Stephen John Harris, a former Leading Aircraftman in the Royal Air Force, was born in January 1932 in Baldwins Hill, a suburb of East Grinstead.
His early years were marked by the onset of World War II, a period that saw him and his family spending significant time under the threat of air raids crowded around their chimney until given the all clear.
Stephen’s father managed a local shop and was a veteran of World War I, having miraculously survived a gunshot due to a bible in his breast pocket. During World War II, his father joined the special constabulary and operated the only telephone in the village at his shop. This era significantly shaped Stephen’s childhood, especially with the arrival of evacuees from London, which altered the dynamics of his education and family life.
One of Stephen’s brothers, who was ten years his senior, was conscripted into the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC) at 18 and returned four and a half years later, deeply affected by his experiences, suffering from shell shock and profound hearing loss. Stephen’s family also went through a transition when the owner of the shop understandably handed it over to his own children, rather than Steve’s father. The Harris family then moved to a village near Petworth, where they bought their own shop and where Stephen’s father served as the sub-post-master.
Despite the disruptions caused by the war, Stephen was determined in his education. He initially struggled with the 11+ exam but later found success at Redhill Technical College, securing a coveted spot among 24 out of 400 applicants. His early work in the shop, involving tasks like counting money and writing letters, played a crucial role in developing his practical and academic skills.
Steve’s life beyond his studies and work at the shop included a passion for bell-ringing, a hobby he pursued with dedication. He spent several years as a bell-ringer, from 1947 to 1950 at Kirdford and then from 1968 to 1980 at Seaford.
Stephen’s ambition to join the Royal Air Force as a flight engineer was temporarily deferred when he returned to manage the post office for his father. However, he eventually joined the RAF Post-office and was posted to RAF Wyton in Huntingdonshire, where his experience in postal services quickly led to his promotion to Leading Aircraftman (LAC). He was later involved in the Egyptian airlift operation from RAF Upavon in Wiltshire.
After his service in the RAF, Stephen contemplated a further military career but decided to return home to support his father, who was ill with lung cancer. Instead of rejoining the RAF, Stephen embarked on a career in the West Sussex Constabulary police force. His background and experience at Redhill Technical College and in the post office facilitated his entry into the police force.
While stationed in Midhurst, Stephen met his future wife, Phyllis, daughter of the family with whom he lodged. The couple got married in August 1953 and had the first of their 3 children in 1956. He is now a proud grandfather to 3, and has 6 great grandchildren.
His career in the police force was dynamic and progressive; he served in various roles, moving from Littlehampton to Crawley New Town, then to Langley Green, and later to Harting near Petersfield. His service continued in various capacities, including as a Sergeant, a Patrol Sergeant, Superintendent in charge of Brighton Town and finally Superintendent at Chichester.
Within his police career, Stephen was also asked to be part of a working action party in 1973 at Heathrow Airport looking at the theft of luggage and cargo. Stephen produced a report for the government which is now largely followed today.
Post-retirement, Stephen remained active. He joined the Royal British Legion management committee as well as the Chichester City Guides. Alongside his wife, he started a walking organisation, organising tours across Southern England, an endeavour that lasted until 2002. Additionally, Stephen was a prolific public speaker, delivering over 3500 engagements on a variety of topics.
Stephen’s decision to join Care for Veterans was influenced by personal health challenges and the passing of his wife, whom he had cared for during her struggle with dementia. At Care for Veterans, Stephen has found a supportive community and built friendships with fellow residents like John and Ron. He spends his time actively engaging with others in the corridors, a testament to his social nature and the importance of community in his life.
Stephen John Harris’s story is a compelling narrative of resilience, adaptability, and community spirit. His experiences from a young age during World War II, through a career in public service, and now as a resident at Care for Veterans, reflect a life dedicated to service and the value of human connection. His journey highlights the personal histories and sacrifices of those who have served and continue to impact our understanding of history and community.
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