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We shall remember them

Harry Bourn

If you have been watching the new series https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0d5z0xy based on the formation of the SAS on TV recently, you will be in awe of their bravery.

St Alphege Lodge was privileged to have had such a hero as one of their members and although he died over ten years ago it is an appropriate time to remember him:

Harry Bourn was born in Darlington, Co Durham on 26th March 1920 and passed away just a few weeks short of his 91st Birthday.

When he left school in 1936 Harry started work manufacturing Fireclay Sinks, Firebricks and other coal products at a local colliery, but this career was curtailed in 1939 with the outbreak of WW2. Harry; along with some friends; were already members of the 50th Northumbrian Division of the TA and it was whilst on their annual camp in late August of that year that war was declared 3rd September 1939. In Harry’s words “that fortnight camp lasted almost 8 years” and formed a lasting impression; and was a proud period of Harry’s life.

For reasons best known to Harry, his past experiences were not discussed openly during his lifetime but retained with vivid accuracy to be recounted after his death.

By the end of the year 1939, Harry had been secreted into occupied France with the Expeditionary Force and ultimately found himself part of the rear-guard defence protecting the perimeter of Dunkirk from the advancing German forces throughout the rapid evacuation of the allied troops. This lasted until the very last day 2nd June 1940 when the beaches were almost clear and when, to quote Harry’s own words, “we knew we were in big trouble when the Divisional Captain shouted, ”run like hell lads to the beach and every man for himself””. The ever-resourceful Harry escaped in a rowing boat into the middle of the English Channel where he was eventually picked up by a holiday Paddle Steamer called The Medway Queen and taken to Ramsgate. It is somewhat ironic that this particular ship was found in a Naval Salvage Yard and has been brought back to Bristol docks for restoration.

His Division regrouped and set sail for the Middle East on a somewhat unusual route from Greenock via Johannesburg and the Red Sea a journey of 8 weeks and then onto Crete and Cyprus to engage with the Italians and Germans who were seeking to secure the Mediterranean Sea; then onto Afghanistan and the Caucuses.

They then did an about-turn when they were dispatched to the Western Desert of North Africa and joined forces with the 7th and 8th Army; where Harry fought along-side the famous Desert Rats and held the line at the famous Battle of El Alamein on the 23rd October, which finally pushed Rommel and the German Army out of Egypt.

But that wasn’t the whole of the story: Harry had previously been selected, due to his signals experience, to join the newly formed elite group, The Long Range Desert Troop under the command of one David Stirling who, using the experiences of that fledgling specialist unit in which Harry was involved, and their covert exploits behind enemy lines in the most hostile of environments, with temperatures exceeding 125 degrees in the shade, and with no supply lines, subsequently created the now famous Special Air Service, the SAS. This attachment alone, and Harry’s decision not to openly divulge his involvement is a true reflection of his courage and modesty. Subsequent engagements followed in Sicily, Italy and Saudi Arabia before Harry ultimately travelled up through Germany and France and was demobbed in July 1947.

He certainly lived respected!

Extract taken from Harry’s eulogy prepared by WBro Martyn Russell in 2011

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