Farewell salute to ‘worst journey in the world’ Hitchin hero

Duncan Harris

Duncan Harris - Credit: Archant

Tributes have been paid to a Second World War veteran and survivor of ‘the worst journey in the world’ who is due to be buried next week.

Duncan Harris and his ground crew in front of his Swordfish March 1945.

Duncan Harris and his ground crew in front of his Swordfish March 1945. - Credit: Archant

Duncan Harris, 92, who passed away on December 27, was part of the vital Arctic Convoy which kept Britain’s allies’ Russia supplied during the darkest days of the Second World War. Wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill dubbed it the ‘worst journey in the world.’

Duncan Harris, ready for the Cenotaph Remembrance Day parade in 2007. Medals from l-r: 1939-45 Star,

Duncan Harris, ready for the Cenotaph Remembrance Day parade in 2007. Medals from l-r: 1939-45 Star, The Atlantic Star, The Defence Medal, 1939-45 Medal. - Credit: Archant

Mr Harris, who was awarded four service medals, was a navigator on the Fairey Swordfish, a torpedo bomber open cockpit biplane nicknamed the ‘Stringbag’. Those flying the planes in sub-zero Arctic conditions risked death from hypothermia in minutes if their aircraft ditched in the freezing ocean.

But these small craft forced deadly German U-boats to remain under the surface, reducing the threat to allied ships in the convoy.

Mr Harris spoke movingly towards the end of his life saying: “It was just a job. Back then we didn’t expect to make 22, let alone 92.”


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His daughter Elisabeth Harris said: “Dad’s postwar working life was spent in retail, working for Fine Fare in Welwyn Garden City. My parents lived in Dale Close, Hitchin for 40 years.

“Mum, Mary Harris, was a much-admired English teacher at Hitchin Boys’ School until her retirement.

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“She died in 2004, by which time they had enjoyed a splendid retirement together, travelling to Catalonia, America, Australia and Hong Kong.

“After mum’s death dad was able to remake his life, taking up new friendships in Hitchin. He also did voluntary work for the Lister Hospital, driving patients to appointments, and worked in the Garden House Hospice shop in Hitchin. He joined the Probus club and thoroughly enjoyed their meetings and friendship.”

Tuesday’s funeral is at the Vale Crematorium in Stopsley.

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