Real Lives - Free as a Bird

Wed 05 Feb 2020

If you’ve ever walked through Port Talbot town centre in early November then the chances are you would have passed Harry Bird.

Harry has lived in the town for most of his life, and each November can be found at the Royal British Legion’s stand in the shopping centre, selling poppies in the run up to Remembrance Sunday.

He is a fixture there, having done it every year for the past 40 years.  In that time he has raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for the charity. In 2018 alone, he managed to collect £25,000.

So, having done it for so long, and having raised so much money for the charity, does he have any plans to retire?
“Not yet”, he says. “I’ve done it for so long now, that people recognise me and I’m quite well known locally.  If I have a day off people get worried and ask where I am.  So, no.  I’m happy to carry on doing it for a bit longer.”

Harry’s passion for raising money for the legion stems from his own time in the army.

Harry joined just after the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945.  He joined the Explosives Disposal Unit and was given the task of getting rid of all the unused ammunition that was left over after the end of the war.

He travelled to the Bay of Biscay, just off the coast of France, where they would dispose of all the unused bombs.  He also spent some time in Snowdonia, where he and his unit were given the task of disposing of over a million tonnes of ammunition.  He recalls:
“We travelled to a remote part of Snowdonia and were presented with a mountain of bombs and bullets to get rid of using controlled explosions.  We could only do it on certain days, when the wind was blowing in a certain direction.  Unfortunately, one day we misjudged it slightly and the shockwaves flew down the valley and blew out all the windows in Dolgellau.  We always double checked the wind direction after that!!"

Following his departure from the army, Harry went to work at Port Talbot steelworks, spending much of the 1950s and 1960s working on the furnaces, where temperatures could reach 1600oC.

Now living just outside the town centre, Harry shows no signs of slowing down. Despite his years, Harry is keeping up with modern technology.  He has taught himself to use a computer and get online, whilst his home has many modern gadgets, using them to keep in touch with family and friends.

With no plans to retire just yet, Harry fully expects to be out and about selling poppies in the run up to this year’s Remembrance Sunday.  So, if you’re walking through Port Talbot in November, don’t forget to keep an eye out for Harry, on duty, raising money once again.