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Holman Bros., Millwrights of Canterbury: A history

The war and the Holmans


Holmans, like many businesses, was affected by the wars. Employees served in the Second Anglo-Boer War, World War 1, and World War 2, with the premises being damaged during the latter. Some of those who served didn’t return, some returned to work at Holmans, and some continued in military service.


The following staff served in the Boer War:

  • Frank Richard Harvey
  • Howard Darney Filmer – 30941 Private
  • Walter Henry Baldwin – 14507 Private
Frank Richard Harvey
Frank Richard Harvey. (c) Crown Copyright images reproduced courtesy of the National Archives, London, England. Records produced by

The earliest record of a member of the Holman staff volunteering for active service was in 1900. Frank Richard Harvey of Chartham began working at Holmans in December 1896 at the age of 15. On 9 January 1900 Holmans sent a letter to the Officer Commanding the East Kent Volunteer Reserve giving permission to his release from his apprenticeship with them so that he could join the forces in South Africa:

Frank Richard Harvey who is serving an apprenticeship with us to the engineering […] having expressed a wish to volunteer for service in South Africa has applied to us for permission to do so.

This permission we are pleased to grant & at the expiration of his terms of service we shall be prepared provided it is agreeable to both parties for him to complete the term of his apprenticeship with us.

Holman Bros

H B Holman

W J Holman

Further research shows that Frank was a volunteer with East Kent 1st Volunteer Battalion the Buffs and received a medal at a Canterbury presentation of war medals on 12 October 1901, according to the 19 October addition of The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald. He returned to serve out his apprenticeship, but further records show that he later joined the Merchant Navy from 1919 with the rank of 1st class engineer. From 1927 he was a 1st class engineer on the Highland Monarch, a passenger ship requisitioned in 1939 as a troop and supplies ship running the Winston’s Specials convoys to Freetown and Durban in Africa. Frank was discharged in 1941 at the age of 60.

Howard Darney Filmer was reported, amongst other Kentish men, as being attested in the Whistable Times and Herne Bay Herald, Saturday March 9 1901, p.8. He served in the 53 Company (East Kent) 11 Battalion Imperial Yeomanry. He suffered a gunshot wound at Standerton and died of his injuries on 22 July 1901[1]. He is remembered on the Canterbury Boer War (South Africa) Memorial, Dane John Gardens.

Walter Henry Baldwin was a millwright who started at Holmans in April 1884. His absence from the 1901 Census and his name ceasing to appear in the wage book in December 1898 leads us to believe that he served in the war. A service record for a W.H. Baldwin lists him as a private in Unit C Army Service Corps Supply Company[1]. He re-appears on the 1911 Census as a cab proprietor in Dover.

WORLD WAR 1, 1914-1918

The following staff served in the First World War:

  • Robert Gordon Barber
  • G. Francis
  • ? Uden
  • Albert Edward Whittingstall – M2/081486 Private
  • William Edward Bromley – 2330 Private
  • T. Rowland

Holmans, like many businesses, suffered when men were called up for the First World War. Those who faced active service had to go. However, Holmans negotiated with the War Office by offering the company for munitions work as a means to retain those who were called up for munitions work and to keep the company going. The following letter lists those who signed up and those who were assigned for munition work:

Feb 1st 1916

The Secretary, Ministry of Munitions, Whitehall

Dear Sir,

The majority of the workmen we have left in our workshops are being pressed to sign on for munitions work. We enclose list of men in our employ at the outbreak of war & have underlined those who have already left for service with the government & those who are now asked to go on munition work. You will see that if these are taken it is absolutely impossible for us to keep on. We give a short description of the class of work we do & with which at the present time we are simply inundated.

If you say that this work is to be put on one side we will do it & devote our energies to such work as you can send us but if our men are to keep on with their present work please let us have some assurance that we can give them that they are doing their duty.

Yrs ffully.

Holman Bros.

List of men employed in our workshops in 1914:

G Urry Millwright (Being pressed for munition work)
G Barber Millwright (Left for military service)
G Francis Blacksmith (Left for military service)
Uden Undersmith (Left for military service)
W Manwarren Boilersmith (Being pressed for munition work)
G Spicer Machinist (Repairs machines) (Being pressed for munition work)
Whillingstall Machinist (Repairs machines) (Left for military service)
E Bromley Machinist (Repairs machines) (Being pressed for munition work)
W Bromley Machinist (Repairs machines) (Left for military service)
A Fenn Engineer (gas & oil engine repairs) (Being pressed for munition work)
A Ingleton Engineer (gas & oil engine repairs) (Being pressed for munition work)
H Bastion Engineer (steam engine repairs) (Being pressed for munition work)
E Chisel Turner (Being pressed for munition work)
T Rowland Apprentice turner (Left for military service)
Young Wheelwright
Williams Wheelwright
Wright Labourer
Holloway Painter

Since the outbreak of war we have been unable to get any fresh men & have taken on the following boys as apprentices – Smith. Cook. Hopkins. Morphett. These have been with us 2 to 12 months.

This is an old established millwrights, agricultural & general engineering repair shop. We make little or no new work our men’s time being wholly devoted to attending to breakdowns & keeping in repair (for customers) agricultural machinery, flour mills, powder mills, water works & co & in addition these men have to keep in repair our own steam cultivating machinery (2 sets which cultivate on an average 2000 acres per year & 4 sets of thrashing machinery).

Holman Bros Canterbury
Feb 1st 1916

Of all those listed as ‘left for military service’, we have been unable to fully identify all the men in the surviving WW1 military records. We have also been unable to identify G. Francis and T. Rowland on the 1911 Census. The likelihood is that they were under age of employment at the time so occupations would not be listed.

Albert Edward Whittingstall was an Engineer’s Fitter in 1911. He signed up for active service with the 621 MT Company, Royal Army Service Corps on 3 May 1915. He was discharged on 25 April 1917 having been declared ‘physically unfit’ suffering from general paralysis from the stress of the campaign. His pension records state he was in the Canterbury Mental Hospital in late 1917. He died on 21 May 1918 aged 36[2].

William Edward Bromley was a machinist, and had followed his father Edward, a boiler riveter, into the firm. He served in the ‘A’ Company, 1st/4th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment), and was killed in Algeria on 25 September 1915 aged 21. He is ‘remembered with honour’ at Maali Cemetery, Algeria[3].

WORLD WAR 2, 1939-1945

It’s not known who served in this war, but stories of how the premises was affected are recounted by staff and residents alike. A letter to the Kent War Agricultural Committee, dated 30 September 1941, highlights the concern that Holmans had over losing their staff to the war effort:


Following our letter of yesterday. The second of our men (Waters our millwright) went to Messrs Wingent’s of Strood yesterday as instructed by the Labour Exchange and was sent back here with instructions to present himself for work on Monday next, and has reported this to our local Labour Exchange who tell him he will have to go.

Something must be done to keep these men in their present employment.

Yours faithfully

Holman Bros

On the night of the big air raid in June 1942, the Holman Cottages in Dover Street were set on fire by sparks from the blazing workshops which had been destroyed by incendiaries. The bell was half destroyed. However the fire wardens, among them Frank Holman, got onto the roof and doused the flames before they took a real hold. The row of cottages was still used as housing for the workmen. They were not entirely separate, but were interlinked – one bedroom may be over another’s sitting room and so on. The cottages had dirt floors but were equipped with running water, flush toilets and gas. Holmans were remembered as good landlords.

Norman Harris worked throughout the war. On firewatching duty – a room at 13 Dover Street was turned into a firewatching where two men, whose turn it was to be on duty, could make tea or even snatch some sleep if there was no raid on. Also working between the two wars Harry Friar, George Urry, as well as the Vaughans, the Benfields [Albert Frederick and William Henry] and the Bryants [Stephen and William] and many others who lived locally.

Frank, first son of Harry Branford applied to be a pilot in the war, but was turned down because of his age. He was a member of the Home Guard and an ARP warden. He was on duty during the blitz and at one stage climbed onto the roof of the cottages owned by the firm in Dover Street to extinguish an incendiary bomb which had landed on the roof.

During the war [Tom] could sometimes be found on top of the Westgate Towers manning a machine gun post. If a German invasion was reported, he had orders to blow up St Dunstan’s Street to halt their progress. He had been told that the road had been mined and he was shown a control box from where they could be detonated.  Later he said that he had doubts as to whether the mines were ‘live’; the rumours being circulated to maintain morale. At other times he was an ARP warden on fire watch duties. He claimed to be one of the only people who had driven a car down the nave of Canterbury Cathedral. This was whilst delivering materials when the firm was carrying out bomb protection work.


2nd Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902

Pvt. Howard Darney Filmer 30941, 53 Company (East Kent) 11 Battalion Imperial Yeomanry – died 22 July 1901 aged 20.

First World War, 1914-1918

Pvt. Albert Edward Whittingstall M2/081486, 621 MT Company, Royal Army Service Corps – died from injuries after discharge 21 May 1918 aged 36.
Pvt. William Edward Bromley 2330, ‘A’ Company, 1st/4th Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) – died 25 September 1915 aged 21.

Second World War, 1939-1945

For all those who served and died for their country. We Will Remember Them.


[1], Anglo-Boer War Records 1899-1902 [database on-line].

[2] British Army WWI Pension Records 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2010.