Harold Battersby's upbringing in England set him on a journey that would eventually lead to adventure, intrigue and love.
When Battersby was a boy, his grandfather advised him to become a police officer in India. Harold agreed and proceeded to learn Hindustani, the native language. When he presented himself to the enlistment station, the officer sent him away for being too young. This became the pattern of Harold's life: unbridled effort mixed with daring ambition and a healthy dose of what he calls luck.
Battersby grew up in Guildford, Surrey - a county southwest of London, England. It was ideal for him, he said, because of its castles, swamps, ruins, cathedrals and quarantine hospital, which he was always trying to break into and explore. He remembers the original Roman road in the village that was still very much intact when he was a boy. With these surroundings, a keen curiosity grew inside of him.
As Battersby matured, his father and mother taught him the meaning of hard work. With his venture to India effectively stalled, he settled for delivering newspapers and organizing calendars and catalogues for a seed vendor. He also worked for the owner of the million-dollar Borax & Chemicals Company; the owner personally offered him a position in California. Battersby said he may have taken it had he not secretly joined the Royal Air Force in the heat of World War II.
As he looked back on his time in the air crew, Battersby recalled, "The most horrible thing about the Air Force was the food: fish. Oh, I hate fish to this day." But he took the bad with the good. Battersby was later transferred to Canada. One day he went walking on his own over the fields to a small café perched atop a cliff. "There was this young lady standing there," he reminisces. "Well, I didn't talk to her. I went back to the aerodrome and said, 'I'm getting married.'"
Upon his return to the café, Battersby noticed the same girl, looking distressed this time --she had lost a bracelet over the cliff's edge. Battersby promptly scaled the verge in search of it, but search as he did, he couldn't find it. She hiked through the underbrush and met him on the face of the embankment. As he apologized, she spied it at his feet. "Having to help her up the cliff was good," he said. "And that was the beginning of 64 years of a great life."
As this term's first Diaries Through the Decades, we will be telling the rest of Battersby's story in an unprecedented second installment. Next time, read about his adventures in Turkey and Armenia, how he came to teach at our very own Geneseo and what advice he has to give us, the youth of the modern age.