Brendan Hollis (1930-2022): ‘an exceptional officer and gentleman’
A former Commanding Officer of the Royal Bermuda Regiment was a leading historian who immortalised the island’s story in documentaries.
Lieutenant-Colonel Brendan Hollis, who served as Commanding Officer of the RBR from 1977 to 1980, was also influential in building the role of women in the service.
He was awarded the British Military Efficiency Decoration for Meritorious Service in 1965, and in 1980 he was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
But for many Bermudians, Colonel Hollis was the face and voice of his popular documentary series About Bermuda.
The idea took flight in the late 1980s when Colonel Hollis worked as marketing manager at the Bermuda Broadcasting Company.
The show was a labour of love: Colonel Hollis researched, wrote and produced the monthly episodes, which ran for four years until December 1992.
“We wanted it to be entertaining, educational and to leave people with a sense of pride and understanding about Bermuda,” Colonel Hollis said in 1993.
“It's not just the history, but the island itself and its people that make it fascinating.”
One of his half-hour presentations broke the story of the secret capture of the Nazi German submarine U-505, which was brought to the island in 1944.
Shirley Humphreys, a Red Cross volunteer, cared for the U-boat’s commander, Captain Harald Lange, for nine months while he was held in Bermuda.
The capture, which provided the Allies with access to German codes, was highly classified, and Ms Humpreys kept the secret until 1992, when she shared her story with Colonel Hollis and historian Andrew Bermingham.
Colonel Hollis said he enjoyed military history, but other popular episodes included The Bermuda Railway, US Bases in Bermuda, and The Church in Bermuda
A sought-after speaker, Colonel Hollis channelled his love of history into tours, and was a frequent guest speaker aboard cruise ships, his family said.
Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Darling, another former Commanding Officer of the RBR, said Colonel Hollis’s tenure coincided with a time of great social unrest.
Colonel Darling added: “He was a good friend and very professional – a serious man who did things the right way.
“He was also a very nice guy, a lot of fun in the officer’s mess with a good sense of humour.”
Colonel Hollis’s public service was extensive, including the Public Service Commission, the Bermuda Government Archives Advisory Council and chairmanship of the Bermuda Government Broadcasting Commission.
Colonel Hollis also served as chairman of the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and president of the Bermuda Historical Society and the St George’s Rotary Club.
A string of posts on government boards and committees included the Defence Board, and he chaired committees of the Bermuda National Trust, the Bermuda Maritime Museum, and the Chamber of Commerce.
Mr Bermingham recalled meeting Colonel Hollis in 1966 at a Government House awards ceremony.
“He was one of the officers of the Bermuda Rifles, which, with the Bermuda Militia Artillery, formed the Bermuda Regiment in 1965.
“Brendan’s accomplishments covered so much ground – but it was Bermuda history and the military which took precedence.
“Brendan brought history into Bermuda homes through his superb About Bermuda television series which covered four centuries of historical events and topics.”
Mr Bermingham said he had asked Colonel Hollis to cover the topic of prisoners of war held in Bermuda.
It inspired the 1990 episode Prisoners of War in Bermuda, followed by broadcasts on POWs of the First and Second World War.
Mr Bermingham said the series was now housed at the Department of Culture as “a permanent reminder of Brendan’s work in preserving our history for posterity”.
Lieutenant Deborah Trimm, now retired, called him “an exceptional officer and gentleman”.
She was the first female RBR soldier to attend Royal Military College at Sandhurst in the late 1980s.
“I was one of the first group of servicemen under the command of Colonel Hollis to join the Bermuda Regiment,” she said.
“He displayed tremendous interest in all of us and ensured we were well invested in.
“I had immense respect and honour for him, as he took a keen interest in my leadership as a new recruit and was very instrumental in my growth, progress and development as a military solider.”
She said she trained “very closely” with Colonel Hollis and considered him “the greatest Commanding Officer of my 14 years of service”.
She added: “Colonel Hollis was my hero.”
Colonel Hollis and his late wife Barbara moved overseas in later years, and settling in Okotoks in Alberta, Canada.
He is survived by his daughter Nancy and sons Steve, Roger, Peter and Kevin.
· Brendan O’Donnell Hollis, a former Commanding Officer of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, was born on December 27, 1930. He died on April 10, 2022, aged 91.