The funeral service for Harry Bell was held on Monday 29th October 2001 at Linn Crematorium. Humanist Minister Joe Hughes included the following account of Harry’s life, created by family and friends.
Henry Walker Bell, known to all as Harry, was born in Glasgow in 1935. His love of things foreign manifested itself early in his life – as a small boy during the war he regularly woke up sweating in the middle of the night – not from nightmares, but from falling asleep wearing his treasured U.S. pilot’s fur-lined cap (complete with earflaps).
From an early age he threw himself wholeheartedly into each new project. Having decided to learn to swim, he attained his Life Saving Certificate in ten weeks after endlessly practicing his strokes spread-eagled on a dining room chair. While his boyhood pals were fans of the Rover, Harry was an ardent devotee of a comic called The Adventure. An early adventure of Harry’s was a trip to Rowardennan, aged 13, on his trusty bike that he christened Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse. This gave him the first of many stamps in his Youth Hostel book. Indeed Harry once calculated that he had spent more than 365 bed-nights in Youth Hostels all round the world. And like any adventurer he enjoyed returning with traveller’s tales. Upon returning from trip to Spain, enquiries about the wound on his leg were answered solemnly with “I was gored by a bull”. Detailed examination at the Victoria Infirmary uncovered a more mundane explanation – an insect bite that had become infected.
Harry left school at 14 and shortly thereafter began his printing apprenticeship working for the Nautical Press. After completing his apprenticeship he was called up to the Black Watch regiment for his National Service. However, once he found out the Parachute Regiment would be training in Cyprus he volunteered and was accepted into the Paras. Years later he would be a Para again, this time in the Territorial Army. The camaraderie of both fellow soldiers and his workmates in the printing trade meant a tremendous amount to Harry throughout his life. After his National Service, during which he saw action in the Suez Crisis, he was keen to see even more of the world – and limited finances did not deter him. A 1959 trip made by Harry and his friend Mike Lang was the subject of an article in the Weekly Scotsman headlined “Israel and back – on £30”. By working in a kibbutz, in a railway station and even by selling tablecloths, the two friends were able to make a three-month trip starting with only £30.
Fittingly he met his future wife Maire on a holiday in Broadford Youth Hostel, Isle of Skye, in 1957. After marrying in Edinburgh in 1960 the couple emigrated to Canada, moving on to New York in 1961 and then in 1963 headed for the State of Maine where they stayed for five years.
A daughter Sheila was born in Portland, Maine in 1965 and after returning home to Scotland in 1968 their son Colin was born in 1969. While in Maine the couple enjoyed the horse-racing at the Scarborough Downs track, visiting the many islands off the coast, and Harry was also able to develop his interest in art. His habit of making sketches while on his travels led to a hobby of creating both woodcuts and watercolours – he even exhibited at a couple of local galleries.
Upon returning to Scotland, and setting up home in East Kilbride, Harry would keep the two small children entertained with a seemingly endless supply of stories and songs. Sheila has fond memories of visits to the Kelvin Hall Carnival and afternoons spent hunting down stamps and eating cockles in the Barras Market. Colin remembers being fascinated by the Territorial Army books showing how to recognise aircraft just from their silhouettes. He also remembers thinking a great treat was the army rations of jam and condensed milk in little toothpaste-style tubes that Harry would bring back from Territorial Army exercises.
Sheila was introduced to Youth Hostelling from an early age, spending her first bed-night at Rowardennan, while Sheila and Colin enjoyed visits to the hostels in Ambleside, Grassmere and Keswick in a 1977 holiday. That same year Harry wrote and published Forgotten Footsteps. He went on to write two other books – a Guide to the Haunted Castles of Scotland and an archaeology book called Glasgow’s Secret Geometry. After years of visiting other countries Harry became fascinated with the archaeology of Scotland.
The opening lines of Glasgow’s Secret Geometry are, ‘There is a Chinese saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’. In 1981 Harry took that step along a new track when he joined the Glasgow University Certificate Field Course in Archaeology. Graduating in 1984, for the rest of his life he found and became a part of a group of people who shared his love of the land, its people and its history, and he held a very special place in their affections and respect.
In 1987 he was one of the founder members of the Association of Certificated Field Archaeologists (ACFA). Participating in field work all over Scotland, enjoying each others company from Mull to Minorca, Harry became a member of the publications team on their Council, and the recorder of all their little foibles and failings as “Glezca ACFA man” in a wonderful series of articles in their Newsletters over many years. His reference to one friend as “a cartographically-challenged buffoon” is especially treasured.
Most of Harry’s exploits and tales are now immortal among this group, not only the ones recorded in “Glasgow’s Secret Geometry“, such as Colin and the ice cream van, or his argument with an eminent Scottish archaeological authority on how a four fingered, digitally-challenged wolf attack victim might hold a prehistoric axe heid – but the dozens of others, told at many a convivial evening, deserve equal immortality. Can we imagine the chapter headings if such a book had ever been written? – “In which Our Hero Visits India and Loses His False Teeth Doon a Cludgie” or “In Which He Has the Facts of Life Explained to Him by a School Chum” – the latter involved Polish soldiers and would end with Harry performing a cross between a hop, a skip and a little Morris dance, which would leave everyone helpless with laughter.
Harry was a man of immense wit, of great, if sometimes baffling convictions, of considerable artistic and calligraphic skills in the little sketches, which always came with a post or Xmas card. A man of great generosity, both open and private – prints, etchings, books and music would be casually given without a murmur, and only some of his close friends knew of the long years he contributed to Action Aid, and the help he gave to hospitals in India and Africa for work which still goes on today. Harry loved archaeology, he loved the people and most of all he loved the land – he always wanted us to lift our eyes from the little patch of ground we would be looking at, to the hills and what they meant to those who were here before us. Above all he loved the landscape around his home city, from Duncolm to the Deil’s Plantin, from Camphill to Cathkin Braes. If you want to understand the man and who he was then get out your old bike and cycle up to the Craw Stane or Carlin Craigs above Eaglesham, because that’s where you’ll find him. His work and his spirit will always inspire the group of archaeologists who shared this part of his life.
Other friends knew Harry both as a regular at folk clubs and as a great fan of trad jazz – at the old Eglinton Arms jazz nights and latterly at the Bute Jazz festival and other events. Both friends and workmates remember Harry not just as a good company, but also as a generous spirit. He used his way with words to help several colleagues with job applications, and helped others prepare their speeches when they were “best man” at their friends’ weddings. Once Harry retired from the printing trade in 1998 he was introduced to the World Wide Web and spent hours crafting the text for his own web site – The Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites. He was enchanted with his two granddaughters – Kirsty (born August 1998) and Mairi Louise (born August 2001). Sadly illness denied Harry the comfortable retirement he had earned from many years of hard work. After dealing with Maire’s sudden death in July 2001 his own illness got progressively worse. In September, he gallantly went with a few friends on a last voyage to Ireland, by barge, down the Grand Canal and up the Shannon, returning so sites he had first seen over 40 years previously – the Antrim coast and the great monastery of Clonmacnoise. However, he had to admit himself to hospital immediately on his return, and he passed away on Tuesday, October 23rd, at Hairmyres Hospital.
Like the circles that ripple outwards as a stone skips in the water so each person’s life affects many others in ways they may not always realise. During his last few weeks in hospital Harry was deeply moved by the many people that came to visit him, remembering happy occasions or small acts of generosity, which they remembered across the years. Old-time baseball manager Tug McGraw once reminisced about his youth – “I spent three-quarters of my money on good times, whiskey and horse racing – the rest I just wasted”. It is a sentiment Harry would no doubt have agreed with. Rather than accumulate material things he wanted only to share good times and experience all that life had to offer. In his sixty-five years Harry Bell did both in full measure.