b. 01/08/1902 Cardiff, Wales. d. 11/08/1973 Wolverhampton.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 18/09/1940 Thornton Heath, Surrey.
Roy Thomas Harris (1902-1973) was born on 1st August 1902 in Roath, Cardiff, Wales, the son of Arthur William and Agnes Harris (nee Thomas). His father was a railway clerk, and he and Agnes had an older daughter, Lilian, at the time of Roy’s birth. Roy was educated at Barry County School, and also joined the Taunton Officer Training Corps at the age of 15 in 1917. Due to his young age, he missed out on playing his part in the First World War. Returning home from Somerset, he decided to join the mining industry, and was articled to the Managing Director of the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Company. He was involved in the design and installation of coal-fired ship’s boilers. Whilst working at Powell Duffryn, he was able to study for a Bachelor of Science degree at the University of Wales in Cardiff. He graduated in 1923. Two years later, he gained a diploma in Engineering fom the Royal School of Mines, South Kensington, London. This allowed him to gain employment as Superintendent of the first power station in Wales at Bangoed.
After eight years at Powell Duffryn, he moved to Bolton, Lancashire, to become an Assistant Combustion Engineer at Bennis Combustion Co Ltd. He designed a number of power plants across Europe and within a couple of years was Chief Combustion Engineer.
In 1938, he accepted an offer to become Chief Combustion Engineer to Croydon Council, with a salary of £450 per annum. He had control of all of the Council’s 25 Public Works Plants. At the outbreak of World War II, Roy volunteered for the ARP and was soon transferred to the ARP Engineers Service. He became involved in building demolition and debris clearance.
On 18th September 1940, an unexploded bomb fell into a house on Langdale Road, Thornton Heath, Surrey. Massive air raids had begun a few days earlier and the problem of dealing with so many bombs at one time was a new one. Harris dismantled it, this being one of 85 such acts carried out by him. It should be noted here that Harris was not trained for bomb disposal. Roy was recommended for the George Cross on 9th October 1940, and eventually his citation was published in the London Gazette on 17th December 1940.
He was presented with his George Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 27th May 1941. This was the second occasion that he had invested recipients with his new decoration. On 31st January 1942, he married Joan Roderick in Purley, Surrey, and later that year, he joined the Royal Engineers as a Sapper (Private soldier). He undertook basic training in Clitheroe, Lancashire, and had an interesting experience when during an inspection, the GC was not recognized by a high-ranking officer, who promptly told him, "We dont allow civil decorations to be worn in the Army." However, when told of the ribbon's significance, the officer apologised.
Due to his technical skill, he was issued an Emergency Commission and his first posting was to No 6 Training Battalion Royal Engineers (TBRE) in Elgin, Scotland. He then soon moved to No 5 TBRE based in Chester. He was promoted to Lieutenant in April 1943 and embarked for North Africa. He was made Deputy Assistant Director of Works and promoted to Acting Major. He ended the war in Italy where he was mentioned in despatches. He was demobbed on 6th July 1946, but his start back in civilian life was not a positive one. His consultancy partnership was not a success and also his marriage to Joan broke down. He joined the National Coal Board but soon transferred to the Technical Section in Dudley. When the office in Dudley closed in October 1968, he went to work with the National Coal Board at Rain’s Building in Birmingham. In later life he lived in Wolverhampton.
Roy passed away on 11th August 1973, aged 71 in the Royal Hospital, Wolverhampton. He was cremated at Bushbury Crematorium on the 17th August and his ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. Sadly there are no memorials at the Crematorium. Not long before he died, he had placed his GC for auction at Glendinning’s, London on 21st March 1973. The same lot came up for auction again at Dix Noonan Webb on 29th June 2006 and were purchased by Michael Ashcroft, and now form part of the Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BUSHBURY CREMATORIUM, WOLVERHAMPTON.