Kenya believe they’re still best of friends? Harry was my best man out in Nairobi

Bill  and Margaret Bartholomew
Bill and Margaret Bartholomew

WHAT a great surprise it was when William Bartholomew read his copy of the Hartlepool Mail’s Family Roots late last month.

One of the features concerned Harry Brabner who swapped West Hartlepool for the African forests of Kenya.

William has good reason to remember Harry. The very same Harry was his best man when William married his wife Margaret in 1954.

The two men had remarkably similar stories to tell.

As a child, William lived in Union Street which was just around the corner from Hart Street where Harry grew up.

William joined the Kenyan Police and served with them for two years. Harry did the same.

And William got married while he was in Nairobi. Harry found romance in Nairobi as well.

William, now 84 and living in the Easington Road area of town, said: “I last saw him about 20 years ago. He just came on a flying mission and I believe he was working in London at the time”.

The two men were friends from a very early age. Then, when adulthood arrived, William went to serve in the Army for five years and then joined ICI before leaving to join the Kenyan police force.

Six months later, Harry did the same thing, and William said: “It was me who met him at the airport.”

Soon, William was making plans to marry his sweetheart Margaret, and Harry was best man in 1954.

“Margaret was working at a women’s hospital in Nairobi at the time,” said William. “She was a nurse there. We have been married 60 years this year.”

Harry’s life in Hartlepool included time spent as a back row forward for Hartlepool Rovers, from 1946 to 1953. He continued playing in East Africa when he left these shores.

During the Second World War, he spent his time flying Dakotas and in a gliding squadron, dropping supplies in Burma.

Then, he saw service in India, and finished the conflict flying prisoners of war to embarkation points on their way back home.

By 1953, he joined the Kenya police on a two-year contract, and rooted out Mau Mau terrorists. Then he became a civilian in the country and became a purveyor of wines and spirits.

But the one constant in Harry’s life was his love of rugby. He joined the Kenyan Police team which won the Enterprise Cup in 1953 as well as the Nairobi district championship.

He also won several seven-a-side competitions, and was part of an RAF side playing in Nairobi.

Harry also found romance in Africa. He met a Veronica Wilkinson – originally from Sunderland – who was working as a supervisor at the Nairbobi telephone exchange at the time.

Thanks to William for sharing his story with us. Can anyone fill in the blanks.

Contact Chris Cordner on (01429) 239377 or email