Nearly forty years ago I was called out to the Christian Science Church in Mayfair to bid on pews that were to be removed prior to demolition.
Of the highest quality they were commercially worthless because they were laid out in a semi circle which made them very impractical for reuse.
However I found something [or someone] of far greater and enduring value there in the basement workshop surrounded by tools and machinery – namely Harold.
I offered Harold a Saturday job at our premises in Shoreditch – coincidentally another redundant church. Soon to retire from the Distiller’s Company, Harold eventually worked for us full time – and I never had a dearer, more loyal, stronger or more capable colleague.
His physical strength and stamina was of an order that we don’t encounter these days. He had the knack and ability to lift and manoeuvre the sort of material that we dealt in that put young men in their twenties to utter shame. And his gruff Lancastrian admonishments left them in no doubt as to their shortcomings.
Those that first encountered him thought him a GOM – a grumpy old man; certainly he didn’t suffer fools gladly. However those young men discovered eventually that he had a heart of gold – deeply politically incorrect he endeared himself to us all.
He had volunteered for the Grenadier Guards in 1939 and served throughout the war in the Armoured Brigades, demobbed in 1946. He never spoke of his experiences, although he would have seen action in the Ardennes. He was present at the liberation of Maastricht and it emerged that he had made a particular impression on one starving Dutch family with whom he shared his rations. Fifty years later they sought him out and he travelled to Holland and was delighted by the attention he was given.
He grew up in Southport, Lancashire and regaled us with tales of his first job delivering coal with his uncle. He was fascinated that the horse knew the rounds and the houses to be served and would find his own way back to his stable – without stopping at the pub.
Harold had an affinity for driving and for lorries and you could tell that he was trained on tanks by the Army. He was pretty hot on the forklift too but we had to gently retire him from that when his aim no longer matched his Formula One enthusiasm.
Harold followed LASSCO as we moved from one yard to the other in East and South London – always to be relied on to keep a fire going in winter and a broom in his hand.
Our business has always had the character of a family firm and for Tony and Les and Ant and Jesse and many others Harold stood in the role of the patriarch to whom we all deferred.
My second son Harry was born on December 6th 1989. His mother insisted that he be known as Harry – in turn I insisted that this should short for the [arguably] Anglo Saxon Harold rather than the posh Plantagenet Henry; it was only at Harry’s Christening that we realised that the two Harolds shared not only a name but their birthdays.
The last time my Harry and our Harold met, the old boy very movingly recited, word perfect, the lyrics of the Greanadier’s hymn:
“Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules,
Of Hector and Lysander and such great names as these;
But of all the World’s great Heroes,
There’s none that can compare ……….
To the British Grenadiers”
They don’t make them like Harold anymore.
Harold Wright 6th December 1921 – 11th January 2016