Holden, Sir David Charles Beresford (1915–98), civil servant and soldier, was born in Wolverhampton, England, on 26 July 1915, son of Oswald Addenbrooke Holden, army chaplain, and Ella Mary Holden (née Beresford). His father was killed (1 December 1917) during the first world war and his widowed mother brought him up. He was educated at a preparatory school in Kent and then Rossall School in Lancashire before attending King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated with a double first in classics. Holden then entered the Northern Ireland civil service (1937), but his career was interrupted by the outbreak of the second world war. As a member of the Territorial Army in 1939 he was mobilised and served with the 8th (Belfast) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, which soon saw active service in France with the British Expeditionary Force. Having returned to Britain before the fall of Dunkirk, the unit was retrained and sent to the Far East, where it was based first in India and then in Burma. By 1943 Holden was serving as brigade major with the 1st Anti-Aircraft Brigade in Calcutta, but then rejoined his old regiment as the allied forces went on the offensive in Burma against the Japanese. At the end of the war Holden's unit returned to Belfast, where he was briefly promoted to acting lieutenant-colonel, and as senior officer took charge as the force was demobilised. He then returned to a Northern Ireland civil service post in the Ministry of Finance, the most powerful department within the devolved administration, with its influence covering many other areas. Within a short period his skill and expertise were recognised by a series of promotions, most notably when he took charge of negotiations between his ministry and the treasury in London to reform the financial arrangements for Northern Ireland that had been established under the government of Ireland act of 1920.
On 1 July 1970 he took up the position of permanent secretary at the Ministry of Finance and head of the Northern Ireland civil service (1970–76). In this role Holden was soon faced with the added responsibility of carrying out his duties in a period of political instability which eventually led in March 1972 to the suspension of the Stormont parliament and the introduction of direct rule from Westminster. With the arrival of the first secretary of state for Northern Ireland, William Whitelaw (qv), Holden retained his existing tasks, but he was transferred along with a number of other senior civil servants to serve in the newly established Northern Ireland Office, which now administered the region. Among Holden's duties was the chairing of a committee, the Future Policy Group, that prepared plans for the possible return of devolved powers; later, he was one of only two Northern Ireland civil servants to be part of the UK delegation at the Sunningdale conference in late 1973. At this gathering the final arrangements were made for establishing a power-sharing executive of nationalists and unionists to govern Northern Ireland, along with formal arrangements for cooperation between the governments in Belfast and Dublin. With regards to the latter, Holden was appointed as joint chairman from Northern Ireland of an official steering group charged with examining the functions and responsibilities of the proposed council of Ireland. When the executive collapsed in May 1974, he reverted to his position at the Ministry of Finance and the headship of the Northern Ireland civil service, serving till his retirement at the end of May 1976. For the next twelve months Holden served as director of the Ulster Office in London, which dealt with such interests as tourism and industry, before officially retiring in 1977 to Wiltshire in England.
His career in the military and public service was recognised with the award of the Emergency Reserve decoration (1954), a CB (1963), and a knighthood (1972). He died in hospital on 31 August 1998 after a bout of pneumonia. He was survived by his wife Elizabeth Jean Odling, whom he married in 1948, and a son, and a daughter.