he might have recorded his innermost thoughts and feelings, if indeed he ever did.

Holloway enjoyed walking. He rode a motorcycle and had some degree of skill when it came to maintaining his bike. He was a sailing enthusiast and was quite good at it. He enjoyed going to the movies. He apparently lived a typical bachelor's existence. He appears to have avoided being alone if possible. He mentions a women named Angela without elaborating on their relationship. He attended a dance, but does not indicate whether he went alone. And then there is Silky Wilky, who he met at Poona. Who was Silky Wilky?

The diary contains entries of events that occurred, but he never entered any planned or scheduled events. He was not a compulsive person. He abbreviated January (Jan) and February (Feb), but he wrote out June and July completely. He only missed noting one day of the week in the diary on 1 July. Oddly, he uses a mixture of civilian and military notation for the time of day writing 1630 followed by 5.30 in the same sentence. This inconsistency is repeated many times throughout the diary.

The four months of 1952 recorded in Rex Holloway's diary provide some excellent incites into the nature of the man, at least during this period of his life at age 50.

On the 1st of June 1953 Brigadier Holloway was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE, Military, 2nd type) and during that same month he was awarded the Elizabeth II Coronation Medal. It was at this same time that Holloway relinquished his appointment as Commandant of the School of Military Engineering and was succeeded by his old friend Mangat-Rai. In Special Order of the Day dated the 3rd of June 1953, Brigadier Rex Holloway wrote:

"Building an institution like this in a new place is absorbingly interesting and, in a measure, spectacular. This phase will soon be over, and I hand over to my successor, Brigadier C.R. Mangat Rai, the less glamorous task of maintenance and improvement." Brigadier Mangat-Rai in turn wrote the following:

"I inherited a smoothly functioning organization with a proud and efficient staff. I attended the guest night at the CME when Rex was bidden farewell. There was a great spontaneous expression of affection for Rex by officers young and old and the evening ended by Rex being mounted on one of the cannon that adorned the CME and taken in triumph round the campus."

Brigadier Mangat-Rai provides some personal information about Rex Holloway which helps us to know the man, not just the soldier. Holloway had a love for sailing and he put life into the infant Corps of Engineers Sailing Club that had been started at the CME. Members of the Corps had collected money to buy the fleet of Dublin Bay 'Water Wagtails' that the Poona Sailing Club, a British club, had put up for sale. Few in the Corps knew anything about sailing. Holloway was an expert helmsman and he aroused interest in sailing in the YOs. During the season, roughly the monsoon months, there were regular races twice a week. Increasing numbers, not confined to YOs, participated in the races. Officers like Mangat-Rai came to Poona, 10 miles away, and several wives took up sailing as well. The club became a pleasant social center. The annual regatta ranked as an important event of the Poona season. The seed of interest in sailing sown by Holloway had borne abundant fruit. The club soon developed other branches in stations other than Poona; notably Delhi, which grew to a large membership. In the late 1980's the club's sea-going yacht "Trishna" was sailed round the world by a crew of young engineer officers. This venture has been described in a recent book by Dom Moraes, the Indian poet and writer. His association with the Yacht Club is remembered even to this day, the Holloway Trophy still being competed for annually.

Holloway, as Commandant of the CME quite understandably did not take his meals in the officers' mess whose membership was mainly young officers on courses. He ran a modest bachelor establishment of his own. He did attend Mess on guest nights and was known to be the life and soul of the party. He often gave the young officers in the Mess friendly advice on military life, particularly on the dangers of slow race horses and fast girls in Poona.

His position required him to do considerable official entertaining and he most ably did this partly in the officers mess and, on a smaller scale in his own quarters. He earned a name for being a good host belying the popular reputation attached to him of being a shy man. He appeared to be at ease with an assortment of people, civilians and military. Because the CME had attained national standing it was visited by all sorts of people from politicians to foreign dignitaries, journalists, engineers, and others. Holloway was widely entertained himself, not solely because of his position, but equally for his personal qualities. He was appreciated because of his genuine interest and total lack of snobbery. He was equally happy talking to a visiting VIP or, in Hindi, to the wife of a civilian lecturer on his staff.

6. RETIRED RIFE IN CANADA

Holloway retired from the Army on the 31st of January 1954. But retirement for him at the age of 51 was just not possible. After a short time in England, he went to Canada to live with his sons but found it almost impossible to obtain suitable employment there. He worked first in a menial capacity in a paper mill in its engineering department. He found the concern inefficient, wasteful and tied up in red tape. He left it and became Secretary-Treasurer to a School Board. This he enjoyed. It involved considerable travelling by boat or small aircraft to out of the way places and "dealing with curious individuals.' Two years after starting with the School Board he advanced to a larger school district which was also of a "scattered nature." Restless as ever he took on a part time job in a small but prestigious, autonomous university district and remarried - very happily this time. The part time became full time and after another five years he finally retired. In 1979 he met a subsequent manager of the paper mill where he had worked from 1954 to 1955 and told him "nicely" what he thought of the management in earlier days.

His second wife, Jess, was twelve years younger than him and all plans were made assuming that she would outlive him by many years. But she died in 1978 and the loss hit him hard. Holloway wrote in a letter to Brigadier Dalal that his wife '...was a wonderful companion. ... But, I think people recover and "soldier on;" there is nothing else to do.' When she was alive he kept himself busy with unskilled gardening," as he called it, and sharecropping a very large vegetable plot which he "reclaimed more or less from the wild." After her death Holloway sold his house and bought an apartment to be close to and keep an eye on a younger brother who was in a home for the aged. Two other brothers and his sons were very kind to him and he became close to them. He kept himself fit by going for interminably long walks and indulging in the Scottish (and Canadian) pastime of curling.

Brigadier Dalal last heard from Holloway in 1979. Dalal kept up his usual Christmas and New Years greetings to him but received no return greetings.

Holloway's love for India and the Indian Corps of Engineers remained with him for the rest of his life. He regularly sent the Corps yearly greetings and even donated his personal diary covering his years at the CME to the Corps Archives. This diary is the very same one quoted from in this biography of his life.

A letter accompanied Holloway's diary when he sent it to India. His brief reminiscences in the letter are delightfully interesting:

My dear Yadav,

I regret that all this time has passed since your letter about archives reached me. My mind has not been entirely idle; but all I can hope to achieve is a selection of memories which may give an idea of the good fortune that befell me during my happy times in India, culminating in the CME, when I felt that all ranks, civil and military, treated me with marked kindness. I am sure that you will have assembled both official and 'unofficial' records with an efficiency that I shall not attempt to rival. I shall merely call to mind a pair of isolated events which seem to me to typify the spirit of the Indian Engineers.

When I landed in Bombay in the winter of 1929, or thereabouts, I was sweltering in serge uniform with breeches and field boots. I had drawn an allowance for tropical kit and spent the money on a skiing trip in Italy. I was soon in Rawalpindi where the first snow for a good few years was lying on the ground. NOW I had to assemble tropical uniform from the QM stores and go forth on manoeuvres.

The Company joined its brigade, marched out towards the hills, and camped under canvas behind the customary stone-walled perimeter. Early in the morning, preparations for a move began in all units except the field company whose tents were still standing: the officers were eating breakfast outside the mess-tent where the early sun gave a little warmth; and some sappers were helping the British infantry to load their camels. The brigade staff captain could be discerned in the background apprehensively wondering whether or not to warn our formidable company commander that he was liable to miss our place in the column. Now the Subedar neared the company commander who nodded his head, whereupon he blew his whistle and within seconds tents were struck and loaded and the company took its place in the line of march. This, I immediately decided, was the place for me.

I now move some 23 years forward, walking up the main road of the CME on a warm summer evening. Coming towards me was a soldierly figure, but in the extreme of permissible un-dress, and uttering a regular rhythmic chant. I felt some mild apprehension as to what might come next. In fact until I could identify the chant which was:-

I have a pencil

You have a pencil

He has a pencil

I hope that these simple anecdotes will not disappoint you; and that the diary extracts may amuse and not shock you. If you consider them bad for discipline - just throw them away.

The very best to you all!

(sgd) Rex Holloway

Brigadier Reginald Edward Holloway, CBE, R.E. died on the 4th of January 1986 in Langley (near Vancouver), British Columbia, Canada at the age of 83 years. He died in his sleep in hospital during the early morning hours. He was survived by his two sons and his sole surviving brother, Mr. A.W. Holloway.

7. EPILOGUE

Apart from the death of his wife, the factors that led to Rex Holloway’s decline in his later years were the deaths of two of his younger brothers (one in 1981 and the other in 1983). The other significant factors which affected him strongly were a fall on the ice while curling, when he broke his hip. As a result he had to curtail his favorite pastime of taking long walks. Then followed a stroke requiring hospitalization. This also disturbed him greatly. The stroke further curtailed his walks. His physical inactivity seems to have also led to his mental decline.

Finally, when he could no longer take care of himself he went from one institution to another, losing his ability to communicate with others. He had to be restrained from wandering. He then had the first of many heart attacks and was hospitalized. He lived for only a short time after this period of hospitalization before dying on the 4th of January 1986.

That so brilliant a man should have such a sad end seems unfair. The Indian officers who knew him always liked to think of him as the omnipresent and omniscient Commandant of the SME. Had Rex Holloway remained in the British Army and not opted for India, in the opinion of these Indian officers, he would have certainly risen to the rank of general. Had he done this, he would not have become "The Father of the CME (India)." To Holloway there could have been no greater recognition; not in the form of rank, or decorations, or orders. Apart from all his qualities, the fact that he worshipped work stands out most. He thought it no shame to take on a menial job in Canada when there was no other suitable work available immediately after he retired.

Rex Holloway is remembered for his unflappable temperament and quiet determination to get things done, as well as for his wry sense of humor. He had a strong affinity with India, being looked up to by all ranks and all races. He could no doubt have returned to England in 1947 where his experience and ability would have ensured a brilliant career. The Indian Engineers owe him an incalculable debt for giving that up and devoting five years of his life to turning a sea of mud (the 5,000 acres of black cotton soil upon which the CME was built) into a flouring College of Military Engineering.

That Brigadier Mangat Rai and other commandants following him have no doubt observed and maintained the high standards making the College of Military Engineering the finest institution of its kind is for the world to see. And there can be no better monument than this for Brigadier Reginald Edward Holloway, CBE.

ADDENDUM NO. 1

The following information was provided by Mr. Nicholas Reeves in January 2003. It deals with entries from the War Diary of the 23rd Indian Division at the time that Holloway was the Commander Royal Engineers for that division. This information was obtained from Public Record Office at Kew in files WO172/7024 and WO172/9883. According to the War Diary, the officers serving with Holloway in the 23rd Indian Division included Major R.C. Gabriel, R.E., Captain A.M. Sheriffe, I.E., Captain K.G. Murron, R.E., Captain G.A. Giles, R.E. and Captain A.A. Cavalier, R.E.

In July of 1945 headquarters of the 23rd Indian Division Engineers was in Nasik Camp in India. The headquarters moved to Batavia in July and from the date of its move until November of 1945 there is no War Diary record of its activities. In January of 1946 the 23rd Indian Division CRE moved from Batavia to Bandoeng where it remained at least until September of 1945.

ADDENDUM NO. 2

The following information was provided by Mr. Don Jenkins whose father knew Brigadier Holloway.  The "Jenkins" with whom Rex Holloway dined on Thursday, 10 July 1952, was Don's father, Ernest Henry "Jerry" Jenkins.  Don says that his mother was probably also at that dinner on that evening.  E.H. Jenkins joined the Royal Engineers in 1932 as a Sapper and served in Palestine.  At the outbreak of World War 2 he was a non-commissioned officer based in Malta where he stayed until after the siege of Malta was lifted.  It was there that he met an married Don's mother who was a Leading Wren in the first contingent of 40 WRNS ratings and one officer who had arrived in Malta in January of 1943.  E.H. Jenkins was commissioned in 1946 and after authoring two books for the Army (Building Site Practice and Sanitary Engineering) he was seconded to the Indian Army from 1951 to 1955 and taught at the School of Military Engineering and the College of Military Engineering at Poona where he was under the command of Rex Holloway.  As it was an accompanied tour for Jenkins, Don and his two sisters spent four years in Kirkee and attended school in Poona.  E.H. Jenkins subsequently served in the British Cameroons on an unaccompanied posting to supervise the building of three camps for a battalion of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.  E.H. Jenkins ended his career in the Royal Engineers as a Major in 1963 as the Garrison Works Officer, Northern Command in the United Kingdom.

ENDNOTES

[1] This may, in fact, have been the River Bari rather than the Khajuri. The bridge had a span of 166 feet with a concrete pier 28'-6' high.

[2] Published in the London Gazette.

[3] Young Officers.

[4] The meanings of some of the terminology, abbreviations and shorthand used by Holloway in his diary could not be determined.

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