Stan Hollis: Celebrating the only D-Day Victoria Cross recipient from Middlesbrough

On 6th June 1944, a staggering 156,000 young men embarked on a monumental mission that would shape the world in ways they could scarcely have imagined.

The D-Day landings at Normandy were pivotal in liberating Western Europe from Nazi control, ultimately leading to an Allied victory in World War Two.

The bravery displayed by these men, who navigated through a hail of bullets and intense combat on the beaches of Northern France, was nothing short of heroic. Thousands sacrificed their lives in the pursuit of freedom.

Now, 80 years later, we honour their courageous spirit. In Middlesbrough, we reflect on all those from our town who participated in the largest land, air and naval invasion ever witnessed.

We take pride in remembering Stan Hollis, a Middlesbrough man who was the sole soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross on D-Day. The Victoria Cross is the highest and most prestigious award within the British honours system.

Hollis, a Company Sergeant Major in The Green Howards, was recommended for this honour due to two separate acts of heroism on D-Day.

His extraordinary courage epitomised the significant impact made by the regiment, which recruited from Middlesbrough and surrounding areas in the North Riding, on that historic day.

CSM Hollis' 6th Battalion, along with the 7th, fought their way seven miles inland on the first day of combat, further than any other British or US unit. Soldiers from the 12th (Yorkshire) Parachute Battalion Green Howards, attached to the 5th Parachute Brigade and part of the 6th Airborne Division, had earlier parachuted onto French soil to secure two key bridges and pave the way for tens of thousands of others.

At 31-years-old on D-Day, CSM Hollis was highly respected by his D Company, which came under fire from a hidden machine gun in a pillbox as they passed a house overlooking the beach.

In an act of selfless bravery, he charged, fired and dropped a grenade inside, capturing the surviving occupants. Spotting a second pillbox nearby, he advanced alone and took the fortification.

In total, he single-handedly captured 30 Germans - but his remarkable story didn't end there.

Hours later, Hollis attempted to neutralise a concealed German field gun with a PIAT anti-tank weapon. After missing his shot, he sought cover but upon realising two colleagues were stranded under fire, he took a machine gun and advanced in plain sight to provide a distraction, allowing them to escape to safety.

The Green Howards Regiment was amalgamated into the Yorkshire Regiment in 2006, which continues to take great pride in CSM Hollis' service today.

After the war, Hollis held various jobs before becoming a publican, running the Albion pub - later renamed The Green Howard - in Market Square, North Ormesby and later the Holywell View at Liverton Mines.

It's said he was humble about his accolades, telling people he did what anyone else would have done in the circumstances. He passed away on February 8, 1972, aged 59.

A statue commemorating Middlesbrough's famous war hero was unveiled in 2015, near the town's Cenotaph. In 2016, the Prince Bishop School in Saltersgill was renamed the Hollis Academy in his honour.

Lucy Winter, vice principal at Hollis Academy, said: "Stanley Hollis was an extremely brave Middlesbrough-born soldier who showed enormous courage and resilience. We learn from him that anyone can make choices which make them exceptional. Children at Hollis Academy special school all face social, emotional and mental health challenges; we support them in being resilient like Stan Hollis and in making choices that make a positive difference to the world."

Mark Green, who operates the website www.victoriacrossonline.co.uk and has written a book about Stan Hollis and his life, 'The Man They Couldn't Kill', said: "Well known for being the only recipient of the Victoria Cross for his actions on D-Day, Company Sergeant Major Stan Hollis was a true leader of men and a superb soldier. However, that only just scratches the surface of a man who was recommended for not just the Victoria Cross twice, but also the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

"He fought in many of the key conflicts of WW2 with distinction, being wounded five times, only to shun publicity and state 'anyone would have done what I did'. He truly was 'the man they couldn't kill."

To commemorate D-Day in Middlesbrough, a proclamation will be made at 8am on Thursday from the steps of Middlesbrough Town Hall. Later, a civic service will take place from 9pm at the Cenotaph. The service will include the International Beacon Lighting Ceremony at 9.15pm.

A touching display of 80 silhouette 'Tommy' soldiers is also set up outside the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum in Stewart Park.