Obituary: The Rev Dr Harry Holland

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The Independent Online
On 31 May 1935 Harry Holland was awakened by an earthquake. As the walls crashed down he dived under his bed, as his mother had recommended, and was saved. But the town of Quetta, on the north-west frontier of India, was wiped out and 25,000 died.

Holland had only been there three weeks. He had come to work with his father, whose ophthalmic surgery was renowned throughout Baluchistan and even in Afghanistan. He pulled his father from the rubble, only slightly hurt, and in the days that followed they did heroic rescue work, and then set about raising funds and rebuilding the Church Missionary Society Hospital. In 1936 a grateful British government knighted his father, the legendary "Frontier Doctor" (the title of his sparkling autobiography), and later both father and son were awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind Medal by the Indian government.

Until the Second World War "Holland Sahib" and Harry performed thousands of eye operations - each one preceded by a brief prayer. Harry Holland then served for three and a half years with the Forgotten Army in Burma; they walked 200 miles in the retreat from Rangoon with his medical unit before the tide turned at Imphal.

In 1946 Holland took over the CMS Hospital at Peshawar with his wife Andrea as the administrator, his brother Ronnie having replaced him at the Eye Clinic. In 1947 came Partition and the accompanying massacres, when the Governor of the Punjab asked Holland to lead a rescue team to provide first aid for the vast encampments of refugees. That December he left Pakistan but in 1948 an urgent call for medical help brought him back.

In 1952, determined that his own sons should not be separated from their parents, as he had been, Holland settled in Edinburgh and sent them to Loretto, his father's old school. Holland had for some time had a vision of Britons going to work abroad not in total ignorance of other cultures, but in a responsible and informed way. He shared his thoughts with the Secretary of the CMS, Canon Max Warren. The Colonial Service, Barclays Bank and many business firms responded positively; and international briefing conferences began at Moor Park, Farnham. The organisation was known as Oversea Service, with Holland as the first director. By 1959 a permanent centre had been established in Farnham Castle and some 500 people were attending briefing sessions every year; by 1986 the total was 30,000.

Holland meanwhile returned to Pakistan in 1964, when the medical work was seriously understaffed. But for a long time he had felt called to the priesthood (in 1950 he had trained at Coates Hall in Edinburgh). He was ordained in the diocese of Lahore, and this enabled him to work for greater understanding between Christianity and Islam and for church unity, while working as priest and doctor.

Holland, who had studied Medicine at Edinburgh University, returned to the city in 1971 and worked as a GP in a group practice for 10 years. He also became active in political and ecumenical affairs, and was concerned for the rejuvenation of the Student Christian Movement. For the SCM, at its zenith in the Thirties, had fostered his spiritual roots. In its questing Christianity, its international friendships, its grappling with the great issues of the day and its inner core of discipleship Holland was at home. He and Andrea Pringle met there; she became its Scottish Travelling Secretary; and in 1937 in India their wonderful marriage, and their lifelong working partnership began. Next year would have seen their diamond wedding anniversary.

Fifteen years ago they moved to the Borders. His grandfather had been rector of Cornhill-on-Tweed, and his grandmother was a Tristram from Durham. Holland loved Durham from his schooldays when he had sung in the cathedral; and a photograph of Canon Tristram, his great-grandfather, eminent priest, ornithologist, botanist, and traveller, adorned his wall.

Still anxious to serve, as a non-stipendiary priest he became part of a rural team ministry in West Linton. He remained to the end a cheerful, loving Christian, whose friendliness gave him a rapport with everyone. The torch of service which he received from his father has been handed on to his three sons, Robert, Christopher and Peter, all of whom, not surprisingly, are in the caring professions.

Henry Bowlby Tristram Holland, missionary doctor and priest: born 23 February 1911; ordained priest 1966; married 1937 Andrea Pringle (three sons); died 28 August 1996.