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28 October 2014
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Voices: Our Untold Stories
Harry Worrall

Harry Worrall

Over many years Harry Worrall, a former mayor of Gloucester, was actively involved in helping newcomers from the Caribbean and Asia settle in Gloucester.

Harry Worrall had a key role in Gloucester's community relations movement

Born and bred in the city Harry, recalled some of his memories in an interview with Umara Hussain carried out shortly before his death.

"Gloucester' s main feature was the Cathedral. There was no free education and the main industry was shipping based in Gloucester port.

"I went to the local school and there were no books or paper. We had to use slates and had a slate pencil so that the work could be erased afterwards.

"Everyone had to leave school by the age of 14. The boys had to find work, any type of work. At the time I left school, many people were more concerned about the World War than education."

"At the age of 14, a special test had to be taken. If the children passed it then they could go on to grammar school. There were four grammar schools in Gloucester.

"Parents could pay for their children to go if they wanted them to go there or the children would automatically be allowed to go if they passed the test.

"The girls had to go in to domestic service and often ended up staying there. Hence life for them was pretty hard.

"Most families were encouraged to go to church. They were living a life of Christian teachings - you were supposed to give help to whoever needed it."

quote
It was rather sad that a large number of our population objected to these people, who had unstintingly helped us during the war.
T
he main objections were that the colour of their skins was black and that part of their culture was different to our way of life. Ultimately, this led to direct discrimination against them and they were finding it more than difficult to find somewhere to live.quote
Harry Worrall

Harry repaired motorcycles for his first job. This he did for two years before becoming involved in the transport industry. Harry was also given an opportunity to study maths and physics at the Technical College and he did well in his exams.

In the meantime, his personal life was also developing. "I've only had one girlfriend in my life and at that time I used to spend all my time with her."

Harry married that girlfriend, Ruth, who worked as a secretary, in 1938. They decided not have any children straight away - instead they saved for a house.

In 1939, World War Two was declared and Harry spent six years in the army in a job that involved some aspects of the secret service, On D-Day in June 1944, Harry was wounded and he became a teacher until the end of the war when he found work an an engineer with BT.

Soon afterwards he learnt that he couldn't have children because of his injuries. At this time the country was trying to rebuild the infrastructure which had been severely damaged during the period of war.

"During the war we were very grateful for the help and support of people from other nations of the Commonwealth. As we were short of help to rebuild the country and in need of both skilled and unskilled people, the Government decided to reinforce our depleted work force and invited members of the Caribbean islands to come and help us.

"This of course meant they could supplement their families' income, as well as help us to rebuild our damaged towns and communication systems.

Discrimination

"Most of those who came to help generally did not fit into the higher grades of employment, but were nevertheless able to carry out extremely important work with our railway systems.

"Many found work rebuilding our farms and the countryside, while many of the women found work in our hospitals, which were badly understaffed.

"It was rather sad when taking everything into account that a large number of our population objected to these people, who had unstintingly helped us during the war, being here.

"At this time the main objections were that the colour of their skins was black and that part of their culture was different to our way of life. Ultimately, this led to direct discrimination against them and they were finding it more than difficult to find somewhere to live.

Harry Worrall as mayor of  Gloucester
Harry Worrall at a community event when he was Mayor of Gloucester

"People would not live near them, even before they knew anything about them.

"Most of them were not equipped to be able to withstand our winters, which were very severe at that time with snow and ice and of course ultimately floods."

Harry recalls meeting some African Caribbean people in Barton Street in 1951, shivering in their thin clothes.

"It had been snowing, the weather was very cold and these people had nowhere to go.

"There was no housing association, no social services - the only help came from the church or people who understood the situation. I quickly found these circumstances were pulling at my conscience.

"I made contact with a few like-minded people who I hoped would be prepared to do something about a situation needing urgent attention."

He found a police superintendent, a college lecturer, the town clerk of Gloucester and two representatives from the churches and they formed themselves into a small working committee to try to bring about a change in people's attitudes.

Shaping legislation

"'Gradually, more people became interested in what we were trying to do and we made an application to the City Council for help for what was then known as Gloucester Community Relations Council (CRC).

"I was elected as the chairman of the council, which of course was making more demands on my 'spare' time.' Fortunately, Ruth supported me fully in my attempts to help in this matter. It meant that 23 Massey Road, our home, became a meeting place for small committees and individuals who wanted to see me in order to discuss their problems."

It was thought that the CRC needed a voice on the Gloucester City Council, so in 1963 Harry successfully stood for election to the council, representing Labour in the Barton Ward.

quote

It had been snowing, the weather was very cold and these people had nowhere to go. There was no housing association, no social services - the only help came from the church or people who understood the situation. I quickly found these circumstances were pulling at my conscience.

quote
Harry Worrall

A year later Harry was notified by the then Lord Chancellor (Lord Hailsham) that he had been nominated as a Justice of the Peace for Gloucester.

Harry recalls that he initially found it quite hard to communicate with the Asian community, as they did not speak English.

"Often just one member of a family would speak English and if they were not available, then the council would then have to find a translator.

"The Asians were also more business-minded with many setting up shops in the Barton Street area."

Often, Harry recalls, the Asian people had to send money to their families back home but did not know how this was done. On their behalf he went to see the bank managers and the post office to sort out postal orders which enabled them to send the money to their families.

There was also a great need for somewhere to meet the Asian community's religious needs - the Muslim community wanted somewhere to pray.

Harry helped bring forward two houses in the city which over a period of time were converted into a mosque.

Harry remained chairman of the CRC for 14 years in which time he also played a role in the shaping of legislation that helped form the Commission for Racial Equality - a body created to give ethnic communities greater powers against those who deliberately discriminate against people on racial grounds.

New friendships

This work gave Harry the opportunity to visit several of the Caribbean Islands in order to better understand their lifestyle.

"My main interest was Jamaica. I was able to visit most of the government departments that were most helpful when trying to help with social problems here in England.

"Naturally, with the many visits I made, I made many new friendships.

"The city of Gloucester had shown a keen interest in twinning with a suitable place in Jamaica. As I was planning to have a holiday in Jamaica, I was asked if I would make enquiries into a suitable 'twin'.

"Having regard to the location from which many of the immigrants who had settled in Gloucester came, on my return I recommended that Gloucester should negotiate with the parish of St Ann. I am pleased to say that Gloucester is now twinned with St Ann."

» See 'The Asian Community'
» See 'The African Caribbean Community'

This article is user-generated content (ie external contribution) expressing a personal opinion, not the views of BBC Gloucestershire.
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Harry Worrall
About the Authors
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