Diaries Through the Decades: Harold Battersby brings world of knowledge to Geneseo

Last week, we left Harold Battersby as he began a new life with his wife Bedjoudi. He was a young man in the English air force with no concept of the adventures ahead.

Bedjoudi, or as Battersby calls her, Betty, was Armenian. During World War I, the Ottoman Empire killed hundreds of thousands of Armenians. Decades later, the Middle East was still politically pressurized. Betty and her parents had since moved to Canada, away from the memories and fears of the Old World.

Betty's family welcomed Harold warmly, and though he was of a different culture, he quickly learned their language and customs. "I even sign my name when I'm writing to them with an 'ian,' which makes them happy because that [means] 'son of,'" he said. After seeing her family and knowing their history, Harold made a resolution. "I had promised my wife I would try to take her to her father's birthplace," he said.

Battersby and Betty traveled to England after World War II ended. He became a foreign correspondent for the Surrey Times, which allowed him and Betty to travel around Europe. While he reported from France, Italy and other locations around western Europe, she traveled to Turkey where she waited until he could meet her. During their years abroad, Harold worked for four different governments in various capacities: those of England, America, Greece and Turkey.

Battersby said that his time with the Turkish government was the touchstone he and Betty needed to find their way back to her roots, and it came through his amazing capacity for learning languages. He lists them casually, as a matter of course - Turkish, Arabic, Armenian, Mongolian, Uzbek and Hebrew, to name a few. The Turkish government made him a translator, which gave him and Betty a greater degree of travel liberties than most foreigners so soon after World War II. Finally, Harold fulfilled his promise, taking his wife to Erzerum in central Turkey where she saw the home of her ancestors and the city where she came from.

In spite of the Armenian genocide committed by the Ottomans, Harold bears no animosity toward the Turks. Part of his philosophy was always to work for peace. "I loved the action; I'll tell you that," he said. "But in the back of my mind it's always for peacefulness."

Battersby said he now speaks out against war, having seen it firsthand. His demeanor is quiet and joyful. And, after so many travels, he said he realizes there are good people everywhere.

"I was taught the Ten Commandments by my grandmother," Battersby said. "I translated Hebrew and it was the same. I translated Arabic and it was the same. But in Arabic, you can luckily have three wives," he said, laughing. "All people are human and in every race, there are good people."

In time, Battersby and Betty made their way back to North America where he began his formal education. After some time at the University of Toronto, he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Indiana.

Battersby said he received offers to teach in New York City and Detroit, but he chose Geneseo instead. He said the wooded hills reminded him of Guildford, the town in England where he spent his childhood. He taught anthropology and linguistics, concentrating in Uralic and Altaic studies. These regions represent many of the Middle Eastern nations he and Betty traveled through in earlier days. He said his days here were spent in happiness, and peace.

Battersby added that he has been extremely lucky. "I've never thought anything final was going to happen in my life until these days," he said. As he reflected on his life, he said formal education means far less than real experience.

He is a resident of Morgan Estates Assisted Living facility in Geneseo. Though Betty has died, Battersby said he thinks of her every day. "I get up in the morning and I sing a song to myself as I sang to my wife," he said. "'Sing as we go and let the world go by, say goodbye to sorrow.'"