THE title of Honorary Freeman of Skipton has been bestowed upon Skipton stalwart Harry Dowson by the town’s mayor, Cllr Karen McIntyre.

The presentation was made at an evening civic reception at the town hall where guests including Deputy Lieutenant Captain Stephen Upright (RN), North Yorkshire County Council deputy chairman, Cllr Margaret Atkinson, Craven District Council Chairman, Cllr Alan Sutcliffe, fellow councillors and members of Harry’s family and friends were welcomed.

George Martin, chairman of the Skipton branch of the Royal British Legion gave a detailed account of Harry’s service to the country serving as a driver in the Royal Air Force and also the service he has given to the town of Skipton.

In his statement, Mr Martin said: “Mr Harry Dowson the son of a miner, was raised and educated in the town of Crook, County Durham.

“From an early age, Harry was very interested in cars and after leaving school at the age of 15, he got a job in a local garage as an apprentice mechanic.

“At the age of 17, Harry joined the Royal Air Force and carried out his ‘square bashing’ at RAF West Kirby on the Wirral Peninsular, and then onto further training as a motor mechanic. Following a brief period at Lytham St Annes, Harry was posted to RAF Changi, Singapore where he was designated to drive both domestic and crash ambulances.

“In 1956 and on his return to civilian life, Harry bought a motor bike, and whilst driving up the A1, he decided to call into Skipton to look up one of his comrades from Changi. His friend told him there was work in Bradford with a company called English Electric. After only three months, Harry left to get a job in Skipton where he met his wife, Arlene.

“After a short courtship they married in Christ Church in Skipton and lived with Arlene’s parents for a number of years. Harry and Arlene are proud parents to three children, nine grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

“Harry worked for eight years as a driver for Hargreaves driving lorries during the week and buses at the weekend.

’One of his duties was to transport school kids from Grassington to the swimming baths in Skipton. Whilst they were swimming, Harry would go into the nearby Royal Air Force Association (RAFA) Club for a cup of tea.

“An opportunity arose where Harry became a driver for Johnson and Johnson which required him to travel all over the country. Unfortunately, this meant long periods away from home and his family, however his work pattern prevented him from becoming an active member of RAFA.

“Following a heart attack in 1967, Harry joined the RAFA committee and in 1989 became chairman until its closure in 2021. In honour of the continued service to the Skipton Branch of RAFA, both Harry and Arlene were awarded Area and National Presidency certificates.

“Not only was Harry involved with the RAFA, he has also been a member of The Skipton Branch of the Royal British Legion (RBL), since the early 1960s. In 1987, Harry was invited to carry the branch national standard which required him to be at the front of the annual Remembrance parades in Skipton, and also the commemoration events throughout the year including VE Day, VJ Day and countless other parades in or around the town.

“In the 35 years of carrying the standard, Harry only missed only one parade which was due to a ‘poorly leg’.

“As standard bearer for both the RAFA and the RBL. Harry was regularly asked to parade the standards at numerous funerals of ex-service personnel both locally and nationally. The high standard that he demanded of himself was recognised by the RAFA where Harry was invited to parade the standard and represent Skipton at York Minster and St Clement Danes Church, the Central Church of the Royal Air Force in Westminster London.

“As chairman of the RAFA Club in Skipton, both Harry and his wife were actively involved in raising money for the annual ‘Wings Appeal’ which required long periods collecting donations on the streets of Skipton, often in wet and windy weather. Over the many years of collecting, both Harry and Arlene managed to raise in excess of £250,000.

“Since 2015 Harry and Arlene have also been involved in helping raise money for the ‘Poppy Appeal. Each year they can be found in Craven Court during the fund-raising period. Harry and Arlene also made themselves available to assist the Poppy Appeal Organiser in the delivery of collection boxes throughout the local area. Along with others on the team, they helped raise the vast sum of over £200,000.

“Another initiative from Harry and Arlene was the ‘Brew for a Few’ which met on a monthly basis in the RAFA Club. Ex-military veterans would meet up with their family and friends and during these monthly meetings, Harry and Arlene would welcome the members, Harry with his exceptional sense of humour, and Arlene would put on a ‘Pie and Peas’ lunch. The underlying importance of these lunches was social cohesion and also bringing those who lived alone out of their homes which was essential for their wellbeing.”

The mayor presented Harry with the award which states, ‘Skipton Town Council hereby confers the title of Honorary Freeman of Skipton in recognition of the valuable a eminent services rendered by him to the community of Skipton’.

The mayor then introduced Barry Blood, president of the Skipton branch of the Royal British Legion who was presenting the Drum Majors Mace from the former Skipton British Legion band to the town council.

Mr Blood said: “I am here to formally present the Drum Majors Mace, which was at the head of the former Skipton Royal British Legion Band, into the care of Skipton Town Council.

“Whilst the former band members are very pleased that we have been able to find a home for the Mace, it is mixed with a certain amount of sadness as we had previously marched behind the drum majors mace for almost 11 years.

“My mind goes back to 2006 when attending an RBL meeting that the chairman at the time, announced out of the blue that it was about time the branch formed a band for remembrance parades etc, and asked members to assist in doing so.

“It wasn’t long before drummers, buglers and even xylophone players assembled and a band was formed. To lead the band, a local drum major came forward to offer his services however there was no Mace and a fund-raising party visited local businesses in Skipton. It was during this time that the branch chairman secured the grand sum of £1,000 from Skipton Building Society.

“As time went by after many months of practise, the newly formed band was invited to play at various parts of Yorkshire including York Minster, the gates of Ripon cathedral and even march down the runway at Elvington ex RAF base.

“Although the band disbanded a number of years ago, a previous band member can still be heard blowing his bugle at the various commemorative occasion within the town, including veteran’s funerals.

“It is with a tinge of sadness yet also with great pride, that I officially hand over the mace into the safe keeping of town council for the mace to be displayed for all to see.’

The Mace was presented to Skipton Town Council Mayor who stated, ‘I felt honoured to present the title of Honorary Freeman of the town to Harry Dowson on behalf of Skipton Town Council and receive the Mace from president of The Royal British Legion Barry Blood into the keeping of Skipton Town Council it was a very special evening attended by our special guest the Deputy Lieutenant ... it was our first civic event for many years, and I felt very proud to be Mayor of Skipton leading this historic event.

The joint event was organised by Skipton Town Council chief officer, Louie Close who said: “What a very special evening for Harry and the town council. I was very proud of the team who worked very hard to make this civic occasion so memorable and the mace will take pride of place in the council chamber.”