Tom was a Wells - only 5 feet, 8 inches tall! He joined the Royal Engineers of the
British army, and served in South Africa during the Boer War (1899 – 1902).
When he first went to South Africa he had been given a letter of introduction to
the Lee family in Capetown which produced an unusual dénouement. He nearly became
engaged to Marion Lee, but she would not leave South Africa to marry him. However,
he continued to keep up a long continuing correspondence with her youngest sister
When the Boer War ended Tom worked briefly in Kimberley, before returning home.
With no real prospects in Bessbrook, he emigrated to the USA in 1905 and lived near
his brother Jack in Atlanta GA. Despite the years rolling on and the miles between
them, Lily and he continued their liaison and finally became engaged with the help
of the postal service. Eventually Lily set off for the USA and they were married
in Atlanta on 19 July 1913.
In 1916 or 1917 they moved north to Brooklyn, New York City; and shortly after that
they moved again to New Dorp, Staten Island NY . This was to be their home for the
next 42 years. Their two daughters were born there, Mary in 1918, and K in 1919.
Tom was in the building business; to begin with this meant building private homes
in Staten Island. Later he took on industrial work in several different States. In
1926/27 he worked in St. Augustine, Florida, and this meant a temporary transfer
for the whole family. Later work took him to the mid-west where he built hangars
for Curtis Wright in Ohio and Michigan. This was right at the start of the ascending
development of the commercial aviation industry. He came to accept air travel as
the norm; even despite what happened next.
Tom was nearly killed in a plane crash; he was a passenger flying from Detroit to
Toledo in a light aircraft, a Curtis Robin. Just after take-off the plane was hit
by a westerly wind squall. The pilot wisely chose to crash into a tree rather than
into the Detroit River. Tom suffered from fractures of his spine and both legs, which
took many months of recuperation. Almost immediately on resuming work he was a passenger
on the maiden flight of the Curtis Condor from Columbus Ohio to Valley Stream, Long
Island NY. This was a twin-engined bi-plane, the commercial marvel of it era. When
Tom’s work for Curtis Wright ended he joined the National City Bank Farmers’ Loan
and Trust Company as a surveyor; and he worked there until retirement in 1945.
The eldest son of John Harland (1854) was a man of many interests. He was a founder
member of Oakwood Heights (Staten Island) Community Church (Congregational), where
he was both organist and choirmaster, and built an extension to the church - for
Tom loved doing things with his hands. He always had a workshop in his home where
he spent many hours making or fixing things. He made toys and furniture for his
daughters and did beautiful woodcarving. In later years he developed new skills making
stained glass windows and mosaics, with the former becoming a dominant activity.
Every window in his church was replaced with stained glass windows made in his
workshop at home and he also made and presented two fine mosaics. However, he was
ecumenical; he made and gave stained glass windows to both the Jewish synagogue and
the Roman Catholic chapel in the vicinity or his own church. The amazing quality
of his work is best seen in close-up by visiting the Windows pages of this website:
Tom with his brother Jack in their seventies (1957)