Today, we reflect on the extraordinary life of Henry (Harry) Olden, whose journey from a small town in Devon to the frontlines of World War II exemplifies courage, duty, and unity.

Early life

From a young age, Harry was actively involved in the Cubs and Scouts, nurturing a sense of duty and adventure that would guide him throughout his life. This early foundation paved the way for his enlistment in the British Army, alongside several of his friends, on 2nd May 1939, as Europe edged towards war.

Before his military service, Harry worked at Heathcoat’s factory in Tiverton, where he honed his skills in machinery repair from the age of 14. This expertise likely influenced his assignment to the Royal Artillery, where he served as a gunner until May 1945, before joining the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) until August 1946.

Military service

At the outbreak of the war, Harry was only 17 – too young to be sent abroad immediately. Initially stationed on gun emplacements in the UK, he served in Hanham, Bristol, and Canvey Island near London, manning anti-aircraft guns. His records, understandably sparse for security reasons, reveal a significant deployment in Italy, particularly along the Amalfi coast and Naples, as well as service in Tunis and other parts of North Africa.

Harry rarely spoke of the war, especially not the grim aspects. For him, it was about duty and supporting his comrades. When asked if he ever felt fear, he simply remarked that there was no time to be afraid; they just got on with their tasks.

One of Harry’s cherished memories from the war was attending the opera in Italy. For a young man from a small Devon town, this was a breath-taking experience that ignited his lifelong love for singing. His wartime stories, often humorous and occasionally exaggerated, highlighted the profound impact of his sudden exposure to different cultures and landscapes, far from his familiar surroundings.

Despite the war’s hardships, Harry forged lifelong friendships with his fellow soldiers, and maintained these bonds for many years. His story is not just one of military service but also of personal accomplishment.


Today, Harry has chosen to continue his life journey at Hatherleigh Nursing Home, where he is surrounded by supportive team members, and fellow residents (fondly referred to as family members).

As we honour Harry’s legacy, we celebrate a life marked by dedication, resilience, and the unyielding spirit of a young man from Tiverton who answered his nation’s call and emerged with stories that transcended the battlefields.

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