Down Rye Way – Harry Walker – Rye’s Own May 2000

Harry Walker by The Editor

Although ex – London Cabbie Harry Walker has lived in the Town for only thirteen years he has become as well known a personality as many who have spent their entire life here.

Harry Arthur Walker was born in Lambeth on the 20th. September 1915 at the time the War in Flanders was raging at its height. Harry’s Father Henry Walker was a Master Builder and Decorator and his Mother Ada a typical Edwardian London housewife.

Young Harry spent his school days at the Lollard Street School just off the Lambeth Walk. He was a keen sportsman playing for the soccer team and representing the school in athletic events.

Always keen and interested in getting on and meeting people, Harry took a job as paper boy, working in Leicester Square and delivering the news all over the West End. At fourteen he left school and took full time work at the paper shop, a job he enjoyed for six years.

In 1937, aged twenty-two, Harry decided to change jobs and became a Store man to Mowlems, a busy firm of builders near his home. War clouds were gathering on the horizon but Harry was more concerned with other things. A young lady had caught his eye. Connie Hamann had fallen for the handsome Store man and the pair were soon an ‘item’.

Then came the War. Harry was called up for service with the Royal Artillery and was whisked off to Yeovil for Basic Training. It was all a bit of a shock to the young Londoner who had hardly seen the countryside before. Yeovil was the back of beyond but Harry took it all in his stride. Back in London on leave Harry Arthur Walker made Connie Hamann his wife. They enjoyed a very brief Honeymoon and then it was back to the War. Private Harry Walker became a heavy vehicle driver, travelling to all parts of the British mainland towing his Ack-ack gun behind. The Royal Artillery moved from City to City trying to outwit the German Bombers and provide protection throughout the ‘Blitz’.

During 1940-41 there were few chances of leave but Harry did get one glimpse of their new baby daughter Joe, born at Northampton in July 41 where Connie had evacuated at the height of the ‘Blitz’ on London. This was to be the last time he saw his Wife and Child for over four years. Duty called and he was dispatched on the Invasion of North Africa and became part of the British Force who rescued the Americans at the Kassarine Pass.

On to Italy

Harry in World War Two
Harry in World War Two

Harry and his pals kicked Rommel’s troops out of Africa and chased them into Italy. Private Walker went in at Salerno and then on to Anzio. His guns were among those pounding the Monastery at Cassino. At Cassino a strange event occurred. A woman among a group of Italian Refugees ap­proached and asked Harry if he knew anyone from Lambeth. “I’m from Lambeth” he said to the Italian lady. It turned out that she was Mary Rosini who’s two sons had married Harry’s two Aunts.

The Royal Artillery fought on through Italy, up one side and down the other, clearing the enemy as they went. Then the group was broken up and Harry ended up as a Bren Carrier driver for the Queen’s Royal Regiment. He fought on with his new Regiment and when the fighting in Italy finally ended the Queen’s were put into training for the assault on Japan. Fortunately for Harry and his colleagues the Atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagisaki brought hostilities to a close and they embarked from Italy, finally arriving at Folkestone, where Private Walker became Mr. Walker again.

The reunion with Connie and ‘Baby Joe’, now nearly five years old, can only be imagined, suffice to say it was one of the happiest days in Harry’s life. Connie had found them a flat in Lollard Street, just across the road from where he went to school, alas the school was no more, just a pile of burnt timber and rubble. The war had taken its toll.

Back in ‘civy street’ Harry went into business with Step Father Fred Smith. They purchased a tow truck and working mainly from a phone in Regents Street, operated a tow in service for stranded motorists, getting their work from the Police and many garages in the area who did not have their own tow vehicle.

Harry found the hours too long and after a few years took a salesmen’s job with Harry Walker with his Taxi and GrandsonR. Whites the mineral water company and then another as a long distance lorry driver for Union Cartage, carrying frozen meat around the Country. In his spare time he was ‘doing the knowledge’ to become a London Taxi Driver. He walked the streets of the city learning each one and its Harry Walker with his Taxi and Grandsonlandmarks by heart. Later he bought a bike and cycled around. It took three years to pass his test and became ‘a full time cabbie, a job he pursued for over thirty years. There are many stories about his adventures as a Cab driver, they would fill this issue many times over.

The Move to Rye

When Harry retired he decided they would move down to Rye where his daughter Joe had moved with her Husband Stewart Doyle. Stuart’s Mum and Dad, Celia and Em ran a Guest House in the town. Harry and Connie had never been to Rye but they stayed at the Doyle’s and went house hunting. They soon found the place in Rope Walk, named it ‘Walker’s Rest’ and moved in.

It was home from home and they spent six more happy years together until           Connie’s sad death in 1993.

Harry picked himself up, helped by Joe and her family and the many friends he had already made, and carried on to enjoy his retirement knowing that Connie would have wanted it this way.  He helped all kinds of folk doing shopping  and other chores for a volunteer group at the Baptist Church.

New Shopping Centre

He got involved with many of the shopkeepers in the newly created Arcade Shopping Centre at the bottom of Rope Walk, looking after shops when the owners were ill, running messages, delivering posters and even driving to Hastings for supplies.

He is probably best known for his activities for Rye Auction Galleries, delivering Catalogues and Auction Preview sheets to many shops and houses around the town. This job, which he has carried out regularly for several years, has made him many new friends. Harry has recently been forced to give up this delivery round because it was becoming too hard for him, especially on cold, wet days but he intends to continue visiting his regulars in conjunction with his new voluntary job with Rye’s Own. He will be out and about on nice days looking for items of news and delivering leaflets on behalf of the Magazine.

Keep up the good work Harry and long may you enjoy your retirement in this town among your family and friends.

“Rye’s Own” May 2000

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