My parents met not long after my father demobbed from the Navy. I arrived on the scene in 1949. Initially the family home was my nan’s cramped two-up two-down terraced house in Plaistow, West Ham, which we all shared. My father was employed by Revertex – the boom-time plastics and latex company. Revertex was enticed, like many others, to relocate to the burgeoning Harlow New Town. Coach trips were hastily arranged for the existing workforce, so they too could see first-hand what a new life in this modern town could offer – a temptation many succumbed to.

My parents, who took part in such a trip, moved into the Stackfield area in 1952. The transition was made all the more easier by the fact that there was already a large proportion of newcomers in the town, with a majority being young couples tempted from afar by the lure of new homes. Houses with (what now seems laughable) an indoor bathroom and a garden – luxuries my parents didn’t have while living in London. With cars being scarce, every street was loaded with kids playing – it was a lovely era for me and my brothers to grow up.

Aged fifteen I left school but struggled to settle down; even after gaining an apprenticeship in butchery at the Stow branch of the Co-op.

 

To my mother’s dismay I chose to leave town and live with my nan in West Ham. However, for the sake of my mother (even though I’d found employment) I headed back to Harlow – but yet again struggled to find a suitable direction in life. I toyed with the idea of joining the military ... after all, my father and grandfather (who joined as a drummer boy aged twelve) had both served in the Navy.

The final push came about after witnessing an unprovoked attack, by a mate of mine, on a total stranger – the sole reason being that he thought it would be funny. I’d never been a bully or troublemaker; this kind of life wasn’t for me – I turned my back on my ‘friend’ and walked away from the incident physically shaken. Shorty after I headed to the Army recruiting office in Old Harlow; it was something I knew I had to do. I passed the entrance exam but, being seventeen, needed a signature from my mother. Far from objecting she instead praised my decision. Knowing it was for the best, she snatched and signed the appropriate form in an instant.

On my eighteenth birthday I left Harlow to begin training in Winchester with the Royal Green Jackets. Everything fell into place: best in class and earmarked for special training, which after two years resulted in me joining the reconnaissance division; Northern Ireland was my first major deployment. Aged twenty-two I met Ann Marie, a nineteen-year-old Irish Catholic – in 1972 we returned to Harlow and married. I served in the Army until 1975; travelling the world wasn’t conducive to a healthy marriage. With my feet now firmly based in Harlow I ventured, successfully, into the building game. 

The military always remains part of you. Therefore, when the Royal British Legion formed a club in Harlow, me and my father joined up. As the club established it moved to various locations before settling, seventeen years ago, at Common Road. Over time my involvement in the club became more than just social, culminating with me becoming chairman three years ago. It’s a hefty commitment, not only for myself but other senior members, to ensure the smooth running of the club, which includes arranging ticketed social nights and – most importantly – aiding the welfare of ex-service personnel and dependants within Harlow. But nonetheless it’s something I’m proud to undertake, never more so than on Remembrance Day when a crowd close to a thousand can be expected to gather in the town park.

Due to the natural decline of First and Second World War service personnel, membership is now open to all. A club-wide decision, taken with the future survival of the Royal Legion in mind. The new members we attract add a new dimension to the club, yet respect our military values.

Yes, Harlow has changed; not always for the better. However, even during my military career while sitting on beaches in Hawaii or atop the Canadian Rockies, Harlow was always my home and somewhere I loved coming back to.

© 2018 CHRIS HADDON

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