Harold Austin was born in 1888, the son of Frederick Austin, founder of the Faversham News in 1883. His parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were all from East Kent.
He served his apprenticeship as a printer in London and succeeded his father as proprietor until 1938 when the paper was sold to the owners of the ‘Ham and High’ (Hampstead and Highgate Express. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he had a wool and fancy goods shop at 5 East Street (now Carspot) where he, his wife Hilda and daughters Mary and Evelyn lived above the shop.
In June 1940 Harold Austin started to keep a diary which eventually ran into three volumes, ending, without explanation, in February 1944. The diary, in three octavo duplicate books and mainly written in pencil, was discovered, and read for the first time in 1984 by his daughter Evelyn, who presented it to the Faversham Society.
From the diary entries, Harold Austin emerges as a conventional, somewhat staid, middle-aged man, whose main interest outside his family and business would appear to have been golf (at which, by his own admission, he was not a particularly good player).
The period of the Battle of Britain, fought mainly in the skies above Kent and the South-East, is chronicled with a to-the-minute regard for the times and duration of the almost continuous air-raids. From 1941 onward the great events of the war become a backdrop to the concerns of a small shopkeeper, struggling to keep home and business going in the face of wartime restrictions and shortages.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the diary is how he found time between managing two shops and (later) the Faversham News printing works, gardening and night-time fire watching, to keep up the entries. There are no heroics, just a record of a facet of the war, which has seldom, if at all, been chronicled but which was the experience of many such as Harold Austin.
When he died in April 1961 he was living at Fairfield, Preston Lane. He had served as President of the Chamber of Trade and a churchwarden and PCC Treasurer at Faversham Parish Church. His life was marked by the integrity, humility and honesty upon which the life of every healthy community depended, said the Rev E E Stanton, at his funeral.
Eve (as she was generally known) the last survivor of Harold Austin’s children, died on Christmas Day 1993. She had joined the Faversham Society on its formation in 1962 and became one of its keenest and most helpful supporters. She had continued her father’s wool shop business and long before the society owned premises of its own gave it ‘High Street’ presence by providing it with a noticeboard in the entrance to her shop.
You can read the diary for yourself by clicking the links at the top of this page. Or you can download all the pages here FP68 Harold Austin War Diary - FREE DOWNLOAD
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