Meet Chelsea Pensioner Barry Harman

29th February 2024

Chelsea Pensioner Barry Harman in scarlet uniform
Chelsea Pensioner, Barry, enlisted in the Army in November 1964. Initially badged to the Royal Dragoons until 1969, when it amalgamated to the Blues and Royals. 

Barry’s journey through the ranks in the British Army spans over two decades and was marked by service in some challenging conflicts, including Cyprus and Northern Ireland. Barry shares more on his time in the Army and life in retirement as a Chelsea Pensioner. 

At 18, Barry joined the Army…

London boy Barry spent his early years of life growing up in Hackney. However, at the age of five, his family relocated to Sussex where they moved from place to place around the South coast. 

At the age of 18 and unsure what he wanted to do, he ended up visiting the Army Recruiting Office. Barry never looked back…

Soldiers in front of Blues and Royals sign in Jamaica

“I was working in a company building electric pylons, and we finished the line, but I didn’t want to go on with that. I was only 18 and I moved back home with my parents and was looking for a job. There were hundreds of jobs around then in those days, but I just couldn’t get what I wanted." 

"One Monday, I went into the Army recruiting office. Thursday I was in Catterick. It happened so quickly.” 

“I always remember on the Wednesday night; I got home and my dad, asked me if I got a job yet. I said, no, I don’t want one now! He asked why and I said I’ve joined the Army. I leave at seven tomorrow morning. He said to me don’t expect a cup of tea in bed in the Army. My very first morning in the Army, I got a cup of tea in bed. It’s a tradition in some regiments where they go around and wake everybody up and give ‘em a cup of tea called gunfire. We used to do it in the Royals to celebrate Waterloo Day.”

On Parade

Soldier leaning on a car carrying centurion tank
In 1964, Barry started his initial basic training which lasted for approximately four weeks. He then went into trade training and trained as a gunner in the centurion tank. It was March 1965, he joined the Regiment in Germany.

“I joined the Regiment in Germany. That was quite interesting because the first thing we had to do straight away was get the tanks ready and get everybody ready for the big parade of the year. For when the Queen came out to Germany. And we did it, the biggest parade since the war. It was absolutely fantastic!”

Due to starting in the tank regiment and spending a lot of his time on Ferret scout cars, Barry’s time in the Army would also see him go on to complete tours in Northern Ireland and Cyprus. 

Military Bloodline

The Army was not unfamiliar to Barry as most of his family share a military background.  

Black and white photograph of a man and woman

“Both Grandfathers served in the First World War. My Dad went through all the war. He went through the top of North Africa and back again, El-Alamein and then Italy. When he got brought back to the UK, the Army transferred him to get ready to go to Normandy. They transferred him to Dorsetshire Regiment, but he was wounded at Caen, so he was brought back and spent the rest of his Army service as a Prisoner of War guard.”

“He met my mother at one of the RAF stations in the South of England. She was in the Royal Air Force. My sister too; she joined the RAF in the early 60s.” 

Initially, Barry joined the Royal Dragoons. The regiment was then merged and became the Blues and Royals in 1969. He served for a total of 22 years in the British Army. 

“I joined in 1964 and two of my brothers also followed suit. One of them was the same regiment as me. He was in the Royal Dragoons, but he had to transfer on amalgamation. I can always remember I was in Cyprus, and the first day there we were told we had to go up to the airport because there was the UN presentation of medals on that day. When I got up there, it was raining and freezing cold. It was about March or April time, and we went inside the now disused airport building. I felt a tap on my shoulder, and it was my youngest brother. He had just received his medal!”

Army Championships 

“I developed a taste for skiing. Shortly after I joined, I was asked to go down to Bavaria to see if I could learn what we called cross country skiing. It turned out I was quite good at it, so I was put in the regiment ski team. It just took off from there.”

Finding a passion for skiing, it wasn’t long before Barry was competing…

Four men stood in a line skiing at the Army Championships for cross-country skiing

“One of my greatest achievements was taking part in the Army Championships in Austria. I think at the time they called it the British Championships because no one else did Cross Country skiing. What we did, especially in patrol races, was the four one. Today’s modern biathlon where they ski and shoot. That’s exactly what we did as a team. But we used service rifles.”

“I carried that on in later years and became an instructor. I spent a lot of time in Norway. I applied for the winter survival course, and they asked me back for the summer as an incremental instructor. That involved rock climbing, mountaineering. I’d never done that before, but they offered to teach me, and I thought why not? I went to the top of Mont Blanc – we took about 30 novices up there. That was a fantastic experience.”

“I used to teach winter survival. Mainly cross-country skiing and I got the chance to do mountaineering across Hardangervidda three times – Europe’s largest plateau! Once in the winter and twice in the summer, completed that. That was a big achievement.” 

“I had a good life in the Army. Met a lot of people and stay in touch with them to this day. They’re lifelong friends!”

New Ventures 

“When I came out of the Army, I got a job in security. I started as a Security Officer – it was a huge factory making cranes. By the time it closed down, I was Head of Security and had been a Fire Officer, Safety Officer, and Training Coordinator. I used to teach fork truck driving and crane driving in the training school too. After that, I was training young people between 18 to 24 to get a job. A lot of them, we had to teach to read and write but it was very rewarding work.” 

Chelsea Pensioner Barry Harman in blues uniform

“I joined the Royal Hospital in 2022. I was with my partner for 20 years. Sadly, she died suddenly, and I was on my own. That was difficult.

"It was already in my mind to join the Hospital because I knew about this place. I used to come here in the 90’s. So, I sent off my forms one day and the rest is history.”

Since joining the Royal Hospital Chelsea, Barry has been an active member of the community. 

“I’m a member of the pace sticking team. That was never my thing growing up, but I thoroughly enjoy it now. It is quite sore on the hands, especially now we do it in gloves. For now, we pour water over and that gives you a bit of grip on the stick. But in this weather, it is freezing!”

Discovering Music

In addition to the pace sticking team, Barry also participates in the Chelsea Pensioners singing group. 

“When I was living on my own before, I wasn’t talking to anybody. Eventually, I lost my voice completely! I was having therapy to work on that. But that stopped when I came here. I remember it was at the Chelsea Flower show last year, I sat next to Elaine who runs the singing group. She said why don’t you come down and try it? Two weeks later, I plucked up the courage to go and I’ve been singing ever since.” 

“I think my highlight was when we performed at St. James’ Palace. We sang the national anthem for Princess Anne. That was spectacular!”

“I thoroughly enjoy being here. I’ve done some fantastic things and I’m sure there’s more to come!”

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