Harry Bryce, Abbey Schoolmaster (1971-1978)
Born: April 29, 1923 Port Glasgow
Died: February 15, 2012, Edinburgh
Harry’s Eulogy: 23 February 2012
Just a few words to describe the full, varied and most interesting life of my father;
Henry Mulholland Bryce, known to all as “Harry”
Airman, Devoted husband, Loving father and grandfather, Schoolmaster, Sportsman, Mentor, Scotsman, just a few of the words that could be used to describe my father….
Born April 29th, 1923, the second son of James and Rose Bryce and brother to James, Myra and Jean. The family especially welcome my Aunt Jean and cousins from Port Glasgow here this morning.
Dad went to school at St Columba’s, Port Glasgow and went up to the University of Glasgow to study Mathematics in 1940. He interrupted his degree course to volunteer for service in the RAF in 1943. After his initial flying training in Tiger Moths in the south of England, during which time he admitted to serious and serial abuse of his aircraft during landings, it was suggested he might be better suited flying as a navigator. He volunteered for specialist training in Canada where he had family, but instead was sent to South Africa and then Palestine to complete his operational training with Bomber Command.
Dad’s operational wartime experience was short. In October 1944, flying out of Foggia, Italy as navigator of Wellington EP with 104 Sqn, he took part in 2 successful missions over Yugoslavia and Hungary. However, he was less fortunate with his 3rd mission on the night of 20th October, which was a large Allied bombing raid on Szombathely airfield, Hungary. During the bombing run his aircraft was shot up, destroying one of the aircraft’s 2 engines. This meant there was insufficient power and fuel to make the climb over the Alps and return to the safety of Italy. Dad, along with the rest of the largely uninjured crew, undertook his one and only parachute jump, at night into enemy territory. He was captured, and via short stays with the Hungarian police and local Gestapo, was transported by a series of train journeys and forced marches to Stalag Luft IV in the north of Poland. Dad’s family were unaware of his fate after they received the telegram from the War Office notifying his parents that he was missing in action, until a neighbour of his mother heard his name read out some weeks later on the radio, listing him as a confirmed POW. Dad spent the remainder of the war as a POW in Poland until taking part in the infamous “Black March” from 6th February 1945 when, with 8,000 other allied prisoners, he was force-marched 500 miles westwards across frozen northern Germany in the retreat from the advancing Red Army, until his eventual liberation by the Americans on his 22nd birthday, 29th April 1945. Letters from him home give an interesting insight to life at that time as a POW; a snippet of one you can see on the back of the Order of Service.
Dad returned home to complete his degree and teacher training, going on to start his long career teaching mathematics back at his old school, St John’s and St Columba’s in Port Glasgow. It was through a local church event that he met a young girl, Claire Middleton, in Glasgow, whom he started dating and married in June 1956. Claire is here today; they celebrated their 56th wedding anniversary last summer. The young couple left the UK when Dad took a teaching post at Guinea Fowl school in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). It was during the 5 years in Rhodesia that Richard and Colin were born, and our sister Fiona arrived when they returned to the UK and settled in Ipswich for a couple of years. With their great love for Africa, Dad took the family with him to teach in the newly independent Zambia in 1964. A lifelong and fervent Glasgow Celtic supporter Dad was thrilled to hear Celtic beat Inter Milan, certainly on the radio but may even have been rebroadcast television, the first British team to win the European Cup, in 1967. He returned to Scotland in 1968 teaching at St. Aloysius College in Glasgow before settling in Fort Augustus in the new year of 1971 where he was head of the maths department at the Benedictine Abbey school there. Dad enjoyed taking his family on camping holidays in Europe, returning to Germany, a country he liked very much. He was able to speak German fluently, as a result of his times as a POW, something that surprised the children when they heard him engaged in conversation with some local German gentlemen in the local tavern on holiday, and a skill he was often able to put to good use while working as a volunteer at the Fort Augustus Visitor Information Centre! Never quite getting Africa out of his blood, Dad undertook a couple of long term teaching contracts in Nigeria and Libya in the 80s before retiring to continue Highland life in Fort Augustus. Mum & Dad settled in Edinburgh in 2005 close to several family and surrounded by wonderful friends in Mayfield Court.
In his later life, as a truly devoted husband, Dad really enjoyed and made the most of his life together with Mum in Fort Augustus, where they stayed for over 30 years before moving to Edinburgh. He was blessed with 6 grandchildren, Lindsay, Jennifer, Laurence, Stephanie, Kirsty and Lauren and, by then in his retirement years, devoted his life to supporting them in any way he could; mentoring in maths, helping them with homework, supporting and advising them and always asking after them. His only grandson, Laurence, has the middle name of Harry in his honour.
Dad was gifted academically and on the sports field. Although a career mathematician, he also studied for and gained two further degrees with the Open University in History and Physics. He was an accomplished footballer, playing for St Mirren youths before the war, and even trialled for Scotland schoolboys. Only 3 weeks ago, Colin received a telephone call completely out of the blue from an ex-pupil of Dad’s in Southern Rhodesia from the late 50s who provided some stories about Dad’s expertise on the football field. Whenever his side won the ball, the cry would go out “Give it to Harry, give it to Harry!” A ruptured cruciate ligament and chronic knee injuries probably dating from his “bale-out” put paid to any thoughts of semi-professional football. He was an excellent tennis and badminton player and a low handicap golfer, and continued playing golf until well into his 70s. Dad also enjoyed music and was an avid reader.
Dad’s aunt emigrated to America in the 20s and a post on Facebook this week from our American side of the family states; Our family in Scotland lost their patriarch, Harry Bryce on Wednesday. He was a WW2 POW in Germany and from my mom’s stories, a hero to her family. In a separate email, our American cousin states ‘Mum’s mum always left a key on top of the outside door in case your dad ever happened to come to Niagara Falls’.