Wendy’s official citation in the London Gazette Supplement of 4th March 1941 reads:-Oscar Madeley Holden, M.D., B.Ch., D.P.H., Medical Officer of Health, Croydon.
Miss Hilda Pauline Hollyer, the daughter of Clive Perring HolIyer and Enid Emily (née Johnstone), was born on 22 December 1907 in Chester, the historic Cheshire city and river port. Her father was a fine art dealer’s manager (later a stamp dealer) and their marriage had taken place in Chester although the family had originated in south and east Kent, changing its name from Holyer around the end of the eighteenth century. Clive (more often known as Perring) was one of the sons of William Perring Hollyer.
The photograph above is very indistinct. A better likeness of Wendy can be gained from a sketch of her in the Imperial War Museum, see here.
Before the war she had worked in Windsor and Newton’s south Croydon shop as a picture frame maker, joining the ARP Communications Service just after the outbreak of the war. A single daughter, she lived with her parents in Temple Road, South Croydon and was a devout member of the First Church of Christ Scientist, taking part in all of its activities. She was described as short and slim with fair hair, pretty, shy with the gentlest fun-loving temperament, uncomplaining but ready to do anything for anybody.
Darkness in Croydon, as Christmas approached, insinuated itself in late afternoon and was intensified by the silent blackout. In a clear and still evening at 7.40 p.m. on Sunday 24 November 1940, after a glorious day, a single enemy aircraft slipped through the defences protecting south London before the sirens sounded and the guns could open up. In nil visibility two heavy high-explosive bombs were dropped. One of them, weighing 1000 kilograms, dropped blind, struck Croydon Town Hall where, fortunately, owing to the absence of early warning, there was only a skeleton staff present on duty. The bomb detonated in the basement area (which ran along two sides of the building) on the Fell Road, or east, side exactly opposite the borough police station.
The basement complex contained a drawing office, canteen, VIP shelter and the Southern Report Centre of the ARP Service which the bomb destroyed, bringing down a 25-foot wide slice of the facade and killing three of the five telephonists on duty in the Control Message Room. The other two, Miss Pamela Menzies and Miss ‘Wendy’ Pauline Hollyer (as she was described in London Gazette Supplement), who survived, were operating in Main Control Room into which a large heavy window frame was projected by the blast. Miss Menzies, who was sitting in a corner, suffered severe injuries and Miss Hollyer, positioned in the centre of the room, received a wound to the back of her right shoulder.
Four telephones continued to function although buried under debris on the floor and, while Miss Menzies was being evacuated via a tunnel leading under the road to the police station, the main staircase being blocked, these were uncovered. Miss Hollyer, refusing all but the simplest of medical treatment, managed to deal with a ringing telephone before testing all of them to establish which were still working.
She cleared sufficient space to enable her to continue functioning operationally, then, refusing to leave her post unless arrangements could be made for another telephonist to replace her, carried on serving the instruments throughout the evening and night until 8 o’clock next morning. Vital communications were thus maintained without interruption, particularly those relating to the other very serious incident which had occurred when the second bomb fell on the Liberal and Radical Working Men’s Club in Scarbrook Road, killing twenty-five people and burying others under the debris.
Dr Oscar Madeley Holden, the fifty-five-year-old Medical Officer of Health and Head of Emergency Medical Services, meanwhile had crawled under unstable, continually shifting debris in the Town Hall basement and, in the extremely confined space available, managed to reach the badly injured in the area of the dead telephonists and administer morphia to the casualties. He also was awarded the George Medal and he and Miss Hollyer received the medals from HM The King at Buckingham Palace on 17 June 1941 after spending a long period recovering from the effects of the bombing.
Two weeks after the bombing Wendy attended her friend Pamela’s wedding, the photographs of which were destroyed in an air-raid forty-eight hours later. The family moved to Eastbourne, Sussex in 1947 but, tragically, she died at home of cancer on 12 September 1955 at an unusually early age. She is buried in Langney Cemetery, Eastbourne.
In 2005, with plans being made to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, calls went out via the media to locate as many as possible of the women who were awarded the George Medal in the war. The BBC and local newspapers carried the story and the Croydon local newspaper specifically sought details about Wendy. It was my sad duty to tell them that Wendy had long ago passed away.