Heart-warming stories of lives less ordinary

91 year-old Doug Harrison
91 year-old Doug Harrison
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HE may be 78 but Arthur Howarth is still an imposing figure, which is not surprising when you learn that he used to be in the SAS.

Sitting in the lounge of the Park Manor Hotel in Scarborough, he is enjoying an animated conversation with two other men, the group are drinking beer when most of the other guests have tea and biscuits.

All are members of an Age UK lunch club, to which some have been coming for 10 years, whether to offer respite for their partners or carers or to break one of the most troubling consequences of old age; the loneliness of isolation.

They also belong to one of the fastest growing sections of society, which is also one of the most disenfranchised and least understood. But to hear just a few of their stories is to learn why they should not become a forgotten generation, and why dignity and respect is the least they deserve.

Like many older people in Scarborough, Mr Howarth came to retire with his wife after enjoying countless holidays in the resort. And the former sergeant in the Duke of Wellington’s is characteristically blunt in describing his affection for the town.

“I love it,” he said. “The only way they will get me out is to carry me in a box.”

Originally from Bury, he “quickly” joined the Army at 18 as he did not want to be sent down the mines as a Bevin Boy, and chose his beloved “Dukes” because the cap badge stood out when he was looking at the wall in the recruiting office.

So began a long and distinguished career that took him across the world and earned him a two-year secondment in the SAS. He served in Northern Ireland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malta, Gibraltar, Japan and Libya, and was wounded when he “caught a bit of metal” in Korea.

Mr Howarth is reticent about his Special Forces work but friends of the fluent Arabic speaker say he used to guard Colonel Gadaffi.

He built contacts in the region and on leaving the Army became passenger services manager at Gulf Air, sharing an office with Abdel Baset al-Megrahi, convicted of the Lockerbie bombing. Mr Howarth said he was “a lovely guy” and believes he was innocent.

Scarborough-born Doug Harrison, 91, also served in a now defunct Yorkshire regiment, the Green Howards, and had such a remarkable time in the Second World War that a book was written about him.

Smartly dressed and with his regimental tie pin sitting proudly on his chest, the quietly spoken veteran recalls events of nearly 70 years ago with astonishing clarity, and attributes his survival to luck or fate.

It was an opinion he formed marching alongside his friend Teddy Dimmock during the evacuation from Dunkirk, when “all of a sudden, puff”, he was killed by a piece of shrapnel.

Mr Harrison lived to fight another day but was captured by the Germans in North Africa, eventually escaping after being transferred to a camp in Italy.

They lived off the land in the hills of Tuscany for the next two years, although two were never seen again after going out foraging for food.

They were helped by a local family, the Gellis, who provided food and shelter, and Mr Harrison made several trips back to the village to thank them after the war. “Without that family I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

At 96 Kate Bertram is the oldest member of the group and though born in Essex considers herself a “Yorkshire girl” because of her father’s service in the East Yorkshire Regiment.

The former milliner at Harrods enjoyed world cruises until recently and is determined to overcome the reluctance of her daughter and son-in-law to let her take another. Asked if she thinks she can talk them round, she said: “No, but believe me I will go just the same.”

She added: “I’ve lived a great life, a good life, an interesting life. I’ve seen things that everybody should see and things that nobody should see; people being dug out of air raid shelters. It’s a great life if you don’t weaken.”