Spirit of Resistance

Gerry Holdsworth (1904-1985)

Commander Gerry Holdsworth, after whom the Trust is named, was one of the outstanding figures of SOE during the Second World War.

Born in 1904, he worked as a rubber planter and in film production before the outbreak of war swept him into Section D, one of SOE’s forebears. Early in the conflict he served secretly in Norway and Sweden before returning to Britain in the summer of 1940 and joining SOE. With a commission in the Intelligence Corps, he worked for a time preparing stay-behind groups in readiness for a German invasion.

In November 1940, exchanging his army commission for one in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, Holdsworth, an experienced peacetime sailor, set up an SOE naval base on the Helford River, in Cornwall, using two small French vessels with crews who were familiar with small boats and prepared to serve out of uniform. The ‘Helford Flotilla’ made many daring and dangerous trips to the French coast and back, infiltrating and exfiltrating agents.  For his work on these cross-Channel operations, Holdsworth was awarded his first DSO.

During the winter of 1942-43, after Allied landings in North Africa had opened up new spheres of opportunity, Holdsworth sailed three vessels from Helford through the Bay of Biscay to Gibraltar.  From bases in North Africa he then mounted a wide variety of valuable naval and para-naval operations for SOE into Tunisia, Corsica, Italy and Southern France. For this work in the Mediterranean he received a second DSO and a Croix de Guerre avec Palme.

In 1943, following the Italian surrender, Holdsworth took charge in southern Italy of the headquarters of SOE’s No.1 Special Force, which was tasked with dispatching agents and supplies to the Italian resistance in the German-occupied north. For his work on Italy, which continued until the end of the war, he received an OBE.

After the war, Gerry Holdsworth returned to film making and ocean racing. He also took a prominent role in setting up and running the Special Forces Club.  Over a period of thirty-one years, he served variously as Club Chairman, Vice-President and President. He died in 1985.