Grieved to hear of the death of Harry Poloway who was buried yesterday. Below is a tribute I paid to him in an introduction to his biography.
"This is much more than the story of one brief simple life. Harry Poloway has enjoyed a complex, varied life that he has lived and continues to live richly, proudly and with distinction. Nick Thomas’ book provides a kaleidoscope of a century of vivid images and fascinating cameos. All Harry’s hundreds of friends know part of his story. No one can match his span of years and experience. His life is the unique continuous thread that runs through Newport’s history from the first years of WW1 to July 2015 when former warrant officer Poloway took the salute at a Battle of Britain fly-past of Spitfires and Hurricanes.
Harry’s century tracks the story of Newport, a city with a robust distinctive personality that’s undergone tumultuous changes in industrial and social life. The city been transformed by its own constant re-inventions of itself. Harry was a witness and participant in the city’s odyssey. Few minority communities saw greater change than Harry’s beloved Jewish community. It flourished and grew from the time of his birth in 1915.
The book recalls life in pre-war Maindee. “He remembers playing with children from the Methodists, Catholic and Seven Day Adventist churches and nobody thought it might be a problem. Everybody kept their own ‘little laws and traditions’ but everyone respected everybody else as law abiding, hardworking people. He says “Most importantly we were all Newportonians”.
Harry and his family went to Newport’s Synagogue in Pill’s Francis Street on Friday nights and on Saturdays. They were always immaculately turned out in clean shirts. Harry’s father sometimes could not go on a Saturday because he had to finish a suit for an important customer and could not afford to lose any business. During these times Harry’s father would charge only £3 for a handmade made to measure suit’.
From humble beginnings in the terraced working class streets of Pillgwenlly he has inhabited several areas of the city. He is now delightfully at home in his commodious house in the pleasant heights of Allt-yr-yn. From the hard tough rag trade he has risen to become the most revered citizen of the city. He shared in the growing prosperity of Newport’s Jewish Community as they moved from Pill to a splendid new synagogue in Queens Hill.
Subsequently the community shrank along with the Cardiff Jewish community as the young generation migrated to London. Harry remains one of a handful of survivors. What they lack in numbers they compensate for in longevity. I was honoured to join Harry in a service in the Newport Jewish Cemetery to mark the 12 month anniversary of the death of fellow Newport Jewish resident May Mendleson, who had died aged 108.
Harry’s powerful message to young people now is a plea for peace based on his service in the RAF from 1940 to 1946. He worked as an electrical engineer providing power to vital defences like radar stations. He saw service at the Battle of Britain station North Weald and overseas in Egypt and Sicily as Warrant Officer Poloway.
Harry is my favourite constituent. I share my pride at his life at every opportunity. I tried to add a little colour to a predictable Commons debate on Prince Phillip’s birthday. I told the Commons, ‘There is a magnificent example in my constituency of a person working past retirement age. Mr Harry Poloway is still presiding in commanding fashion as a toastmaster to many major events in Newport at the age of 97. Continuing work into that period of life is a wonderful example to set, and one that we can look at with some embarrassment and shame in this House, where I believe the oldest Member—albeit a distinguished Member—is just 80 years of age’.
Long-forgotten memories of Harry’s past in a Newport of yesterday are recalled, ‘His brother Morry in the four penny seats in the Lyceum with a complete score of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta’, ‘Harry’s team working all night to repair exploded electrical equipment for the opening of the Uskmouth A Power Station’, ‘Harry’s mother trying to scrape together Kosher meals out of the meager war time rations’, ‘The local businessman’s wife who pushed his sports car into their swimming pool’ and ‘The wedding guests who failed to arrive because of an outbreak of smallpox in Pentre,’ ‘The joys of the Sabbath meal and the shame of housewives who delayed their washing by a day’.
Harry freely recalls his moments of embarrassment when he introduced Cardiff businessman Mr Rabiotti as ‘Rabbi and Mrs Otti’ and another occasion when he lost his trousers before a major function. Sadly there is no photograph of this, but there is a splendid selection of Harry’s more dignified appearances with distinguished friends.
Harry told the South Wales Argus in July 2015 that "People should remember the sacrifice people made during the Battle of Britain and through the war. Some of the pilots flying them lasted only one day. We should keep marking these anniversaries - keep remembering."
Thanks to Harry and the author of this book for a unique window into the past and a wonderful aide-memoire of the fun, sacrifice, work and laughter of Harry’s great life. It is imbued with a sense of gratitude that Harry has for his parents, his wife and friends and for his Newport Habitat. They planted the vines. Harry is now sipping the wine. May he long enjoy it."