By James Rodgers
At first there was nothing.
Then he emerged from the yellowing, crumbling pages of old newspapers.
Until the late 1970s, the records of SUCC which had a rich history, stretching back to 1864, were scanty and scattered. Damon Ridley and I then set about finding the old Annual Reports and putting the Club’s story together. There were still gaps. No Annual Reports survived from the World War I seasons. Scorebooks had long gone. Anyone who played in these seasons seemed to be lost to record and memory. We did have access to newspapers and microfilm, especially the sports pages, in Fisher Library. And we gathered former players, now elderly but most with sharp, lucid memories, and we interviewed them.
In the 1914-15 Report, we found C D Holliday who played 2nd and 3rd Grades that season and who also played one game in 1st Grade, scored 19, and disappeared. But there he was again in January 1916 in the scores of the Grade games played on 10th and 17th January. C D Holliday batted at number 3 against Petersham at University Oval, scoring 6 and 20. Much of the space in those papers was taken up with news from The Front, lists of dead, wounded and missing, accounts of battles. But this Grade game at University took the eye.
Petersham rattled up 3 declared for 585 on the first day. Future Test players, Tommy Andrews (232 not out) and Johnny Taylor (174) put on an astounding 240 in two hours of clinical demolition of the weak University attack. On the second day, in reply, University was bowled out for 83 and 111 and lost by an innings and 391 runs, still the heaviest defeat in the Club’s history.
So there he was. C D Holliday. 1st Grade career: 1914-16. 2 matches, 3 innings, 45 runs.
And there he stayed for many years. When we interviewed those still alive from that time in the late 1970s, the name C D Holliday drew a blank. Sharp minds like Eric McElhone, Mick Bardsley, Dr H O Rock (“Never heard of him” was the expected gruff answer. Rock was on his way to France in early 1916), Dr Jim Garner, Sir Ronald Grieve, Jimmy Sullivan (still at school in 1916). Even Dr S G Whitfeld, grandfather of Phil Beale (who played 1st Grade for the Club in the 1970s and 80s), who actually played in that game in January 1916, opening the bowling (0-87), recalled that he had no idea where to pitch the ball during the onslaught and little idea which part of the fence the ball would be hit to. But when it came to C D Holliday…nothing.
And so Holliday remained a minor footnote to a swelling history of a Club that approached its sesqui centenary in 2014.
Then, a glimpse of him again. On a plaque as you enter the Main Quadrangle is the list of those University men who fell in the Great War. And there’s his name. C D Holliday.
A quick trip to the Australian War Memorial website now throws up so much information on those who enlisted, including their full military history.
So, C D Holliday becomes more than just a passing shadow. He’s Clifford Dawson Holliday, known to his family as ‘Bob’. Born in Kogarah in January 1895, he lives with his parents in William St Hornsby. His father, Reverend Andrew Holliday, is Rector of the Hornsby Methodist Church. Bob is 5 feet 9 inches tall, 170 pounds in weight, blue eyes, light brown hair. He was educated at Dubbo Public school (when his father was posted to Dubbo), Hornsby Public and Newington College Stanmore.
Another detour brings him to life.
David Roberts, Newington’s Archivist, is readily helpful.
His name is preserved at Newington. He was there from Easter 1905 until Easter 1914. 1st XI batsman. 1st XV. Senior Prefect. Twice Dux of the College. President of the Christian Union. Winner of a multitude of prizes including a University Exhibition. He contemplated studies in Law but settled for Arts at Sydney University and gained a High Distinction in Maths in Arts I. A Newington classmate was Alexander ‘Roxie’ Muir who also played for SUCC, enlisted, was awarded the Military Cross, and never came home. When Bob made his 1st Grade debut in April 1915, Roxy was unavailable and Bob took his place. When Bob played his other 1st Grade game, Roxy had enlisted and, on the Thursday before the second day of that match, sailed with 1 Battalion. Both were stylish, reliable batsmen but at Newington, everyone batted in the shadow of Johnny Taylor, born in the same year as Muir and Holliday, 1895. Taylor played for NSW 2nd XI aged 16 on the strength of his form in school matches and he hit 226 against Victoria’s 2nd XI. He then made his 1st class debut while still at Newington, scoring 83 in 1913. After distinguished service in the 1st AIF, Taylor then played 20 Tests for Australia. In four seasons after the War, he averaged over 60 for SUCC. Taylor’s 174 against University in that game in January 1916 brought two Newington schoolmates together again. It was Holliday’s last game of cricket. Less than two months later, Corporal C D Holliday 4801 sailed for Egypt and was assigned to 54 Battalion. Three months after that, he embarked from Alexandria to Marseilles. This was his last time at sea.
On that dreadful night of 19-20 July 1916, Australia lost 2000 men and suffered more than 5000 casualties in the futile attack on the Germans’ position at Fromelles.
Corporal Holliday was initially recorded as “wounded 19 or 20 July. No further report”. In the confusion and tumult, such vague reports were understandable. But the military authorities were to experience the insistent pleas of Holliday’s distraught parents.
“He is our only son and only child…will easily understand our anxiety,” wrote Reverend Holliday on 14 August.
“Our anxiety is very great,” Mrs Margaret Holliday wrote on 28 August.
In the meantime, Joseph Cook, the former prime Minister wrote, describing Bob as “one of our most brilliant University boys” and a specially coded cable was sent to London to ascertain his condition and his whereabouts.
And so the correspondence went, back and forth for over 170 pages and over the years.“…our anxiety is daily increasing.”
“We have been kept all these awful months in such agony…the confusion and contradiction are simply astounding,” wrote Reverend Holliday.
On 7 December, Reverend Holliday received a cable.
“Regret report 4801 Holliday prev. reported wounded now killed in action 30 July.” The date was amended to 20 July by another cable the next day.
The most likely account of events was that Bob was shot in the mouth and was then carried to the entrance of the communication trench which was captured by the Germans before he died. His death was then announced by the Prussian War Office. It was not until 1923 that a letter from Base Records finally put the pieces together. It appears that he had been buried in a mass grave at Fromelles or Flerbeaux.
Reverend Holliday poured out his frustration from his broken heart:
“It almost seems to me now that no one knows and no one even cares what has become of my son.”
At Newington, there was widespread grief at the loss of one of their most brilliant.
“…we mourn not only for the loss of a fine man, but the ruin of what we hoped for him.”
The next edition of ‘The Newingtonian’ contained another obituary. Lieutenant A R Muir MC had been killed in action at Zonnebeke on 13 October 1917 aged 22.
The Holidays were sustained by the comforts of their faith and at the memorial service held at Hornsby Methodist Church on 28 January 1917, Reverend C J Prescott, Headmaster of Newington and father of Clarence Prescott who had also played for SUCC in 1914-15, preached the sermon:
“He was intended for a soldier. He looked forward to the avocations of peace, the halls and cloisters of academic calm or the courts where justice is done…’He rushed into the field/And foremost fighting fell.”…He was the pride of his school.”
The Hollidays wished that their son’s name be preserved at Newington. To the present day, a prize is awarded in Bob’s memory. A tablet to his memory also forms part of the Chapel Walkway. And, at the University where he prospered, the ‘Clifford Dawson Holliday’ prize is awarded to the most proficient candidate in third year examinations in Agriculture and Environment. Third year…a year at University that Bob Holliday never started. Now, the splendid website ‘Beyond 1914. The University of Sydney and the Great War’ commemorates all those from the University who served in World War I. It reveals a little more about Clifford Dawson Holliday. There is his photo. A serious, studious, principled young man of great promise. There is also an extract from something that he wrote just before he was killed:
“I am where I think I ought to be and where I believe God means me to be, and I have no fear for the future for I am in His care.”
Finally, 92 years after Bob’s death, in 2008, the existence of unmarked mass graves at Pheasant Wood was confirmed. Gradually, the remains of 250 of the Australians buried there were identified.
One was Bob Holliday
On 19 July 2010, he was finally buried in a separate, marked grave. A distant cousin, Katie Jones, was there at the commemoration ceremony to see Bob finally laid to rest. After all those years, one who had been lost is now found.