War veteran and local farmer Harold Young DFC passed away in March at the age of 95, bringing the curtain down on a life well lived in the service of his country and his county.
Harold was a quiet, shy man dedicated to a rural life with wife Nan, but his early carefree years were curtailed by the Second World War, during which he served as a navigator in an RAF Halifax bomber crew. His squadron were given the dangerous task of flying Allied secret agents into the heart of occupied Europe, one of the most perilous missions of the entire war. This work was so secretive the base where Harold was stationed, at Tempsford in Bedfordshire, was only known to a handful of top military and government officials as it was part of Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Harold joined up aged 20 in March 1940 and was trained in various parts of the country including West Freugh, near Stranraer. Training complete, he was attached to the Halifax Bomber 138 squadron, where his navigational skills were vital to achieving pin-point accuracy when taking special agents to locations like the Black Forest in Nazi Germany. For years he endured the constant threat of sudden death from the enemy, both in the air and on the ground as well as the long and uncomfortable hours flying. In 1944, Harold was awarded the Distinguish Flying Cross, having first read the news, to his great surprise and delight, in the London Gazette.
When he turned 90, Harold was thankfully persuaded to record his war story by WW2 historian Dennis Sawden. The result was “I was Only Doing My Bit’. In the book, Harold recalls: “The DFC is a prized possession of course, a Royal and indeed, a national recognition of my wartime efforts. But the best compliment I ever had was a verbal one said with great sincerity by the other five crew members when they gathered round Geoff Pick (the pilot) and me at our end of tour celebration. They told us that Geoff and I had brought them through all our ops together and that they all owed their lives to us both - that took some beating.”
But even in war, there were humorous incidents. One particular night, bad weather meant the drop could not be made and it also prevented Harold and his crew landing back at their top secret base. After finally touching down at an RAF base in Devon, they were all arrested as the secret agents were in Nazi uniforms! They had to sit it out for a night until a call from the top brass secured their release.
Decades after the war ended Harold remained tight lipped about their operations to protect the identity of the spies he worked with. He was scheduled to head to the Far East war but the atomic bomb on Japan ended that plan and he was demobbed in 1946 and returned to Galloway. As one of seven children of a farming family he set out to look for a piece of green land to call his own and found it at Claunch Farm near Sorbie. In 1956 he married Nan Service and this formidable team set about building up the dairy herd and modernised the farm. Harold loved his farming life and served on the committee of the National Farmers Union and the Milk Record Society.
But then ‘service’ was through Harold like a stick of rock as he was also an elder for 50 years of Sorbie Church. His hobbies were curling, bowling and bridge, and for the rest of his long life, the navigator in him liked nothing better than a map to study.
Harold died at his home, Waulkmill, Sorbie, and is survived by his proud and loving family - wife Nan, daughter Rena and son Hugh and his four beloved grandchildren.
We are all greatly in his debt.