Home > Community News > Harold Isaac Warren

As previously reported our dear friend and NHC member, Harold Warren sadly passed away on 6th February 2018 aged 98. This week at a large gathering of congregants, his family and friends attended his funeral service conducted by his close friend our retired Minister Alex Bennett at the Woodland Burial grounds at Colney.

The traditional Jewish Burial prayers were said and we all read Psalm 23 together before reciting of the Mourners Kaddish.  Alex Bennett spoke on behalf of the Jewish Community of the warm, gentle and humorous man that we all knew and loved, and of his particular friendship with Harold.

Harold’s daughter, Debbie Warren Green gave a lovely and moving tribute entitled “The Harold I Knew” to her father and we are privileged to be able to publish it on our community website (see below).  It we learn much about Harold’s life before he became a NHC member and of particular interest was Harold’s penchant and talent as a performer entertaining troops during and after the war.  Debbie has kindly shared some fascinating photographs of her father performing on stage.  I particularly like the photo of Harold with Miss USA.

THE HAROLD I KNEW

Harold was my dad and has been there my entire life. Dad loved people, and people loved him, as we can all see by the number of people here today to honour him. When I was a child, dad would frequently disappear for hours, and he would be down the road talking to someone. He loved to talk and he would talk to anyone. That way he got to know a lot of people. He loved playing snooker, and watching snooker, cricket and especially tennis on the television. Who can forget his home made wine that he took regularly to the Tuesday lunch club and to the synagogue? And of course, his pots of flowers and hanging baskets in the summer were his pride and joy.

Dad was an entertainer at heart. During the war years he was stationed at Ilfracombe, and helped entertain the troops and the visiting public. He teamed up with an army friend, “Mo” Fordham, as Hi and Mo, appearing as swing singers, and impersonators of Flanagan and Allen and the Western Brothers. He wrote comedy sketches and appeared in a parody of ITMA (It’s that man again, a comedy radio programme starring Tommy Hanley) as ITSMA (it’s that Sergeant-Major again). When he was courting my mother just after the war, he was working in London and she was teaching in Sheringham. They corresponded daily, and he would write witty poems in his letters to her. Here is one of them:

“Stone walls do not a prison make, Stone bottles can’t be cuddled, Stone hearts are simple things to break, Stone me I am befuddled!”

He loved making people laugh and was always entertaining with his quick wit. One of my cousins wrote on my Facebook page, “He made me laugh as a boy”. As a child I remember him getting all of my cousins from my mother’s side together at Christmas at our big bungalow in Gorleston. We all played musical instruments of some sort, so he would form an orchestra and get us playing carols and Christmas songs which he would record on his tape to tape deck to play to my grandparents on Christmas Day. He was always proud of my musical success, and would regularly record any concerts I was in.

Gorleston has an annual music festival which was based at St.Andrews Church. In 1976 he was voted in as Treasurer, a job he did for a few years, raising laughs at his annual Honorary Treasurers report. The irony never escaped him that he, a Jewish boy from the West End of London, should become the Treasurer of a church festival.

But as with many entertainers, there was another side to Dad. He suffered frequently from anxiety and depression, especially during the sixties and seventies, which caused him to retire from his career in the Customs and Excise. This side of him was very difficult for other people to deal with. Unfortunately his worries, real or imagined, dogged him all his life.

I was always fascinated by my Jewish heritage, although I knew very little about it, and was not brought up Jewish as my mother was a Gentile, a non-Jew. Dad was born in London from 2 families of immigrants from Poland, who came to Britain in the late 1880’s. Dad’s father’s name was Waranovsky which he changed by deed poll in 1935, when dad was 16. He always joked that they took the Ovsky Ovsky. In looking through old documents for the deed poll for the registrar, I came across his father’s naturalisation certificate which indicated that dad’s grandparents were actually Russian, not Polish!

Dad had a fairly strict Jewish upbringing, so much so that when his mother died when he was 13, he and his brother had to attend the synagogue, every morning and every evening for 12 months to say the “Mourners’ Kaddish”. So it was all the more shocking and courageous that he should marry my mother, a non-Jew, whose father was a Methodist lay preacher. He must have loved her very much to make that sacrifice. I remember as a child visiting his Auntie Bluma in London, and later her daughter Edna and her family. I always hoped it would be cold fried fish for lunch, because it was delicious.

Dad was absolutely devoted to my mother for 50 years until her death in 1999. It was then that he found the courage yet again to join the Norwich synagogue after an absence of half a century. He became a stalwart and attended regularly until his health started failing. Here he found many friends and much support which helped him through the next nearly 20 years, for which I am very grateful. In the words of Maureen and Barry Leveton, “Harold’s passing is a great loss to us and to our small community. We always loved chatting to him. He always had something interesting to say. We were glad that he was able to celebrate his last birthday with us, which we know he enjoyed, and we all loved him.” In his own words, from his speech at his 95th birthday kiddush, “People often ask me, what is the secret of your long life? I usually reply with the old adage, a creaking gate lasts longest. The secret is also due to keeping active and having longlasting friendships. And also the company and love I have found here at the shul, and my weekly Shabbos rejuvenation here.”

Today should not be a sad day. It should be a celebration of a life that spanned nearly a century. He touched many people’s lives. In the words of his cleaners, “He was much respected by all of us and will be sorely missed. He was a one-off. We will always smile whenever talcum powder is used.” As for me, I want to think of him playing snooker with his old pal, Alan Barham, on that great snooker table in the sky, or singing “Underneath the Arches” with Mo, or striding down Oxford Street with my Mum on his arm, both wreathed in smiles.

Debbie Warren Green