Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Story Behind Harry's War

Harry Baxter was an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times. He joined the Army in 1914, aged eighteen becoming a Sergeant in the Lincolnshire Regiment. He ended the war as an adjutant in the Royal Engineers and received the Military Medal. With the war over he returned home to Grimsby and, during the inter war years, he established a successful fish merchant business. He represented Lincolnshire at hockey and married Pearl in 1933.

At the outbreak of World War II Harry Baxter’s pride, patriotic spirit and sense of duty led him to volunteer for military service. He was too old for combat operations, but was appointed Adjutant of 219 Squadron at RAF Catterick.

His discipline, efficiency and hard work were soon evident and during the course of the war he received several promotions, culminating with him being made Commanding Officer of RAF West Malling in 1945. Remarkably he kept a diary throughout the war, and its even more remarkable that it has survived that provides an intimate record of Harry’s War - both professionally and personally.

Much of the war was relatively routine for Harry; his role was to keep things running back at base while the young men in his squadron were away ‘having fun’ as he puts it. Harry’s diary reveals a perfectionist, a patriot, and a disciplinarian. Highs and lows in his sometimes stormy marriage are recorded, the arrival of his daughter, periods of separation and moments of despair. Results of hockey matches and the bag size from a day’s shooting are noted with equal weight to Germany surrendering. Seemingly endless socialising and drinking reveal how crucial such outlets were to maintaining morale.

The diary introduces an utterly unflappable character who experienced bombs falling just yards from where he stood, an office reduced to rubble and a friend shot dead beside him in his car, while much of his time was filled with the daily grind; it was people like Harry who won the war.

His diary is a unique insight into the realities of life during World War II as well as a fascinating portrait of one man’s character and war.