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1925 - 1942

Most families have a wartime loss to remember.
This is the story of our family loss
and is dedicated to the memory of Harold and his generation.

Harold was the eldest son of Harold Harding Senior and Florence Ellen Harding (nee Tildesley). He was born 27th October 1925 at Prince Street, Pleck, Walsall and was Christened at St. John's Church, Pleck.
There were eight children in all: elder sister Joyce, then brothers Stanley, Brian, Philip, Kenneth, youngest sister Enid and youngest brother Barry. Our family lived in Gower Street, Pleck, from about 1930 till the early 50s.

Harold aged 12 Harold went to Hillary Street Junior and Senior school. The photo shows him aged about 12. In what little spare time Harold had, like many other elder kids at that time he had many chores to do with such a large family, before he could go out and have time to himself. 
Harold, known as "Opple Harding" amongst the local lads, was in the local 34th Scout Group, which met at Pleck Methodist Hall, on the Bescot Road. This would have been circa 1938-1939.
Harold would call for his mate Ken Surch, early evening time and they would walk to the Hall to attend the Scout Meeting, where they would do rope knots and mental test games etc..
But the night always ended playing the same game, "British Bulldog". A simple game. All the scouts stood at one end of the hall except one scout who was chosen to stand in the middle of the room. The Scout Master would shout "British Bulldog" and all the scouts ran to the other end. The scout in the middle had to catch one of them and lift him clear of the floor and then there were two chaps in the middle of the room. They had to try to catch others on the second and later "runs". Very soon the middle group grew, until only one scout was left to "run" the hall. This scout was "Opple" on numerous occasions. No one could go home until this was over and Harold tended to always make it extra time.Harold left school at 14 and started work at Walker Brothers, Pleck Road, where he operated a hand press. He stayed for about 12 months when he went to work for Martin Winn, circa 1940-41.
 Harold aged about 16
Harold, aged about 14 or 15 years, photographed at a Martin Winn's works outing to Bridgnorth, circa 1939-41. Harold is third from the left.Harold, aged about 14 or 15  
  In May 1942, Harold joined the Merchant Navy. My Auntie Joyce told us that Harold's last words to his mom were "Well I'm off now mom, if I don't come back .... don't worry... I'll be ok."
The inevitable happened. Harold never returned. My Grandmother received a letter, edged in purple, saying that Harold was "missing at sea". Later the dreaded black edged letter arrived.  All the family knew was that Harold lost his life in the Atlantic some 500 miles off the coast of Ireland. This was all the family knew for 57 years. My grandparents hardly spoke of this as obviously it was too traumatic for them to do so.

Sadly, my grandfather, Harold Senior, passed away in 1974 and my grandmother, Florence Ellen, passed away in 1982. And that was all they knew too of the fate of their eldest son.

Harold completed his 12 week training course on TS Vindicatrix at Sharpness, Gloucester.  The photo shows him aged about 16 and may be part of a group "passing out" photo.  Harold then travelled to South Shields and signed on as a cabin boy on his first ship, SS Hartington, for his first voyage.

Documents show that Harold was to be paid �5 per month as a merchant seaman and of this he was allocating �4 per month to my grandmother, to help support the family.

Harold left Great Britain on 18th September 1942 and on the 19th September joined Convoy ONS 134, bound for Halifax Nova Scotia, duly arriving in Halifax on the 7th October.

Twenty days later, on October 27th, Harold's 17th birthday, Harold and SS Hartington left Halifax and took up position 73 in Convoy SC 107, laden with urgent supplies, destined for the United Kingdom. There were 42 ships in the convoy.

On the night of November 2nd 1942, SS Hartington was the fourth ship to be torpedoed by enemy action at 4am GMT. A total of 15 ships were sunk from Convoy SC 107, as a result of enemy action.

SS Hartington sank 20 minutes after being torpedoed. She dispatched two lifeboats, which stayed together until the following afternoon, when they were separated by severe weather conditions. One of the lifeboats was picked up 10 days later, with all survivors but one, by a destroyer on her way back to St Johns, Newfoundland. She was going to re-fuel as she had missed her convoy, so it was by pure luck she had sighted the lifeboat on her journey.

Harold and his shipmates in the other lifeboat were never heard of again. SS Hartington rests at position 52D 30M North and 45D 30M West in the North Atlantic.  Harold is officially commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial to men of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets who died in both World Wars and who have no known grave.

Any help with information regarding the group photos would be most appreciated and gratefully received. We would, for example, like to know the names of the people on the group photo.  And we suspect that the photo of Harold at 16 was part of a group photo from his "passing out" on Vindatrix - over his left shoulder you can see a Merchant Navy badge on the person behind. Can anyone help further?

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