South Leeds bids farewell to local hero

Harry Goodall was an unsung South Leeds hero, who this last month passed away – aged 96. South Leeds Life here remembers his life – from the ‘forgotten village’ of Stourton, through his involvement in the Second World War, a long career at the iconic Tetley’s Brewery, and a lifetime of community volunteering.

Harry (right) in Stourton, early 1930s
Harry (right) in Stourton, early 1930s

Harry was born in the now ‘disappeared’ village of Stourton, in April 1919. (Stourton – a community of 2,500+ residents – was totally demolished between the late 1960s and late 1970s, to make way for the M621 and for industrial and commercial property.) Leaving school at the (then normal) age of 14, he started work at Tetley’s Brewery in the city centre. This was somewhat against his best wishes: as an active Methodist, he was teetotal throughout his life! But it was a good solid company with many benefits, and he must have got used to it: he worked there his whole career, until the mid 1980s – except the war years. (And apparently he walked to work almost every single day of his career!)

Indeed, the Second World War broke out in September 1939, and – aged 20 – Harry was called up that October. He joined the 51st Highland Division, and was posted to France in early 1940. After an apparently bitterly cold winter there, waiting in limbo, they and the Allied forces were overwhelmed by the Nazi invasion in May-June 1940. As Britain and its allies rushed to evacuate as many troops as possible across the Channel from Dunkirk, Harry’s division was one of those chosen – unenviably – to form the rearguard, defending the retreat. Many of those fighting in the rearguard never came home – but somewhat luckily for him, Harry was one of the thousands taken prisoner. So began nearly five years in captivity as a Prisoner of War (POW).

Harry and his comrades were first force-marched 250+ miles in 2 weeks by their German captors, on starvation rations – to Holland. Harry apparently spoke very little of his wartime experiences in later life, but did compile some memoirs in 1993. And in one of the many moving passages in that, he recalls the great kindness of the Dutch population – pouring out of their homes to offer food and drinks to the captured troops.

The prisoners were then piled onto trains, and transported to Poland to spend the following five years in POW camps there. Harry apparently later recalled that the experience bore little resemblance to films like ‘The Great Escape’: as working-class, non-commissioned soldiers (ie not officers), they were forced to work gruelling long days as farm labourers and later miners. Harry recalls that they were constantly tired and hungry, and had no time to consider escaping.

Harry (back right) as a POW during WW2
Harry (back left) and comrades as POWs during World War II

However, there were high positives. The prisoners formed choirs and music groups, and Harry – an accomplished pianist, through his time in the Methodist church – was much in demand. They also laid on a pantomime that even the German guards came to watch. And Harry throughout his life remembered fondly the German manager of the coal mine in which they worked, called Alfred Bittner, who was incredibly kind to them all, and in quiet moments told them how much he hated the Nazis.

Another memorable and poignant encounter captured in his memoirs was when Harry and his comrades were once thrown a note by Jewish labourers from a nearby concentration camp, informing them of the systematic killings in their camp, and urging them to ‘tell the world’. Prisoners themselves, they were of course unable to do so.

Harry and his comrades were liberated by the advancing Russian army in May 1945, and – remarkably – were back in the UK within two weeks. And just two weeks after that, Harry married his long-time sweetheart Frances. Harry and Frances had first met at the famous Cunningham’s Camp on the Isle of Man (a forerunner to Butlin’s) in the 1930s. Frances was from Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, but they sustained a long-distance relationship over all the years – including the war years, when the Red Cross arranged post for POWs.

They first lived in Stourton, but in the early 1950s moved to the Westburies in Hunslet Carr – where they had two daughters, Ann and Margaret. But like Stourton, most (not quite all) of the Westburies were demolished for the M621 in the late 1960s, and the family were forced to move again – this time to Old Run Road in Belle Isle, where they remained for the next 40 years.

Harry was an active member of the Methodist church throughout his life – first with the Mayflower Street church in Stourton, where he played the organ, ran the Sunday School and various youth clubs, and more. He later moved to the Woodhouse Hill Methodist church in Hunslet Carr, which later merged with the Hunslet Methodist church. He again played the organ there – and more generally, played an active role in the church and the wider community. He was at various times a ‘Superintendent’ within the Methodist church.

Harry’s wife Frances passed away in 2008. Harry himself became increasingly frail, and moved into a residential home in 2013. He passed away on 18th January, and was remembered at a well-attended memorial service on Tuesday 4 February at Hunslet Methodist church.

Those who knew him remember him as a very active man, who was immensely kind and always thought of others – someone who had spent ‘a well-lived life’.

Many thanks to Harry’s daughter Ann (Wraith), and Cllr Elizabeth Nash for their kind assistance researching this article.