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Arthur De' Alba William Harris MBE: A lifetime of dedication to the community

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: May 15, 2014

The tower of St Mary's Church, in East Chinnock. In 1938 at the age of just 15 Mr Harris started playing the organ at the church, and he also went on to become a baritone in the choir. In 2011, after 73 years, he retired as the church organist

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The funeral service of the late Arthur De' Alba William Harris MBE took place at East Chinnock Church on Friday, April 25.

The funeral was conducted by the Reverend David Wilson. Ken Sherring played the organ, Robin Carpenter sang the solo I know that my Redeemer liveth. The choir sang Psalm 121. Tributes were made by Beth Farrington and Clifford Harris (brother). As a fitting tribute to Mr Harris the bells rang before and after the service.

Arthur De' Alba William Harris was born in Bridport in 1922 to Cecil and Gertrude Harris. He was the eldest of three children. Aged three, the family moved to West Coker where Cecil ran a dairy farm, providing Yeovil with its first bottled milk. Arthur attended school at West Coker and it was at West Coker Chapel that he learnt to play the organ. In 1938 at the age of just 15 he started playing the organ at East Chinnock Church, he also sang baritone in the choir.

The family then moved to East Chinnock. After his school years he took an apprenticeship with Petters Ltd (before they were sold to Westlands in 1939). As a fitter he was exempt from joining up and therefore joined the Home Guard. In 1943 he completed his apprenticeship. In later years at Westlands he was one of the workers' representatives on the Westlands Pension Board.

In 1945 Arthur married Muriel Heal from Coker Hill, their wedding was the first to take place at West Coker Chapel. They had six children – Gillian, Ruth, Marion, Hugh (Hag), Trevor and Norah. Theirs was a devoted marriage which lasted until just one week before their golden wedding anniversary with the death of Muriel.

In 1948 he joined the Sport and Youth Club Committee, taking children on sporting activities and being the first-aider at local football matches. Arthur was a member of East Chinnock Village Hall Management Committee and in later years was made an honorary member. He was also on the Committee for Feoffees, distributing Christmas boxes and providing assistance for the elderly and infirm.

Arthur was a governor of Preston School and a member of the East Chinnock PCC. He also assisted in village fetes, and flower shows, was a member of the gardening club and enjoyed his flowers and roses. Arthur was made church warden and with Muriel they cleaned the church for many years. Arthur was a supporter of The East Chinnock Under 5s Playgroup and often dressed up as Postman Pat or Father Christmas for the children.

The church was an integral part of his life and he was one of only a few people to be a member of The Church of England and Methodist Chapel. Arthur was elected to serve on the parish council and rural district council.

His dedication to village life and the church was honoured in 1993 when he attended Wells Cathedral to collect Maundy Money from the Queen. And in May 2004 he received his MBE from Prince Charles for service to the community. In 2011 after 73 years of organ playing Arthur retired from East Chinnock Church. In his later years he attended the Lighthouse Lunches at The Bible Christian Chapel in Haselbury Plucknett, these lunches provided funds for missionaries. Produce was bought and sold and on one occasion Arthur found someone who liked pilchards – every lunch after that he bought a tin of pilchards which he knew could be sold to this person.

One of Arthur's interests was stamp collecting which he started as a boy, his collection grew until he stopped in 2012. In October 2013 he was made an honorary member of the Yeovil and District Philatelic Society. Latterly Arthur moved into the Fern's Nursing Home in Yeovil.

He died on April 14, aged 91. Arthur leaves behind six children, 13 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.

As Arthur had made a bequest to East Chinnock Church, the donations were collected for St Margaret's Yeovil Hospice Appeal and The Fern's Nursing Home, Yeovil.

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