'Harry' would be George and Charlotte Berry's first child, born to them in the midst of the Great War. Harry's father was a French polisher by trade, a skill that he had learnt from his future father-in-law, John 'Jack' Stevens.
Born also that same December 1st day in 1916 was Walter Nash who was to grow up just one street away from Harry in Islington, north London. Harry and Walter were to become lifelong friends, their friendship lasting up to the very week that Harry died at the age of 87 on the 19th of January 2004.
Harry was not yet three when his mother passed away; she would die shortly after giving birth to her only other child, Joseph. Seven years would pass before Harry and Joe's father would remarry: he would marry, in fact, his late wife's younger sister, Louisa. (Nine-year old Harry would remember into old age the sad scene of his Aunt Louisa crying over the breakup of her ongoing courtship so that she could marry, instead, Harry's father).
In time, George and Louisa would provide Harry and Joe with two sisters and a brother: Joyce and Beryl, and Ray.
Harry's father could play a number of musical instruments, although he played them all without the benefit of reading music. Nevertheless, it was from his father that Harry learned to play the piano. Under George's tutelage, Harry took readily to the instrument and in the years before he entered the Army, was playing the piano with dance bands on weekends and evenings. It was this musical talent that would hold Harry in good stead when he became a prisoner of war.
George and Louisa must have known the importance of a good education for their children, as one of them, Joyce, would later go on to university. As late as the 1950s, a university education would have been a rare accomplishment for children from working-class parents. Harry, too, received a good education for his day at Tollington Park Central School in Finsbury Park where he learnt shorthand, typing and other commercial subjects. One of his teachers was aghast when Harry told him that he wanted to be a journalist.
Besides coursework, Harry also did well in school athletics. At one point he was the school champion in running, or track. Being physically fit was important to Harry; he would exercise daily all his life.
Harry's old school, by one of life co-incidences, would play a role 40 years later in his own daughter's life: Linda would receive instructions to report to her first teaching post at Tollington Park School.
Henry William Berry, Royal Artillery, and Miss Gwendoline Beatrice Alice Roberts were married in a quiet ceremony in Ealing, December 1940.
Overseas posting came just over three months later. By August 1941 Harry was with the 5th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, the only British unit within the 9th Indian Division, and stationed just 20 miles from the Khyber Pass.
The 9th Indian Division was then ordered to Malaya in December 1941 and Harry was in Singapore when the entire British led forces were surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese on 15th February 1942. From that date it would take over 13 months before Gwen would hear whether her husband were alive or dead.
For three and a half years, Gnr H. W. Berry was a prisoner of the Imperial Japanese Army and for much of that time suffered from starvation, mistreatment and illness. Many of Harry's comrades would die from malnutrition, diseases and epidemics; some would be killed by allied submarines as they were being transported in "death ships" from one camp to another. Of the 594 members of the British 5th Field Regiment that left India for Malaya, 26 percent, or 156, would be killed in action or would die while being a prisoner of war.
Remarkably, Harry was able to raise the morale amongst his fellow prisoners by writing songs and sketches and producing camp shows and concerts. Many of these original songs can be heard on this website. For Harry's own morale, he carried with him throughout the nearly five years of separation the photograph of his young bride.
The voluminous war-time letters that Harry wrote to Gwen form a fascinating historical record; they are essentially a love story. He would be pleased to know that in November 2004, his daughter published his posthumous book My Darling Wife, it being a true account of the letters he wrote to Gwen and diaries he kept from 1940 to 1945.
Harry was liberated from a POW camp near Tokyo in August 1945, finally to be reunited with Gwen some three months later. Their only child, Linda, arrived in 1947.
Back into civilian life, Harry returned to his previous employer The Star for a few months before getting a position as a reporter with a press agency at Northolt Airport, west of London.
In 1953 Harry joined the public relations department of British European Airways (BEA) and in doing so moved his office to London's growing Heathrow Airport. In the same year the family moved from Ealing to Ickenham where Harry and Gwen were to live together for the next 50 years at the same address. Eventually Harry became British Airway's press and public relations officer (after BEA merged into BA) and Harry Berry became a familiar presence at LHR, respected alike by his airport colleagues and his contacts within the media. The 'British Airway's spokesman' retired in 1979.
With retirement Harry and Gwen enjoyed travelling the world, even visiting the places where Harry had served as a POW.
In the mid 1990s Harry became the devoted and full-time carer for his ailing and beloved Gwen; he was at her side until she died at the age of 89 in February 2003.
Eleven months later, Harry and dear friend Walter were able to share what would be their final weekly phone call.