“Thank you all for coming. Some of you live just down the road; while others have travelled from Atlanta Ga. or Oslo Norway, or London just to be here. However far or near the journey, we all have a fifth dimension outside time and space, for we have all joined together to pay homage to one man, Arthur Thornton Harland. Uncle Arthur was born in the middle of the Boer war, on 28th September 1900. He was too young to become cannon fodder in that subsequent ‘War to End Wars’ for he was only a schoolboy then; first at Wesley College Dublin, and then at Campbell College Belfast.
He had graduated from Queen’s University Belfast in 1922 in the then very new university subject of electrical engineering. But the concurrent crisis of Partition in Ireland left him unemployed for some months. With his own quiet sense of humour he pointed out that he had suffered severe religious discrimination at that time in Dublin. But then we have to remind ourselves that in was only six years since the Easter Rising of 1916, and that Irish memories work on a much slower time clock than most. It was a good Bessbrook family friend who finally found him work in Spillers and Bakers in London. Later he was able to display a certificate that confirmed 40 years of service to that one company. Like all specialists he came to know more and more about less and less and he had become a specialist in sausage binding and dog biscuits.
But he was not just a company man. Although I tend to abhor clichés, I am sure we would all agree that he was a ‘scholar and a gentleman’. Quite apart for his interest in the flour-mill in particular and the stock market in general, he had a huge interest in the entire world around him. He had been a fine golfer and snooker player; he was both a yachtsman and an opera buff: he was a good chef too: after his retirement he developed wonderful skills as a fly fisherman and a prolific producer of vegetables and tomatoes. For years and years he sat in the same seat in Covent Garden Opera House every Tuesday evening. He had a great love of both Ballet and opera. In 1949 he took me to a production of Boris Godounov by Mussorgsky, but I was too young and ill-informed to understand the privilege. Without his introductions how could my family ever have learned the culinary delights awaiting us all in London – Simpson’s in the Strand, The Savoy Grill, Veeraswamy’s Indian spot off Regent Street, or Stone’s Chop House near Leicester Square? That was where fish and chips were ordered, and steamed turbot and pommes de terre au gratin were served to an overwhelmed seven year old Simon – here today with a family of his own to cherish.
In full knowledge of this historical change, I found myself, last Sunday, poking through the cubbyholes of a desk in Hillside. Astonishingly, the first thing I lifted was a card from my poor dead wife, May, written to Uncle Arthur early in January 1981, and it was something I had never before read or had even been told about. To put this in context, she had just been diagnosed as having breast cancer, which she had always regarded as a death sentence, as indeed it was less than five years later. In this thank-you card, so carefully preserved by Uncle Arthur, are these words – and I pass them on to you, for they sum up all our thoughts:-
“All my married life (soon 30 years) I have felt so grateful to you for so many things. You have set us standards that Robin and I have tried to pass on to the next generation, and you have accepted that generation with interest and tolerance. Many of the luxurious happenings in my life have been experienced because you first introduced Robin to lovely things in London”.
Today our gratitude remains undiminished, and we all give thanks for the life and times of Arthur Thornton Harland”.