Brian Holmes à Court (OC 1940) and the Holmes à Court Memorial Prize
Brian Holmes à Court arrived at Cranbrook in 1930 and remained at the school throughout the 1930s. Tall, shy, and sensitive, Brian was an all-round athlete. He was a member of the athletics and rugby teams, excelling in hurdles and high jump. He also loved science and maths, receiving distinctions in mathematics, chemistry, and physics. In his final year in 1940, he was appointed a school prefect.
Brian enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force shortly after leaving Cranbrook. He joined in August 1941, and after more than twelve months’ training, arrived in England as a Flying Officer in November 1942. Brian would have initially sat exams at the training school in Australia, which was followed by a specialised course.
Nearly 20 percent failed the initial training school. Successful recruits were then designated for training as pilots, navigators, bomb aimers, and air gunners. Recruits who were chosen as pilots would be put through elementary flying training, and then service flying training. The latter included night flying, advanced aerobatics, formation flying, and dive bombing.
Once in England, Brian joined Squadron 206, a non-operational fighter squadron based at Somerset. The squadron’s task was to provide realistic experience for English anti-aircraft gunners. They did this by simulating an attack with their aircraft so that gunposts on the ground could have gun-laying and target practice.
Brian died in service in June 1943 as a result of pilot error while engaging in low-level attacks on coastal gunposts in Cornwall. He had performed a series of passes over the 'enemy' posts, each one followed by a climbing turn. Finally, having executed a dive, he failed to pull out of his turn, instead 'side-slipping' to the ground and meeting his immediate death. The accident report suggested that the pilot had gone too near the ground and then over-corrected, turning violently and losing control of the aircraft, likely because of inexperience.
His Commanding Officer remembered Brian as pleasant and popular, who displayed a “keenness for his job”. His parents, Dr and Mrs A Holmes à Court, commemorated their son in perpetuity by bestowing an annual prize in his name. It was to be awarded to the boy who showed loyal and unselfish service during his Cranbrook career, the kind of conduct that the Holmes à Courts felt best exemplified their son. Traditionally the prize is awarded to the best all-round student in Year 12 and is considered to be the most significant prize awarded, after the Dux of Year 12 and the Head Prefect Prize.
David Thomas and Mark McAndrew, Born in the Hour of Victory, Cranbrook School, 1918 – 1998, Sydney: Playright Publishing Pty Ltd, 1998, p. 85.