A war veteran, former Argus journalist and stalwart of Caerleon and Newport life has died at the age of 97. MARTIN WADE recalls the life of Henry West.

BORN in 1920 Henry grew up as storm clouds were gathering over Europe, but he had the chance to visit the eye of that storm when he went to Germany in 1936.

The teenager sailed from Southampton with fellow-pupils from Newport High School on a visit to Germany which was then under Nazi control. It was there that he saw someone who would change the course of his life and millions of others. Friend and former colleague Leslie Davies recalls: “His group had pulled into Cologne railway station”. They got out of the train and saw a crowd on another platform. The crowd was gathered round a figure who was already infamous - Adolf Hitler. Henry would later recall: “I never did like the look of him.”

Hitler’s actions would see our country plunged into war and Henry enlisted in 1939 to join the fight against the foe led by the man he saw on that Cologne platform.

Henry joined the RAF and was posted to RAF Cosford where he trained as an aircraft mechanic. He specialised on the Rolls Royce Merlin engine which famously powered the Spitfire, Hurricane and the Mosquito. He served with Number 25 Squadron a night fighter unit protecting the east coast. Of all the aircraft he worked on - the Mosquito was his favourite, his son Tim recalls. “He knew the Merlin engine inside out”, but he also knew how to patch up the ‘wooden wonder’”. The twin-engined fighter-bomber was made of plywood and was exceptionally fast. “The aircrew valued highly the work he did to keep them in the air” Tim says.

After the war he became an active member of the squadron association. “He kept in touch with many of the ex- members of the unit and wrote for the squadron newsletter” Tim says.

His interest in all things airborne continued after he left the air force when he wrote reviews of aviation books under the pen-name ‘Ubique’.

As well as keeping its aircraft fighting in the air, Henry fought on the ground as a flyweight boxer for the RAF. His daughter Angela says: “He was only knee-high to a grasshopper - but he was feisty.”

That feistiness was to show itself many years later in his long service with the Royal British Legion in Caerleon.

In November 2015, just days before the Caerleon Remembrance parade was due to take place, Henry and the rest of the local RBL were told they must find public liability insurance for the event.

Ever the campaigning journalist, Henry took the story to his old paper. He told the Argus: “The question of this insurance has never raised its ugly head before but I think health and safety culture has a great deal to do with it.

“It’s very sad because all of Caerleon turns out for the parade and in the last few years it has been led by the drums of our air cadets.”

Henry’s campaign was a success and local businessman Bob Clark offered to pay the costs and a shorter parade went ahead.

“He took part in the Poppy Appeal for 50 years” Angela recalls “and he was chairman of the Caerleon branch of the Royal British Legion. “He would organise the wreaths and all the collectors would come to our house to count the money from the tins.”

As the members of the Caerleon branch grew fewer, the branch folded 2017 and the standard was laid up in St Cadoc’s church. “He was very sad to see that happen - but there were only three people in the branch left” Tim says. But on the day the standard was laid at the church, Henry was there - ramrod straight and proud to do his duty for the Legion one last time.

Henry was demobilised in 1946 and later would write another chapter in his life when he began a long and distinguished career in journalism. He joined the Monmouthshire Beacon as a trainee reporter in 1947 before joining the South Wales Argus in 1950. He later became a sub-editor before joining the Western Mail and Echo in Cardiff in 1963 where he later became chief librarian.

He was also Air correspondent for both the Argus and the Western Mail and South Wales Echo.

Henry’s son Tim remembers how Henry would be called at any time of day as news broke. “There was a fire in Somerton one night and dad got a phone call at our house on Tennyson Road to get down there as quickly as possible. So, using his company vehicle - or his bike - he cycled off into the night to cover it. I remember peering out of the window as a small boy watching him go. I could see the flames from our house.”

There were clearly some interesting perks to being a journalist in the 1960s, because it led to Henry being chosen to sit on the judging panel for the 1969 Eurovision Song Contest. Tim recalls that his dad told him it was hosted by a very young newsreader - one Michael Aspel. ‘Boom Bang-a-Bang’ sung by Lulu won, although it shared the title with three other songs, from Spain, the Netherlands and France as they all had 18 votes each.

Henry retired in 1985 and outside of work, he was a leading member of the Newport Probus club for 30 years. He was awarded for his long service in 2017 when, at 97 years of age, he was the oldest still-serving member of all the UK’s Probus societies. A former president, he gave talks to the club on subjects including his beloved Scilly Isles. His daughter Angela recalls how he loved the sea, the peace and the tranquillity of the islands. “We went there for his 90th birthday and he opened his cards on the beach.”

He gave talks too on the engineering works of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Leslie Davies recalls the enthusiasm he gave to the subject. “It was one of his passions” he says. His love of steam saw Henry become an early member of the Monmouthshire Railway Society. He organised many trips to travel on preserved steam engines and was still enjoying these excursions until recently. Daughter Angela recalls how he went on the Shakespeare Express steam train from Stratford-upon-Avon for his 97th birthday last year. “He went up on the footplate of the engine and they all treated him like a VIP” she says.

He repeated his talk on Brunel to the St Nicholas Railway Society in Staffordshire. Son Tim recalls: “At the age of 90, he presented for over an hour without notes and enthralled the audience. He was full of passion and enthusiasm and was still mentally sharp until the end.” So impressed were they that they invited Henry back when presenter of Great Railway Journeys and noted train buff, Michael Portillo came to visit the society. “He had a long chat with Michael – really they ended up interviewing eachother”.

Henry remained a stickler for grammar and punctuation, as all sub-editors should be and his handwriting was immaculate. Tim admits that he didn’t get on with more modern methods of communication like e-mail. “We got him an iPad for his 90th birthday” Tim recalls. “My daughter set up an e-mail account for him, but he soon said how he was getting messages from young Russian girls and said: ‘You wouldn’t believe what they’re offering!’ He said: ‘Even if I could afford the air fare, I wouldn’t know what to do when I go there!’”

There are other groups in Newport and Gwent who remember Henry and will miss him. He was one of those who founded Caerleon Rugby Club in 1970 and was chairman of the club and a life member. He sang too in St Woolos Cathedral choir and Caerleon church choir, although Tim also remembers he played the violin - badly. “He used to say the only musical thing in the house was the Singer sewing machine”. He was a great supporter of the RNLI and was their treasurer for many years and ran their Caerleon appeal.

Tim says simply: “He looked back with fondness on his past and the friends he made. He meant so much to so many people and he will be sorely missed.”

Henry leaves a daughter Angela and son Timothy. He was a much-loved ‘Grandpa Henry’ to Kirsty, Jenny, Ben, Rhiannon, Phillip and Andrew. Henry’s beloved wife Mary died two years ago and they had been married since 1949. His daughter Jeanette died in 2011.

His funeral is at 11.30am on Wednesday Jan 17th at St Cadoc’s church in Caerleon.