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Sir George William Holland (1897–1962)

by Jacqueline Rees and Peter Sekuless

This article was published:

Sir George William Frederick Holland (1897-1962), returned servicemen's leader, was born on 5 January 1897 at Marong, near Bendigo, Victoria, second son of William Henry Vernon Holland, a native-born miner, and his wife Amy Louisa, née Vernon, from England. Educated at the local state school, George joined the Victorian Public Service on 22 August 1913 as a clerk in the office of the curator of estates of deceased persons (later the public trustee's office).

On 19 August 1914 Holland enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force; in October he embarked with the 7th Battalion for the Middle East. Landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915, he was wounded in August and evacuated to Egypt. In March 1916 he was sent to France where he was promoted sergeant and wounded at Pozières in July. East of Ypres, Belgium, he took charge on 20-22 September 1917 after his company sergeant major became a casualty. Holland assisted in constructing strong-points and maintaining supplies before he, too, was hit. For his deeds, he was awarded the Military Medal. Returning to Australia in November 1918, he was discharged on 24 January 1919 and resumed his job as a public servant.

On 27 September 1919 at Holy Trinity Church, Marong, Holland married May Hollingworth with Anglican rites. Active in the affairs of the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia, he was elected president of the Victorian branch in 1929, a position he was to hold for twenty-one years. His main concerns were to help ex-servicemen find employment, to promote their welfare and that of their families, and to develop the league into a strong organization. The principal legacy of his term was the establishment of a network of homes for war veterans and servicemen's widows in Victoria, a scheme which he largely planned and set on a sound financial base. He was appointed C.B.E. in 1938.

While Holland rarely faced serious challenges to his authority at the State level, in the 1930s he was involved in some bitter differences with the national president Sir Gilbert Dyett over tactics the R.S.& S.I.L.A. should adopt in its dealings with governments. In the late 1940s Holland had several clashes with J. B. Chifley's administration and accused it of showing preference in employing unionists rather than returned men, particularly in the building trades. None the less, Holland joined with the unions in arguing that married women should give up their jobs to demobilized servicemen. In 1948 the Victorian government appointed him chairman of the Discharged Servicemen's Employment Board. He campaigned against 'the communist menace' and staunchly defended the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia's policy of excluding communists from its membership.

Succeeding Sir Eric Millhouse, Holland was elected national president of the R.S.S.& A.I.L.A. on 24 February 1950. After visiting West Germany in 1951 to investigate aspects of Australia's immigration programme, he publicly supported the entry of Germans into Australia, a sensitive issue in league ranks after World War II. Similarly, in the early 1950s he endorsed calls for the limited rearmament of Japan and stated that, although Australians should remember Japanese brutality in the war, his country needed Japan as an ally against the new communist threat. Holland was knighted in 1953 and appointed K.B.E. in 1961.

The health and welfare of veterans remained his paramount interests. He was close to the Liberal prime minister (Sir) Robert Menzies. On the eve of Holland's retirement in October 1960, Menzies asked him what he most wanted for the R.S.S.& A.I.L.A. He replied, 'free medical and hospital treatment for service pensioners' (by which he meant ex-service personnel who had been awarded pensions in advance of retirement age, but without sickness or injury benefits). Menzies granted the request. In November 1961 Holland was entertained at a cabinet dinner in Canberra at which Menzies presented him with a silver salver etched with the signatures of members of his ministry.

Holland was the last of the World War I soldiers to preside over the R.S.S.& A.I.L.A. He left it in a secure position financially and politically, but an injection of leadership from younger World War II veterans was overdue. From 1956 he was a commissioner of the State Savings Bank of Victoria. Survived by his wife, son and four daughters, Sir George died of coronary artery disease on 14 June 1962 in his East Malvern home and was buried in Springvale cemetery. Sir Arthur Dean, chancellor of the University of Melbourne, who had served with Holland in the 7th Battalion, delivered the eulogy on behalf of the R.S.S.& A.I.L.A.

Select Bibliography

  • G. L. Kristianson, The Politics of Patriotism (Canb, 1966)
  • P. Sekuless and J. Rees, Lest We Forget (Syd, 1986)
  • Mufti, 5, no 7, 7 July 1962
  • Age (Melbourne), 15, 16 June 1962
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 15, 19 June 1962
  • Returned Services League papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Jacqueline Rees and Peter Sekuless, 'Holland, Sir George William (1897–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 January, 1897
Marong, Victoria, Australia


14 June, 1962 (aged 65)
Malvern, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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