SYDNEY HASH HOUSE HARRIERS
Rippers Run Report 15th April 2019 Run 2704
Hash, Chapter Eternal: Wrappa’s announcement of God Knows’s death timed perfectly to coincide with the start of our run from Lady of the Way. Fondly remembered by many as the longest serving Hashman. See separate Vale email and two articles on Harry at the end of this Run Report
Your Hares: Mr Foes and Wee Willie
Not able to reach El Camino de Santiago de Compostela on the budget and time available, 45+ Hashmen seeking much needed redemption set out from Our Lady of the Way on a quest worthy of the most pious of pilgrims. Temptations were many, The Rag & Famish, The Commodore, The Blues Point Hotel, and yet they soldiered on, ignoring temptations of the flesh, shortcuts known to many, and the occasional harlot’s beckoning. No “Stairway to Heaven” for these lads, but rather endless stairs to mortify the flesh and purify the soul.
Were that not enough, our trail had to be sorted from those left behind by imps from The Harriet’s and Larkin’s, each of whom had recently run their own hash in the area. Inspiration came from beatific visions of Sydney, rumoured to soon be recognized by
Trump as The City of God on earth. About 7K for runners, 5K for walkers, and endless ascents and descents through the stunning environs of North Sydney and McMahon’s point.
Unfortunate Darwin Don, who upon E-Sht’s advice as to the start of the run, went to St Mary’s Cathedral, before a comely nun advised him to catch a train to North Sydney, from where he was obliged to trot to the actual start at the top of North Sydney where the one true church of Lady of the Way presides.
The OnOn: After a bit of delay, and saintly tolerance for the wait by hungry Hashmen, E-Sht’s and WeeWillie’s surprisingly delicious 7-course Chinese cuisine was served to everyone’s great satisfaction. Wee Willie was kind enough to bring forth a fine French Vintage which pleased us all. In addition to good food and grog, we were treated to JJ’s emotive recitation of Jungle Jim’s Bicycle (“Twas Jungle Jim of Sydney Posh who caught the cycling craze”..) and turned away the good old notes that served him many days. Much to
everyone’s edification, Kitty and Friends’ delivered an etymology lesson from the pulpit on the many uses for the word “fu*k. And we were treated as well to the always reliable, and always hilarious humour dispensed by PeeDub and TT.
• GoonShow and Wombat for minor misdemeanours
• Jungle Jim, for his ongoing service as poet laureate for the Hash
FOR YOUR DIARY
Please note these dates :
Goulburn Weekend Away : May 24-27
Presidents Lunch: Sunday July 14
Past Presidents Lunch: Suggest Thursday June 20th Exclusive for past presidents (and some very old members by special invitation)
Toothprick Downhill, Crosslands : Sunday August 18th – (coincides with the monthly walking group- in Payling’s monthly walk calendar) AGM: Monday September 2nd
Next Week’s Run Run 2704
Tuesday 23rd April Joint Run
Hare : Bigamist
Run Start: Cnr Swan St and Ryde Rd
On On: Gladesville Sports Club(Sporties)
$13.50 Steak Night
The Mother Superior was walking down the hall of a distant, and ancient nunnery, when she spots a young nun leaving Father O’ Flannagan’s private office. Stopping her in the hallway, she says, “And what of God would ye be learning from that old rascal? He only
came to us recently, seeking redemption with saintly solitude after decades of running with the Posh Hash, a viper’s pit of fornicators, down under.” Quite flushed, the young nun replied, “Oh Mother Superior, it was a most blessed meeting. He asked me to part my habit, and said that there betwixt my legs, lay the gates of
heaven. And then he parted his robe, and told me that betwixt his legs, lay the key to the gates of heaven.” At this the Mother Superior startled, looked puzzled, and asked the young nun, “What did he say was betwixt his legs?” Upon hearing in reply, yet again “… key to the gates of heaven,” the Mother Superior bowed her head, and shaking it sadly, said “… and here he has been telling me it was the Horn of Gabriel.”
Impressed with the quality of writing in this run report ?
Don’t get used to it, next week it’ll be back to same old, same old
Thank You Castro, he was your Hon Sec for the night as the real hon sec was paddling his canoe home from Port Stephens :
and thanks to Tic Toc for some fotos etc …and Banjo Jungle for his recital repeated below:
Jungles Ode to Living Dangerously
T’was Jungle Jim, from Sydney Town, who missed his cycling ways;
Because he’d been in hospital for many weeks and days;
He packed up all his cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He rummaged through the shed to find, his trusty old machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with an air of lordly pride,
A worried Mrs Jungle said, “Excuse me, should you ride?”
“See here, my girl,” said Jungle Jim, “from Wellington to the sea,
From Nabiac to Armidale, there’s none can ride like me.
I’m fit enough for anything, as everybody knows,
Although I’m not the one to talk – I hate a man that blows.
The MBR is what I love, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just try to keep me back this year and you will have a fight.
And anyway, I’ll take it easy, start the week off slow,
Farmer says its undulating and he’s the one to know!
I’ll ride a while on Annie’s bike for it has battery power:
And get myself into the truck if it once looks like a shower.”
T’was Jungle Jim, from Sydney Town, who went to Willow Creek,
He ate and drank into the night, looking forward to the week.
Some easy days to Gunnedah, the home of Miss Mackellar
Her poem recited in the morning by some eccentric fella
With many rides up hill and dale, he kept up with the bunch
And we all arrived at Tamworth for a welcome rest day lunch.
A quiet morning off the bike, drinking coffee and feeling fine
Then the lunch, great gourmet food, and maybe too much wine!
On the final day from Nundle town the weather looked like rain
So Jungle very wisely, put his bike in the truck again.
But what is this? The suns come out, never mind if the road is wet.
“I’ll mount my trusty bike again, and get a ride in yet!”
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But ere he’d gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It stayed on track, and shaved the trees, he thought it was the end,
It whistled down the steep wet slope towards the dreaded bend.
It missed a bump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very kangaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
As Jungle Jim, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
He reached New England Highway curve and tried to go around.
But slippery roads and drizzly rain caused his bike to slip
The result, a broken collar bone and a badly fractured hip
Twas Jungle Jim from Sydney Town, who woke up feeling sore:
He said, “I’ve had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I’ve rode my bike up Gloucester Hill to win a five-pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I’ve encountered yet.
I’ll give that highway curve its best; It’s shaken all my nerve
The final whistle through the air, the skid, the buck, the swerve.”
The bike’s at rest at Choice’s house, we’ll leave it there with him;
The SAG Wagon is good enough henceforth for Jungle Jim.
….with apologies to Mulga Bill and Banjo Patterson
2 Articles on God Knows follow :
- a brief article from the Posh 50 Golden Years Commemorative Magazine
- an extensive bio on some of Harrys life by The Colonel, Stu Lloyd from his book
‘Tales from the Tigers Den’
50 Golden Years Commemorative Magazine SYDNEY
A Few Quiet Beers with God Knows
Birth Name: Harry Howell
Hash Name: God Knows
Hashtistics: Joined KL Mother H3 1958
Founded Kuching H3 1963
Joined Sydney Posh 1970
JM 1971; President (GM) SH3 1984, Life Member
You are probably the longest continuously-serving Hasher in the WORLD!
When did you first discover you could Hash?
Representing a major British publishing house I was posted to several Asian locations in the ‘50s.
Stationed in Kuala Lumpur in 1958 my local watering hole was the famous Selangor Club (The Dog). Several Hashers dragged me to a Run and I haven’t stopped since—slowed, yes, but not stopped. What led to your Hash handle? In The Dog one night I was asked my Hash name. “God Knows,” I spluttered, over several pints. Have used the name to great effect ever since. What is the highlight of your Hash history? Founding Kuching H3 in 1963 while stationed in Borneo.. and I’m delighted to note it is stronger than ever. How did you find “people like us” to start Kuching H3? Posted to that fine city for business, I was also an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and our first Hash Runners were largely fellow officer types.
You’ve Hashed in many places and made many friends? Stand-outs?
So many wonderful friends everywhere. In 1962 I ran with the very first Singapore Hash, “The Father Hash,” on the island, started by Chris Verity, Tommy Voice, and Ian Cumming. One other, John Gastrell whom I first met in Singapore, and who introduced me to “TinLegs” Bader, by the way, was a great mate and we continued in Sydney with The Posh (he was President in 1977). And, of course, Sydney Posh has been like a family to me for more than 40 years. What has been your most Hashifying experience? Probably rnning with the Los Angeles H3 up 1200ft, about as high as Gibraltar. Or maybe with
Mother H3 in KL. We came upon a hidden Communist terrorist camp. Silently camping all night, we held ourselves close to keep warm! Next morning we found we were just ten minutes from home. After 15 years with my publishing firm, Boustead’s I came job-hunting in Sydney. One Monday I Hashed in Sabah, and the next in Sydney..changed career and country, but didn’t miss a Hash!
You’ve entertained Hash troops widely (or is that wildly?) with The Ballad of the Death of Lord Nelson. Has his family sued?
Claiming responsibility for this particular theatre is a Naval Officer on HMS Glasgow. I have continued his mentorship oh, only about 50 times. But not recently. Apparently hosts object to the damage to furniture, crystal, limb and even life upon the climactic conclusion of this act. Do you want to see it?
Of all the songs, anecdotes and gags God Knows so well, what is your favourite?
With a mind like a steal(!) trap, I have been fortunate to capture one or two, it’s true. But don’t start me “…And the hairs of her dickey di-do hung down to her knees, One black one, one white one, and one with a little shite on…and one with a little light on to show us the way…”.
What advice would you offer to younger Hashers—those approaching middle age?
Show up regularly. Show some commitment, damn it.
–With thanks to Hazukashii and Changi.
- Harry Howell – extract – From the Tigers Den by Stu Lloyd
Singapore, Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, Kota Kinabalu, 1954 – 1969.
Confrontation was on, and I think of something my father said in the services: Some of the wildest and woolliest outposts of empire was where you had the most fun.
Bookshelves, more than just about anything, give an inkling into the real person. And Harry, having spent much of his latter career as a publisher and publisher’s rep, has a mouth-watering selection of tomes that sum up his life, times and interests: the Flashman series, Raffles and the Eastern Isles, Noel Barber, a couple on Lee Kuan Yew, one on Chin Peng (the Malayan communist guerilla), and several on maritime history. Oh, and a ton of magazines on model trains.
He draws down Tales from the South China Seas, which covers Malaya between the wars: ‘I knew a lot of people there,’ he says in a voice which is distinctly English public school, despite having spent only one sixth of his life in the United Kingdom.
On the walls, water colours by his father: scenes of Singapore and Mersing. ‘My dad was something of an artist, he did all the backdrops for military tattoos. He never took the army too seriously which probably never helped his promotion prospects, retiring as a major.’
On a side table, a sepia tone photograph with a framed display case of medals. ‘My grandfather.’ Harry pulls out a photo album. ‘That’s him at Westminster Abbey. “Let them not be forgotten for they served India well”. I think that says it all. They weren’t ruling India, they were serving it, they devoted their lives to the empire.’
Suddenly I am in a real live Flashman book, Flashman in the Great Game, scrambling to hit ‘record’, because as a bonus I’m getting not only Harry’s story, but his family’s as well.
‘My grandfather was Royal Army Medical Corp, a colonel,’ says the gent whose white hair matches his Sydney Hash House Harriers T-shirt (more of which later), with khaki shorts and running shoes completing his casual attire for our mid-morning chat. ‘Dad went through Sandhurst then joined the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment. He did a two year secondment to the King’s African Rifles, and went and shot big game which was the thing to do in those days, pictures of him sitting astride a dead elephant, a dead lion, and all that sort of stuff. And then he went to India for a spell, met my mother there who was the daughter when he was the director of public health, United Provinces of India, between the wars. Which is a pretty big job: malaria, gutters, hygiene and all of that. They were married in London in May 1933 and I arrived in February 1934.’
Born in the shadows of Lincoln Cathedral, Harry was barely out of nappies when his family boarded the troop ship Somersetshire for Bombay. All of this is wonderfully documented in reams of meticulously ordered photo albums. He flicks open one. His
earliest memories are of Reja Fort. ‘I can remember Jacob House on the water front, opposite Oyster Rock at Kalaba, on British Army officers quarters. That was our flat. A three-storey affair.’
Other landmarks he remembers are the Gateway of India, and Victoria Station, ‘which is probably one of Bombay’s biggest structures to this day’.
His father ferried the family around in a Morris Minor, and picnics and sailing were always on the weekend agenda. The Bombay Yacht Club was something of a second home: ‘This is me, Bombay Yacht Club Christmas Fancy Dress, and I was dressed as a 10th Foot, the Lincolnshire Regiment in King Charles’ time.’ Speaking of kings, George V had just died, photos showing all — including Harry’s uncle, a dashing jodhpur-clad figure Frank Moore, who became a general in the Indian Army — resplendent in black armbands (along with solar topees, duck suits with spine pads, striped ties, and hand- made shoes). ‘The shoemaker turned up at your verandah and you put your foot on a piece of paper, he drew around it, and he’d come back a week later with a pair of shoes for you.’
After two years in Bombay, it was on to Nagpur in the central provinces for a couple of years. While the family upgraded to a Wolseley 10, a photo of Harry at Christmas 1939 shows a little boy with a train set, the start of a lifelong passion for model trains. An entire room at the rear of his house today is given over to model trains running through a precision mock-up of an English country town, and he’s still active with model train societies and publications.
Then it was six months in Dinapur, near Calcutta. ‘I was farmed out to the ayah, so at age of around four I was totally bilingual in Hindi and to this day I can remember a few words.’ He rattles off some phrases. ‘I learnt a bit of Hindustani, a few phrases, and if I talk to an Indian in Sydney today they say My God you speak it like a native. Because I learnt it from an Indian, not from a textbook,’ he laughs.
The Howells next found themselves on the northwest frontier at a place called Nowshera, ‘about 25 miles down the line from Peshawar. Real Raj stuff, going out on maneuvres.’
While a fridge was something they still dreamed of owning in 1941, mainly they ate European food ‘and local food mixed in, cooked by Indian cooks.’ Harry came down with a dose of dysentery and was hospitalised for a while. These days he’s most partial to a curry.
Not that the youngster remembers the heat bothering him, but the family would take a month’s leave in the hot weather houseboating around the lakes of Kashmir. The boats were around 50m long and palatial looking. ‘We had a cook boat towed behind. The boats were polled along. Boat people would come along and sell you flowers and jewellery. Relax with a few scotch and sodas – Johnny Walkers. A chota peg, a small peg. We’d also go trout fishing up the valleys, and we’d just say to the bearers, We will stop here. The sort of place where you go along on a horse along a path and there’s a thousand foot drop on the other side. The great thing was going out shooting snipe, duck shoots. A family outing – Come on, let’s go out and kill 100 ducks together.’
Harry occasionally went out on a tiger hunt but never saw one striped specimen.
In all, was it a happy childhood? ‘Yeesss, we had 12 servants! You know why? Because of the caste system: and the Indians are masters at creating three jobs where one job exists.’ He shows me a photo: ‘See you can even buy at the markets a little set of plaster figures, of servants. And you had the bearer who was the head of the household, a messenger boy, an ayah, a driver, a syce who looked after a couple of horses, a cook, who had an assistant, a gardener who had an assistant, a sweeper whose job was to clean the toilets – he was an untouchable – and a beesty who carried the water.’
All of this was happening just down the road from the Khyber Pass where the Great Game was played out. ‘It’s really a lovely country and here they are tearing themselves apart with some stupid war,’ Harry says of the current situation.
By now the Germans and Japanese were involved in their own Great Game, and the Howells were on the move again. ‘New Years Eve 1941-42 we crossed from India to Ceylon where Dad was CO of a Ceylon Defence Force officers training course. Singapore fell February and we thought it was going to be our turn next. [Japanese Vice Admiral] Nagumo’s task force came across the Bay of Bengal, thought better of it and turned around. They bombed Trincomalee and bombed Colombo, sank the Hermes. We went up into tea country, Bandarawela, where this training course was. I went to a boarding school in Bandarawela. Everyone went to boarding school, despite the fact that I lived half an hour down the road. All the kids were British, European. Headmaster was a burgher.’
Harry says he certainly knew there was a war on. So was there a fear factor? ‘No; excitement. The Aussies turned up at our training camp at Nuwara Eliya and made lots of noise.’
All European women and children were soon forced to head for South Africa. ‘But my mum and I escaped the net so we stayed there.’
They spent Christmas on their friend’s, the MacDonald’s, Canavarella tea estate. ‘Tea planters bungalow … not a bad lifestyle, eh? Beautiful country it really is. Superb, the hill country of Ceylon. It could be a tourist paradise.’ Unfortunately the Tamil Tigers’ separatist campaign continues.
The following New Years Eve saw them ship bound for India again. The Residency at Lucknow was the centre point of the Indian Mutiny in 1857. ‘Something to do with the Mutiny it was decided that the Union Jack would never be lowered over the Residency. The only place where the British flag flew 24 hours a day. India got independence in 1947, and they set up this great big thing about lowering the Union Jack and hoisting the Indian flag, so someone stole the Union Jack in the night, so to this day it’s never been lowered over the Residency at Lucknow,’ he laughs.
He remembers his parents talking about a troublesome fellow in the local jail called Gandhi. ‘And Dad was supposed to go off and join the 14th Army in Burma but he very conveniently broke his ankle about a week before he shipped, so didn’t go.’
Harry’s other abiding memories of Lucknow include the Dil Kusha, one of the moghul palaces and, um, a performing bear. ‘It used to make its living dancing at kids parties.’
So it was rather an exotic childhood, all told? ‘Yes, we were British in India. And there was this sort of thing of keep them in their place. There was this European cantonment, upwind of the bazaar, and all this sort of thing. I can get into long debates about the British empire doing more harm than good or more good than harm. The thing about the British empire is it bought peace wherever it went. Pax Brittanica, we called it.’
Heat made an impression on the young Harry here. ‘I remember in the hot weather they had this coir matting draped over the windows in really hot weather, and they’d throw water over it and blow air through. Punkah, which was like a carpet, and a kid sat outside and pulled it to keep the air moving.’
It also affected the seats of government. ‘For the hot weather which was May to about July, the entire government would move to a hill station. For Bombay it was Puna, Lucknow it was Nainital, with Nonintow Lake. Delhi it was Simla, Calcutta it was Darjeeling, for Madras it was Ootacamund. Lock, stock and barrel for three stinking hot months of the year. That would include certain elements of the army.’
December 1943 he was on yet another passage. ‘The P&O liner Strathmore in convoy with 4000 troops … one of the first ships to go through with families on it after the canal was re-opened. (He has transitted the Suez Canal five times in all.) ‘I am told the Germans were bombing Port Said as we were half way along the canal. There was a U- Boat alarm as we rounded Northern Ireland. Went to visit granny in Earl’s Court and I think there was an air-raid that night as well as the next night,’ he laughs.
He dabbled in football but, when at the age of nine, his father sat him down in a rowing scull, that was the start of a life-long love of rowing.
After the war his father was overseeing a transit camp connected with the Medloc Route for transporting soldiers across France from the Canal Zone, which saw Harry spending holidays with his parents in Toulon, the site of a large French naval base. ‘The officers quarters was a magnificent millionaire’s villa,’ recalls Harry, ‘but the exciting thing as a schoolboy was that that is where the French fleet blew itself up in November ‘41 to stop the Germans getting it. I’ve got a set of picture postcards Dad bought me in town of ten ships at all angles of explosion and god knows what. It’d be probably worth a mint at auction.’
Little wonder then that Harry has such a vivid interest in maritime history, and indeed volunteers as a guide at the Sydney’s National Maritime Museum.
Preparatory school in Surrey done, he then boarded at Westminster School for four years, followed by two years of national service with the Royal Navy.
Then something shockingly ordinary happened …
‘I got a job with Shell earning 170 pounds a year. I commuted to the city of London, caught the 7:25 every day to Paddington across to the city. I saw myself surrounded by people who married the typist in the next office, bought a semi-detached at Surbiton, and they all had their 25-year long-service badge and their only achievement was they never missed the 8:12 from Surbiton. And I knew there was more to life than that. I just had one thing on my mind – I wasn’t going to university, I wasn’t clever enough or rich enough – so I wanted somebody to send me abroad.
Is it possibly that he lived such a rich childhood in India and Sri Lanka that he was so restless in England? ‘Yes, yeeesss! The empire was the playground of the middle class. If you were landed gentry you were one thing, or working class you were one thing. In the middle … you’d go out and play. We were pretty good at it. Britain ruled India with 20,000 people. So I said to Shell I want to go overseas. It could’ve been to Africa, Caribbean. I wasn’t that fussed.’
He assumes a haughty accent: ‘Yes, old chap, but you haven’t been to Oxford or Cambridge … most of our chaps are varsity men. And I could see people coming down with Cambridge rowing blues being fast tracked past me. They said, There’s a jolly good career in the London office for the rest of your life. In about seven years time we might find a job for you as a storekeeper in the Persian Gulf. I told them what I thought of that and they said Well, old chap, if that’s really how you feel, may we suggest the following: they gave me a piece of paper with six names on it: Guthrie’s, Boustead’s, British Tobacco, Anglo-Thai Corporation, Borneo Company, and Harrison and Crossfield.’
Harry immediately wrote six letters, and scored six interviews. ‘The first one said, When can you be on a plane to Singapore? That was for ‘junior mercantile assistant’ with Boustead’s. Those were the days when it was not a job but which job. I’d been to the right school, I’d been commissioned in my national service in the navy, I was an active sportsman so all that stacked up. If I’d been the son of a truck driver I don’t think I would’ve got very far,’ he laughs.
And so he boarded the P&O cargo liner Glenearn in June 1955 for his first four-year tour of Singapore.
‘My first port of call was Penang. We berthed at dawn and the first sound of the East you heard was Hoooooooik, from the dockside,’ he laughs as he imitates a giant spittoon- filling motion. ‘I was taken off the ship by chaps in Boustead’s Penang mess and they said we’re going to Ipoh for the weekend. So we got in the car and got pissed in Ipoh. Next day I was put on a DC-3 to Kuala Lumpur, where another bloke met me, then drove down to Port Swettenham to resume my journey to join the company in Singapore. Meanwhile there were telegrams going up and down the country saying, Where’s our new assistant?’
In Singapore, Paul Shore, ‘one of the Boustead chaps’ drove him to the bachelor mess at 32 Nassim Rd, Singapore. ‘That building became the Japanese High Commissioner’s residence.’ Today, Nassim Road overlooking the Botanical Gardens is still very much foreign embassy territory, alas the mess made way for Nassim Mansions condominium in 1977.
‘Boustead’s paid not much but you got free accommodation. They also had a rule: no pay rise until you pass a Malay exam, which was pretty straight forward. I’m still reasonably fluent in Malay. Singapore was Hokkien: all I remember there was How’s business? And they’d all say Cha Bo Toh, not good, not bad, you never got a straight answer,’ he laughs. ‘What do you want to drink?’ Laughs. ‘Cha bo swee, Hokkien for pretty girl.’ Laughs. ‘Get fucked, and a few others.’ His face and forehead crinkle and glow pinkish with laughter.
Boustead & Co was established in Singapore in 1828, and kept offices in the Union Building on Circular Quay opposite Clifford Pier. ‘Bousteads had about three floors there.’ They were the agent for the port of Singapore for Lloyd’s of London. ‘That was a moneymaker. Some of our other agencies were Hennessey, Beefeater gin, J&B whisky, Ovaltine, Trebor sweets, Gillette, Delmonte canned foods – we used to sell a thousand cases of tomato sauce every month, International Paints – every time a supertanker docked in Singapore it was $100,000 worth of paint. They had two guys full time whose job was to go down to the harbour board every morning and see what ships came in overnight. And most of the ships were contracted to Red Hand or British Paints or International paints. Some were not aligned, so first one up the gangway got the business.’
Their official work hours were 8:30am to 4:30pm, and Harry was by now doing the sales rounds in his first car, a Ford Popular; ‘a dreadful thing’. He recalls Orchard Road as being ‘two-way with monsoon drains running either side which drunks would regularly put cars into. The streets thronged with cars, motorbikes, and trishaws, but it couldn’t have been too bad if we could afford to get in the car, drive home for lunch from Circular Quay to Nassim Rd and get back to work in an hour and a half.’
The early finish enabled him to become heavily involved in rowing for the Royal Singapore Yacht Club (RSYC). I used to row three or four nights a week. We’d row at about 5:30, for about 45 minutes then come back. You sweated off four pounds, and drank back three pounds! Gunners – 1⁄2 ginger beer, 1⁄2 ginger ale, a dash of bitters, slice of lemon. It’s a very thirst quenching drink before you get stuck into the piss.’ He’s since introduced to his local golf club in Sydney.
That year RSYC won the Far East fours, and the sculling championships in Hong Kong, their cox none other than Tourquand Young’s accountant, Michael Gurney, son of Sir Henry Gurney, High Commissioner for Malaya who was assassinated by communist guerillas in 1951. Harry and crew would go on to win these titles three times. ‘Somewhere I have about 35 cups from regattas in Hong Kong, Penang, Borneo and places.’ Photos show him being presented these by the likes of Singapore governor Yusof bin Ishak, and Sir Robert Black, governor of first Singapore then Hong Kong.
‘The club was at what is now Keppel Harbour … 300 yards inland, it’s all container wharves.’
Surprisingly there was also time for his beloved naval reserve. ‘We used to do one night a week naval training and two weeks a year sea training and the odd cruise as they came along.’
And, naturally, a young blade would always create time for the fairer sex. Often this would entail a white tuxedo, black bow tie, and somewhere like the Seaview Hotel (recently redeveloped into, yes, more condominiums).
‘They all had a band. Often they had well known stars, like Cilla Black, Herb Alpert. They were obviously doing the cabaret acts in Australia and they did shows on the way through. If you were feeling a bit poor or a bit sly, you could dress up and just go have a cup of coffee. No one asked a cover charge or anything, you’d enjoy the floorshow.’
A lot of the eligible European girls stayed in a big hostel at Braddell called Bradell Rise. ‘About 60 girls lived there. It was a great place for us blokes. There was the Hongkong Bank manager’s daughter, the local brigadiers’ daughter, the police commissioner’s daughter, the high commissioner’s daughter …
‘The routine was usually you’d go to a huge colonial mansion and dad would meet you at the door.’ Harry adopts a plumy tone. ‘Oh do come in and have a sherry. You’d get the once over, then told to piss off and have her back by 11 o’clock. One night I was taking out Jeannie Barton-Wright whose father was head of Shell. Huge mansion with a long driveway almost a kilometre long. I had this clapped out bomb of a car … rackety rackety rackety. Mr Barton-Wright said Oh Harry, do come in for a sherry. I’d like you to meet our house guests Group Captain and Mrs Bader. We chatted with them for twenty minutes.’ Douglas Bader was of course the WW2 Spitfire ace.
‘One snobby fellow, Mr Laidlaw Thompson, was a doctor and earned a bloody fortune – he had the right bedside manner – and his daughter Hillary was a gorgeous looking bird but, God, she was up herself. And when you took Hillary out you’d leave your car in the drive while the chauffer-driven Rolls would take you out for the evening,’ he laughs.
Boustead’s saw fit in August 1956 to transfer junior mercantile assistant Howell to another former Straits Settlement, Penang, off the west coast of Malaya. Penang was where Stamford Raffles had first started as a clerk with the East India Company, revolutionizing that place before turning his sights to Singapore.
Boustead’s office was on Weld Quay with its turn-of-the-century offices with godowns behind, near the Georgetown waterfront. ‘We worked 8:30 to 4:30 and went home for lunch. We were about half an hour drive out of town, we had 1.5 hours for lunch. We had cooks, so it was all laid out. We also used to work Saturday mornings from 8:30 till 12:30. Then we’d go to the E&O Bar, then pass out for the rest of the afternoon, then it was time to start again in the evening!’
The Boustead bachelor bungalow was a chick-blinded building containing a number of apartments.
Harry managed to save around ‘30 quid a month’ at this stage. ‘When I went on leave I could buy a new car, because when you joined the company, the company gave you 2000 Malay dollars which would buy you about a two-year-old Morris Minor, it also gave you about 600 dollars to go down to the local Chinese tailor and get a complete tropical kit.’
On the work side there were always Chinese dealers to entertain. ‘Dinners, endless dinners, some of them very drunken affairs. Chinese weddings. Dick Matthews was the Federation liquor manager in KL, and he met Freddie Hennessey off the plane and went on a ten day tour of the Hennessey dealers throughout Malaya, a different town every night, a Hennessey dealers’ dinner every night, pissed out of their bloody minds. Then after about ten days Dick – who was about 28 or 30 – said goodbye to Freddie and off the next plane came George Connor of King George 1V whiskey and he’d have to go around again. By about the twentieth day, he’d said goodbye to George Connor, walked into the director’s office and said, I’m a failure, I want to resign, I’m no good. Dick, he said, go straight home, do not pass go, and I don’t want to see you for a week. He’d drunk himself silly. But he fell in the line of duty.’
‘At Christmas you couldn’t see the chaps in the shipping and marketing department at their desks for free grog from the Chinese ship chandlers, and that was the basis of our party. We sent the invitations in early December for the party in January, so God help anyone that had a party in the meantime and didn’t invite us along!’ he laughs. ‘Good times.’
Each year had a different theme: among them Russian. ‘A great riot at the Boustead mess. A few went as people from the Bolshoi ballet, slaves from Siberia, we dressed ourselves in commissar’s outfits.’
The following year it was French. ‘This coincided with the Chingay Procession … I don’t know what Chingay was about but it’d degenerated into riots … and the police slapped a curfew on it from 10pm to 6am.’ Chingay is a Chinese procession, first staged in 1919 in Penang, involving carrying tall flag poles and banners worshipping Guanyin (Goddess of Mercy). ‘We had 100 guests. The theme was dirty dockside diving in Marseilles. People dressed up as French tarts and God knows what else. But at about quarter to ten we had to make an announcement and say, Sorry folks you either go home now or stay till 6am, there’s a curfew. A few people with small children pissed off, but others said, Mine’s a brandy and dry! The hardest part was at dawn. I said you can go home now. The party was written up in the Straits Echo.’
And when they weren’t trashing their mess, the Eastern & Oriental or the Penang Sports Clubs were their watering holes of choice. ‘The E&O was very much the place, they had a band on Saturday nights, and you put a suit and tie on to go there. St Andrew’s night piss up was held there.’ He pulls out a pic from the period of the gala in full swing: ‘Somewhere here you’ll see a breadroll in mid-flight.’
A few cafes also sprang up along the waterfront, the Green Parrot night club a firm favourite. ‘We made a lot of our own entertainment as well … a party at the Guthrie’s mess, party at the Hongkong mess and away you go.’
It wasn’t all just beer and skittles. They went for picnics on the reverse side of the island ‘where you drove up about a thousand feet, lovely waterfalls and things. Swim in the creeks. We also went on pig shoots, jungle treks.’
The culmination of a long push for Independence, during which the Malayan emergency raged and Chin Peng’s rebels stirred up chaos where they could, came on 31 August 1957. ‘The flag came down, they had a parade on the seafront,’ says the proud colonialist. ‘It was a normal thing, we never fought Independence. In many ways we were very happy to get rid of some of the colonies, absolute cost liability. Like it says in Lee Kuan Yew’s book, in the 1960s Britain gave independence to something like 38 colonies. One thing people tend to overlook was that a lot of colonialism was reasonably benign. They didn’t walk in and trample all over the place. They’d get things on there way, they’d get Independence and off they went. Practically no British colonies had blood-soaked wars to gain their independence. What’s sad is today how many of those ex-British colonies are better off than they were? Almost every one of them has gone backwards with corruption, incompetence. Shining examples are Malaysia, Singapore, then after that you have to start thinking. Would you rather be a colony and be prosperous – the man in the street with some money – or would you rather be independent and have the place an absolute bloody shambles? Of course some left-leaning people in our society today don’t understand any of that: Dreadful British colonialism, they screwed them into the ground and bled them dry … well, in some ways, yes, but it was a two-way thing.’
At Boustead’s they just soldiered on. ‘Changes in our passport status, a few things like that.’
Suddenly foreign employees had a new concern. Now it wasn’t their country to just breeze into any old time …
‘As a British subject you came and went as free as you like. Then after that you had to get a work permit stamped in your passport from the Immigration department. Some people even went for Singapore citizenship.’
Harry sensed ‘varying degrees of acceptance’ by the locals now that the handover had formally been affected. ‘At Boustead’s, 15 branches throughout Malaya were run by about 70 executives. Gradually we started getting Asians in to fill these positions. And we even started an Asian cadet training scheme, and sent some of them off to England to get a feel for it all. Firms were actually asked to submit an Asianisation program for their European staff. At Chartered Bank the attitude was, It was alright for the locals to do the trading but you can’t make a banker out of them. Hongkong and Chartered Banks dragged the chain on it, then immigration said to them one year, You have 25 Europeans running your branches throughout Malaya, you have two years to reduce that to five, and they bloody well had to do it,’ he chuckles.
For all that, Harry concedes they did not socialize much with the Malaysians. ‘We lived in very much a European world. But we worked and lived and travelled with the Asians, I got to know some of them pretty well. But neither side pushed it.’
Certainly fraternization with the local womenfolk was still institutionally frowned on. ‘You could be on the mat on a Monday morning with the managing director if you’d been seen with an Asian girl in the club on Saturday night. Some firms had a more flexible attitude than others to marrying an Asian. Today, who would give it a thought?’
For the final spell of his four-year stint young Howell was transferred to Kuala Lumpur in June 1958.
Tin dredgers, each about the size of a warship, dotted the landscape. ‘There were about 50 of them in Malaya at the time.’
Once again, he was billeted in the Boustead’s bachelor bungalow in Kuala Lumpur, where high-jinks were always near at hand. Their Saturday night routine was to go for ‘a feed and a fuck’ usually in the Batu Road area (since renamed Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman), down the road from the Selangor Club. ‘One guy at the bachelor bungalow used to take out the daughter of the Commissioner of Police, have an expensive night out in KL, then drop her off with a kiss on the cheek as one did in those days, then go to Batu Road for a fuck on the way home,’ he laughs at the fond bachelor memories, more of which he shares but are not necessarily suitable for this publication.
And then, and then … his mess mates introduced him to Hashing. The venerable Hash House Harriers had its origins at the Selangor Club in KL in 1938, a way for the civil servants, planters and others posted out here to work off the weekend’s excess of curry and beer with a social run … and, er, then more curry and beer on a Monday night. This became an integral part of Harry’s fitness regime each and every week since.
Come March 1959 and his four-year sentence was up. With six months’ time off for good behaviour, he flew off on leave by Qantas Super Constellation to Europe. A Comet flew Harry via Beirut back to Penang in September to resume his second tour, this one of three-year duration.
‘My predecessor had been fired because he hadn’t been able to pick up on a Chinese warehouse manager who was fiddling the books and robbing the company blind,’ he chortles at the recollection. ‘It was a scam he had going, the poor Chinese fellow – he got in out of his depth, had to marry off his daughter, and with the Chinese face is everything and he had to throw a big event, way beyond what he could afford, so he fell for the old trap of fiddling the stocks. One of our biggest money makers was Ovaltine.’ And the scam? ‘We’d claim so much a carton for tins of dented Ovaltine, bashed around on the ship and not saleable, and suddenly our claims for dented Ovaltine were going way over the top. I always remember the letter he wrote to the manager: I have no face, I am a living dead man …. So I was put in to clear that mess up.’
Harry enjoyed Boustead’s in Penang, being a sizeable branch, but being away from head office. ‘None of the sort of petty politics you get in the head office of any organization.’ Lee Hock San was Harry’s boss here. ‘A splendid Chinese fellow, and he would get on the piss with the rest of us.’
If he could push the ‘pause’ button on any period of his Asian tenure, Harry plumps for these bachelor days in Penang. ‘Penang’s a lovely place, it seduces people. It was the old cycle of Old so-and-so’s been in Penang rather a long time, he’s got a bit slow. Let’s send so-and-so up to Penang to jolly the place up. A couple of years later they’d have the same problem. There were blokes I knew in Boustead’s, who were branch manager in Penang, who’d say I don’t want to be promoted, just leave me in Penang for the rest of my days. It’s a magical place.’
’Twas not to be. Within a year, head office called him back to Singapore, where he was put on the Slazenger desk, among other things, selling cotton. ‘This is me, promoting Surf Washing powders,’ he points to a picture of a dashing young fellow wearing washable trousers, long sleeved shirt and a tie. ‘Usually old school tie or regimental tie was the usual thing.’
He considers his toils weren’t very well rewarded. ‘We scratched along, but once a year we’d get a bonus, we’d blow most of it on a good night out at the Seaview Hotel.’
The nightlife for Europeans was divided into two: ‘If you wanted to be couth and take some girls out, there was the Raffles, the Adelphi, the Cockpit, Seaview, Goodwood Park or Princes. But then there was Happy World, Southern Cabaret and all the rest of it, away from the European ladies.’
He appeared as an extra in a Malay film My Son Sazli. ‘Cecile Parish who did PR for the film company rang me up one day and said Harry I want you to get hold of a girlfriend, put yourself in a suit, tell her to be in an evening dress, and be at Tanglin Club at two o’clock on Sunday. We were dancing, extras in a nightclub scene.’
Indeed he had a girlfriend. He was spending more and more time with a Veronica Thompson, who was working for the British Government, the office for Commissioner General for Southeast Asia, in Singapore.
Veronica’s two-year tour was up in January 1962. ‘And she went on leave after a great tour of duty, and my tour ended in September, with me rushing home to get married. Well it so happened in about June I did my two weeks annual stint with the Royal Navy on the frigate HMS Rhyl, and we played war games all the way to Manila and back. I happened to notice she was to rotate back to the UK when my leave was due and I said to the captain, Would you have room for a spare lieutenant under training? And so I spent five weeks from Singapore to Portsmouth, four day official visit to Rangoon, Trinco, then Aden, the Canal, Malta, Gibraltar, Portsmouth. I didn’t mind doing my share of officer watch at sea, but I also had to do my share of officer day in port as well! A lot happened there,’ he grins at the memory.
And so they were married in London, during one of the severest winters of the century, and their honeymoon was spent slithering across a snowbound Europe, catching up with old Singapore rowing friends in France and Switzerland. ‘My new bride was thinking, boy, how many more drinking mates has this guy got?’
I’m intrigued. Did marrying in England feel like a homecoming of sorts? ‘In a way, England’s never been home to me, because the hardest part is Where do you come from in England? I went to boarding schools, never went to the local high school, my parents retired to Henley on Thames. It was very convenient but to this day I can’t say where is my home in England.’
They boarded the Orcades in the Bay of Naples and spent the next three weeks going out to Singapore. ‘We were invited to tea at the chairman’s house to make sure Veronica was acceptable to make a good Boustead’s wife. It was a question of keeping up the company image for overseas visitors.’
Apparently she passed muster, whereupon Harry took up his new job as Boustead’s Sarawak area manager in Kuching, Borneo. Sarawak, with a population of less than 100,000 was then the world’s biggest producer of pepper, producing many multi- millionaires on the back of its trade. The town exuded a certain charm, what with its quiet streets, the Istana (governor’s palace) across the river, government headquarters, police headquarters, and most notably, Sarawak Museum.
The three-storey Aurora Hotel was the one main hotel. ‘Fairly scruffy in its way but it was the hotel.’
Married life ushered in a number of changes. ‘The company had to give you a company house as opposed to being bunged in a bachelor bungalow. I set up a model railway in the spare bedroom. We’d have a Chinese cook boy and an amah to look after us. I put on weight.’ Presumably from food purchased at the Ting and Ting Supermarket.
‘Particularly in a place like Kuching you made your own entertainment. I took one look at Kuching, which is 13 miles up a muddy river, there was 26 miles of road in the whole place, one nine hole golf course, and that was it. So we started a Hash in May 63,’ he laughs. After Singapore, this was to be one of the first of the mushrooming Hash Diasporas which would take hashing worldwide within a couple of decades thanks to roving and returning expats. Many of his mates worked for companies like HongkongBank and New Zealand Insurance.
He also took up golf. ‘Sunday in Kuching, you might be on the first tee of the golf course by 7:30 am no matter how big a hangover you had from the night before, play 18 holes of golf, have a gunner and a beer or two, finish golf by about 11, go home and change, then Whose house is throwing a curry lunch this Sunday? And we’d go to a curry lunch, with beer and gin, then coffee and liqueurs would come along about three in the afternoon. Go home, sleep it off, then put a jacket and tie on to be at the club for the movie at seven.’
Veronica, because of her security clearance working for MI5, got a job with the special branch of the Sarawak Police working for Roy Henry, who went on to become Commissioner of Police Hong Kong. She was in for a busy time, with Indonesia having just declared its Konfrontasi policy against Malaysia in January 1963. This was essentially a struggle for Borneo between British-backed Malaysia and Sukarno’s expansionist Indonesia.
‘I got to love Kuching,’ says Harry of their 3.5 years there. ‘Confrontation was on, and I think of something my father said in the services: Some of the wildest and woolliest outposts of empire was where you had the most fun. And Kuching could fit that description.’
On the work front Harry found he’d inherited a branch — total office staff comprising chief clerk, two salesmen, storekeeper and an office boy cum general hand — that was losing money. ‘I turned it into a profit quite simply by kicking a few butts and getting the sales moving.’
Communication with head office in Singapore was ‘as little as possible’ but via telegram and letters in any case. ‘One day I’d ceased writing to my parents because our baby was overdue about a month, and I didn’t want to write a letter then have to dash off another one the next day saying we have a baby. Next thing, the phone rings, and it’s the chairman: Harry it’s Allan here, are you alright? Yes fine, sir, why? Well your father is concerned and he got onto our London office because they hadn’t heard for such a long time. And it was about that time that Konfrontasi was starting to getting into the news at home.’
Their son Richard was born at the Kuching General Hospital, as was Jeremy (now a pilot with Dragonair in Hong Kong) two years later.
‘Within a month of Confrontation starting, all the Chinese towkays (bosses) downtown were saying business is bad because Confrontation has started. Three years later they were saying business is bad because Confrontation has ended,’ he laughs. ‘They had a huge trade trans-border to Indonesia which all stopped. On the other hand the British army would suddenly ring up the local towkay and say deliver 100 cases of tinned pineapple, or come and build a barracks for us.’
Veronica was in the thick of it with 25,000 known communists and sympathizers in east Sarawak. ‘One of my closest personal experiences with Confrontation, was when Barry Walker and I were recceing a Hash trail on a Saturday afternoon. There were only two roads out of Kuching — the main road was 100 miles of gravel to Simangan. The other went down 20 miles to the airport and that was it. We decided to go off the road and follow a little rubber trail into the bush. The trail petered out, so we turned around, and we were lost. We knew if we kept the setting sun to our backs we were bound to hit the road. Bashing through the jungle, it took us two hours to get back on the road. By which time it was dark and my wife had rung up the commissioner of police, who’d rung up the brigadier who was about to call out the gurkhas to go find these two blokes lost in the bloody jungle. Next morning I was hauled into police headquarters and shown a map of the area, with lots of red flags all over it. These are known communist hangouts, and do you realize you were right in the middle of three red flags?’ he laughs at his foolhardiness. ‘And that meant every Monday, every week we had to go and submit to the police headquarters the hash run for approval. We kept this up for a few weeks, then after a while the police got less and less interested and said, Bugger off.’
In between selling jam and pickles and razor blades, Harry was one day abruptly informed that he had to be agent for some Norwegian shipping company. ‘This ship was delivering 500 tons of phosphate from Christmas island, and the Hoi How arrived and she was anchored out in the stream and the ships’ officers all went ashore, and the first officer lost his footing and fell off the gangway into the river in darkness. Next morning I went into the Harbourmaster’s office and he said, Oh tropics, I’d say in about 14 hours the body will surface, and sure enough the body was found a couple of miles down river all bloated and horrible.
‘But then about a year later a rust bucket called the Nego Star came in with another 500 tons of phosphate. She was stuck on my hands for ten days while they had to fly bits of engine out from somewhere. When she was finally fixed up I went on board and did port clearance. I said, Righto Captain, ready to go. And he said, One problem, Harry, the chief engineer went ashore last night and hasn’t come back. So we got in the car, back to the office and the clerk said, Oh Mr Howell, Mr Howell, police rung up. Chief engineer dead. Prostitute couldn’t wake him this morning,’ he laughs. ‘The engineer was a 74-year-old Norwegian, died on the job, and left one wife in the Philippines, one in Norway, one in Indonesia and every one was saying what a way to go! So I became quite good at instant funerals.’
Undaunted, side trips to Sibu by boat were a fun distraction. ‘The Sarawak Steamship Company ship, Rajang, used to leave Kuching every Monday and Thursday night. We always had turkey for dinner and scotches on the upper deck, and liqueurs and coffee, and you slept the night and next morning you’d be 100 miles up the Rajang River going up to Sibu.’
Fishing here was done with a difference. ‘They threw some poison from a plant root in the water, and it stunned the fish and they’d all float and they had a ball collecting all the fish. It was a once a year thing, they got special permission.’
Harry also got involved in patrolling the coast. ‘The Navy used to run Konfrontasi patrols up and down the coast of Borneo and they’d have quite a few conflicts there with terrorists, as they called them. I would join a minesweeper for a four-day patrol as a watch keeping officer. There’s something rather marvellous about being on watch at night at sea in the tropics. Some magic nights, a wonderful feeling being up there. Sometimes in the tropics it was better to sleep on deck, long before the ship was air- conditioned. We found if you anchored about 200 yards offshore you were just out of range of the mossies. But the risk was if there was a sudden cloudburst, you’d have to roll up your bedding and get down below.’
Suharto coming to power eased the Konfrontasi policy, and in May 1966 the conflict was declared over.
After a short re-education program at head office, working on the Slazenger desk in Singapore, Harry was made area manager of Sabah, and posted to Kota Kinabalu for a two-year stint. He describes the town, levelled bar for two buildings during the War, as ‘very boring actually. A couple of streets of concrete Chinese shophouses. No style, no design to them at all.’ The ugliness continues to this day, with decades-old functional block-like shopping centres dominating the skyline.
The main attraction in Sabah was the beaches and the clear water and the scuba diving which they did a mile off shore on the coral reefs and things.’ (Now Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park.) ‘That’s what we used to do, put a picnic in the boat, stick an outboard motor on and choof off.’
On land, though, entertainment was done often at the Jesselton, a faux fin de siecle hotel, constructed post-war. ‘More so at the clubs for Europeans … we had a golf club, a yacht club –just a timber hut, cricket club. There was one restaurant where they served steaks on sizzling platters and things.’ These days, there are food courts, restaurants, and funky cafes and bars aplenty, especially along the buzzing waterfront promenade.
With branches in KK, Sandakan and Tawau, Harry had his hands full. ‘I have never taken the world of business too seriously,’ reflects Harry, ‘and for that reason was never made managing director of anything … but what a great life! I used to trot round them all once a month in a DC-3 and spent a night with our man in Sandakan, and our man in Tawau.’ The two latter towns had massive pockets of prosperity built on the back of timber. A good market for whiskey and brandy. ‘With brandies there’s quaffing stuff, then there’s XO at $45 a bottle and Extra which was like $90 a bottle. In Singapore we’d sell about five cases of Extra a month, whereas the other stuff we’d sell about a thousand cases a month. In Sandakan one timber towkay plonked a bottle of XO on the table and said, We will finish this bottle, and the pair of us drank this whole bottle of XO. Was I pissed!’
For all the frivolity, though, this period was perhaps Harry’s lowest moment in Asia. ‘We could see the end of the road for the expats …’
I pick him up on the use of the word ‘expats’. Was it in common parlance then? ‘Yes, we were all known as expatriates from the start. Always were.’ He continues …
‘You see the prospects were nil, you could’ve soldiered on in Sabah for another couple of years. The other thing was the difference in the locals. You asked did we get to know the locals, yes we did. We played golf with them, we did socialize quite a lot with them, and we found that the predominantly Hokkien Chinese in Kuching are a pretty friendly bunch. Whereas in Sabah the predominant race is Hakkas and even the Chinese will tell you they’re a miserable lot,’ he laughs. ‘We just never got anywhere with them socially in Sabah whereas the local millionaires and so on in Kuching we did get to know well. Very nice people.’
‘I remember my last few years there going round the high schools in KK and giving talks on a career with Boustead’s. Originally the idea was to join Boustead’s, go out there at the age of 21 and retire to a fairly comfortable pension in England at the age of 55. I was actually ten years too late for that, ten years too young. Then I came more or less to the end of the road of that two-year tour, no great promotion ahead of me, things changed … jobs for the locals, expats and work chop and all that. So I could see the writing on the wall.’
If this was some version of Hashman in the Great Game, the game was finally, sadly, irrefutably, up for our hero.
When Harry joined Boustead’s in 1955, of 70 executives, about 15 were Asians ‘and when I left in 1969 it was almost the other way around … there were about 20 Europeans left, but one by one we all moved on – half went back to England, some went to Australia, some to South Africa, some odd blokes off to Fiji or somewhere like that. So I decided to come on down to Australia.’ Today Boustead Holdings, headquartered in Malaysia, employs around 12,000.
While settling very quickly into the lifestyle down under, he found himself reminiscing almost daily about his Asian years. ‘The atmosphere, the colourful life … I suppose Asian food. Life was always on the go, something on all the time, a quiet night in was a rarity.’ But now, less and less. ‘I was in London and talking to an old Eastern mate of mine, and I said do you see many of the chaps from Singapore. He said No, I call them When I’s because every sentence starts with When I was in Singapore. I know my dad was unfortunately like that … he never left India behind. Retired to England but every day the conversation was, When I was in the Punjab …’
He’s not revisited Southeast Asia that often since. ‘For the main reason that when you’re up to neck in school fees and mortgages you don’t have time to go rushing off on jaunts. In ‘87 I came into a bit of money from my mother’s estate, and I took my two sons to Kuching. Had a fantastic time. It’s still the same old town. To this day I can walk into a certain textile shop in India Street in Kuching and still be greeted. Just that everything was a bit bigger.’
He’s blown through Singapore a few times. ‘It’s totally changed, huge … unrecognizable from the place I used to know.’
Tell us then, Harry, how would your life have been poorer had you not had that Asia posting? ‘I would’ve probably felt very restrained for the rest of my life. I would’ve enjoyed myself but it would have been dull. I just wanted to see the world. And I did that very nicely, and we had somebody else pay for it. We got the first tour four years with six months’ leave to the UK, always paid for, fares and all that, second tour was three years with six months’ leave, and then it got down to two years with four months’ leave. We also used to get a couple of weeks local leave, you could go to Hong Kong, Cameron Highlands or something like that.’
I put Harry on the spot. So where’s home now? ‘Right here. I’ve been in Australia for 39 years. Very happy where I am, no intention of going anywhere else, thank you very much.’ For the record, he and Veronica divorced some years ago. ‘I thought I was happily married until Veronica had a mid-life crisis and pissed off.’
Although he voices a strong desire to visit India, it’s one his current partner doesn’t share. ‘India is regarded as a man’s country,’ opines Harry, perhaps anachronistically. ‘India, the Raj, was populated entirely by British men not English women. Just the blokes went out to run the empire but then they say it was the women who lost us the empire.’
How so? ‘For the first hundred of those years, the voyage out, and the local climate, were considered too unhealthy for delicate English women, with the result that the Raj was run almost exclusively by men who took Asian partners with the enormous benefit of mixing with and getting to know the “natives” on a very healthy level, both at work and play. All that stopped abruptly around 1869 when steamships were able to transit the Suez canal and Englishwomen came out as wives and set about creating English compounds from which Asians were seldom included beyond their role as servants. I can recall my own wife simply not wanting to know a number of my Asian business and drinking mates. That was just considered the norm.’
We’re getting into a meaty area now, and Harry’s mounted his high horse; up, up and away!
‘It is now fashionable to say what awful people the “imperialists” were and how dreadfully we treated and ripped off the natives. Makes good headline copy today. You are asking 21st century questions about a 20th century lifestyle,’ he ripostes. ‘So I find my self being put a little on the defensive re modern day PC-oriented questions, to which the honest answers were regarded as perfectly normal in that day and age. Sure there were a minority of types who were insufferably pompous in the extreme, and talked regularly about “the bloody wogs”. I found them rude and acutely embarrassing to rub shoulders with and, to this day, maintain they should never be allowed out of England.
‘For the rest of us, we developed a lifelong respect for the Chinese and Malays whom we treated with respect, transacted business, and enjoyed many a drink and a laugh. Almost on day one I was told they were not Chinks, or Chinamen, but Chinese. We simply got on with learning the language and enjoying the life.’
Footnote: In June 2008 Harry celebrated 50 years of running with the Hash House Harriers, the longest continually running Hash man in the world with around 2,500 runs – and many, many more beers – under his belt. His Hash nickname is God Knows, as in ‘How old do you think he is …?’
Harry passed away on 15 April 2019. RIP, Harry.
This chapter is extracted from the forthcoming book ‘Tales from the Tiger’s Den’ by Stu Lloyd. See https://stulloyd.com
Copyright 2019, Stu Lloyd. All rights reserved. (Not to be reproduced commercially Please feel free to share this socially with all who knew Harry.)
Congratulations for reaching the end of the worlds longest run report