The Battle of the Somme which first erupted on the 1st of July, 1916 continued throughout the summer. For the enlisted men of South Kildare there was no respite from the almost incessant barrage of German gunshells. Athy men were killed at the rate of one per week. Nevertheless, September 1916 started off well. John Vincent Holland, a 27 year old son of the local vet and an Officer in the 7th Battalion was part of a force entrusted with the capture of Guillemont. The 7th Battalion was to occupy a system of assembly trenches some 300 yards north of the village and to attack southwards. At 12 noon on Sunday the 3rd of September the artillery started its bombardment. The 7th Battalion advanced so quickly that it took the Germans by surprise in their trenches. Not content with bombing the enemy dugouts Holland led his men in an advance on the village. So successful was this attack that it carried all before it. Holland started with 26 bombers and finished up with only 5 men after capturing 50 German prisoners.
For his bravery Holland was awarded the highest military honour -The Victoria Cross. Son of John and Katherine Holland of Model Farm, Athy, he was born on the 19th of July, 1889. One of eight children he was educated in Clongowes Wood College and Liverpool university. Without completing his studies he travelled to South America where he was involved in railway engineering. Returning to Ireland at the start of the Great War he enlisted on the 2nd of September, 1914 in the Life Guards. Holland was commissioned in the Leinster Regiment in February 1915 and was attached to the Dublin Fusiliers when wounded in the second Battle of Ypres on the 26th of June, 1915. He came home to Ireland to recuperate and on his return to France he was attached to the 7th Leinsters as Battalion Bombing Officer. He saw service at Loos, Hulluck and the Somme in 1916. A full Lieutenant by July 1916 he was promoted to captain after his exploits at Guillemont.
Holland’s Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy, was the only such award made to a South Kildare man. The occasion was marked by the holding of special meetings of Athy Urban Council and Kildare County Council at which both Councils registered their appreciation of Lieutenant Holland’s gallantry. A public subscription was taken up in the County and a presentation was made to Holland who married Frances Grogan of Cobh on the 16th of January, 1917. He survived the Great War and was later to serve in the Second World War before emigrating in the 1950's to Tasmania. He died in Hobart, Tasmania on the 27th of February, 1975 at the age of 85 and is buried at Cornelian Cemetery.
If September 1916 started off well for the Athy men it was soon to take on a familiar deadly pattern. On the 9th day of the month Bo McWilliams of Leinster Street, Thomas Connell of Barrack Street, Thomas Stafford of Butlers Row and John Delaney of Crookstown lost their lives. Stafford’s brother Eddie had died of wounds on the 24th of September two years previously.