Obituary: Harold Edward Taylor, 1923-2018

Jim Arnold

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Harold Edward Taylor – Spud – who has died aged 94 was a Londoner, who came to marry and settle in Lamlash after the Second World War. He was a very well-regarded member of this island community and held in great affection by all who knew him.

Spud – a nickname he was given at school and kept because he preferred it to Harold – was born in Woolich in 1923, and was the middle boy of three sons. At the start of the war he was evacuated to Bakton in Suffolk, but stayed only one night. He got word of a job in London and next day began an apprenticeship as a carpenter. Among other things, he made wooden cabinets for the Post Office telephone exchanges.

At 19 years of age Spud joined the Royal Navy and served on HMS Rosemary and HMS Cleopatra. It was on the Rosemary that Spud witnessed the Milford Haven disaster, with the loss of 79 lives, when two top-heavy landing craft capsized in a storm. Six of the dead were from Rosemary’s boat-crew who had attempted a rescue. Spud was a member of the graveside firing party. For the rest of his life, the disaster affected his feelings about the importance of remembering war-time service and sacrifice.

On the Cleopatra, Spud was to witness the Japanese surrender at Singapore. Cleopatra was the first Royal Navy ship into the Singapore channel after it had been swept by Indian minesweepers. Spud said: ‘Just in case they had missed any mines, we were led in by a Jap vessel, with high ranking Japanese officers aboard!’

While on active service, Spud was very ill with pneumonia. It was impossible to get the patient ashore because of stormy weather. However, one of Spud’s mates confronted the captain and more or less ordered him to get Spud to hospital. They lashed him to a stretcher and lowered him over the side and Spud always remembered how that friend had saved his life by verging on insubordination.

While the Rosemary was in Lamlash Bay, Spud came ashore to play football. The captain allowed his crew shore-leave in their football kit, provided they also wore their great coats. The weather blew up rough and the liberty boat was unable to return the sportsmen to their ship. They wandered into a dance hall, where a Lamlash girl called Jessie McColl, said to her pal: ‘Look at that poor sailor in his shorts and greatcoat, we better go and talk to him.’ And so began a romance of seven decades.

After the war, Spud returned to Lamlash. He found work with Spiers, Dick and Smith in Whiting Bay. He and Jessie were married in Lamlash Church in October 1948.

Spud was a craftsman. Inter alia, he worked on the Finnish Houses in Brodick; the two concrete-block bungalow houses at Sandbraes; the Lagg Hotel dining room extension; maintenance works at Dougarie Lodge and the Kildonan Coastguard Station; the dam at Easan Biorach above Lochranza; the sea-wall at the south end of Pirnmill; the Post Office Garage in Brodick; the Brodick Pier store (now demolished) and his very own house at Blairbeg, Lamlash – which, all but the electrics, he did by himself. Spud’s craftsmanship is on permanent display at the island’s heritage museum in the form of the commando memorial cabinet.

Speirs, Dick and Smith also had the coal business. Spud delivered coal in their Dodge truck, by the half, one, or two-ton load. Eventually, the company began to bag coal in one cwt (50kg) sacks. At that time coal came to the island by puffer and part of Spud’s work was to go down and catch the ropes at the stone pier in Lamlash. Because the pier is tidal, sometimes this was at four or five o’clock in the morning. When the owners of the company began business in Glasgow, Spud became the manager of the Arran end of the enterprise.

Spud was also deeply involved in organising the commando reunions on Arran for more than 20 years. The 11th Commando had been trained on the island during the war and billeted in almost every house in Lamlash. A strong bond developed between these men and the community. ‘To begin with I thought that they were ordinary soldiers, but when I met them and talked to them about their war service, I realised that they were truly extraordinary soldiers,’ explained Spud.

Living on Arran, Spud also continued with his interest in taking part in sport. He played football for the Lamlash team and badminton in Whiting Bay hall. Then in later life he took up golf, enjoying both the company and the challenge of reducing his handicap. He had memberships at Corrie, Brodick and Lamlash, but also played on all seven of the island’s courses whenever he could. When he was asked which course he liked the most he always replied, ‘The one I am playing now’. Latterly he played bowls with a retired group at the Auchrannie.

During his lifetime, Spud also had time for neighbours’ children – from helping them roll Easter eggs to teaching them how to play golf.

At his funeral service, the minister quoted Shakespeare as a character reference. This was the noblest of them all. / Only he acted from honesty for the general good. / His life was gentle, and the elements / So mixed in him that Nature might stand up / And say to all the world, ‘This was a man’.

Spud is survived by his wife Jessie and by those many younger people who owe their freedom and way of life to the service and sacrifice of Harold Edward Taylor and his generation.

 Jim Arnold