It is now sixty-four years since the end of WW2 and every day the march of time claims another veteran. Each and every one was a hero in his way but occasionally fate produced someone special. One such giant was Harold Conn.
The North East of England produces a breed of strong men and none more so than the proud Geordie. These folk are fierce, committed and loyal and Harry was a typical example. This former butcher’s boy found himself very much at home in the army where he relished the challenge and enjoyed the physical nature of the life. A natural leader and disciplinarian, his skill and prowess at boxing gave him an advantage when needed. He could be abrasive, yes, but this was born of passion and belief.
Being a “Pompadour” was a constant source of pride and wearing the cap badge of the Essex Regiment was an important part of his life. His accounts of actions from the landings on D-Day to the end of warfare in NW Europe were essentially factual and modest. Indeed, he normally described the actions of others and he was at pains to point out the bravery of his comrades in all units. We get a truer picture however from fellow “Pompadours” who are convinced that his contribution and devotion to duty meant that they were alive today. Another source of pride was being a member of the 56th Independent Brigade and then serving in 49th (West Riding) Infantry Division ---- “The Polar Bears”.
We shall probably remember him best however for his post service life. He devoted his three virtues of Pride, Patriotism and Passion to try to ensure the spirit imbued in service members, especially in time of war, was not lost in a world seemingly hell bent on self destruction. He served the Essex Regiment Association with unfailing loyalty and then went on to found the Polar Bear Association. These organisations are a fitting tribute to his service as they are both flourishing when others are failing. His achievements were recognised officially when he was awarded Honorary Citizenship of Wuustwezel in Belgium and he was commended by the Mayor of Cormeilles in France. It was a similar story in Holland where he had many friends and admirers. All Polar Bear Association trips are known as “Conntours” and he will always be present in spirit.
Through his membership of the Royal British Legion, Brentwood Branch, he was instrumental, with John Wyndham, MBE, in forming an alliance with the magnificent Youth Band. He was so proud of their achievements and the fact that they wore the Polar Bear insignia. His last official engagement was at the Band Presentation Night last year when he handed over the substantial donation from the Belgian Branch of the Polar Bears. The warmth, affection and respect given to him by the young people really touched his heart.
He received wonderful support, care and devotion from his wife, Doreen. Let us keep his memory alive by acting in similar fashion wherever and whenever we can. Hold on to what is good and in a world of falling values, remember his values and the sacrifices made by the veterans. Freedom comes at a terrible price.
STAND EASY, HARRY, AND REST. YOU HAVE EARNED IT!