As a very small boy on the family farm in Ashley, Cheshire, he observed one day that some new ducklings took to the water in a nearby duck pond with entire confidence. So he considered that some newly hatched chicks ought to be able to do likewise, with, of course, a little assistance from himself.
His mother's annoyance was quite understandable when she discovered that all her prize chicks had been drowned. His enterprise on that occasion was obviously misplaced!
At times his older brothers went for a swim in the nearby Bollin River. In the secluded environment they elected to go native, particularly as their ventures were mostly after dark, when they were officially supposed to be asleep in bed.
But there was a large tree conveniently near their bedroom window, and this made a suitable escape route from the upstairs window of the house. It was also an easy return without being detected by father.
Harry was considered too young to be allowed to join them, but he finally persuaded his brothers to let him accompany them. So, at the swimming hole it was off with their clothes and into the water for a jolly good time for an hour or so. Then, once again fully clothed, back to bed.
But fathers are usually wiser than they are often given credit for, and this father was no exception.
He found out what was going on, but decided on a shrewd move to ‘capture’ his culprits. One night he cautiously followed them to the swimming venue, and while they were all in the water he quietly gathered up all their clothes and returned home. What a 'to do' among the boys! There was nothing for it but to walk home naked, where father was awaiting them with a suitable reward for their enterprise.
Harry was quite good scholastically, especially so in Maths. There is no documentation remaining of his school days apart from a certificate for Woodwork (elementary grade), Second Class, awarded by the Union of Lancashire and Cheshire Institutes "for success at the examinations in 1899, School Board Evening Schools, Manchester".
His father had planned a law career for him, but Harry was a keen reader of adventure stories. There were many at that time by such writers as Marryatt, Fenimore Cooper, Walter Scott, Kingston and others.
Among these were exciting stories of the sea which took his fancy. So much so that he decided to join the navy.
Harry's mother, Esther Emma Dixon (1843 - 1923)
He did this without consulting his father or mother. His father was quite cross about it, even offering to "buy him out" of his contract. But he replied that he had "made his bed and would lie on it".
He took up a twelve-year engagement from July 27 1901 until he was discharged in the rank of Petty Officer on August 6th 1913.
Initially he served in sailing ships. He knew every rope and spar in a full-rigged ship.
He put this knowledge to good use in later years in several very fine water-colours of such ships which he painted with meticulous detail. These still survive today in the family.
Unfortunately little is now known of his naval career.
He served in the Persian Gulf and received the Persian Gulf medal. He did relate how on one occasion an Arab in that area picked up a beam, something like a baseball bat, and hit him on the back of the head. He was temporarily knocked out. He had a small lump there for years afterwards. But this episode did not leave any permanent harm.
Harry was in the Pacific during his navy service. At one time he was with a squadron at Samoa, when a big storm blew up. His ship was able to raise sufficient steam to put to sea and escape by virtue of its excellent coal. Several others foundered because they could not raise steam in time.
In his later years of naval service he specialised in torpedo work, rising to the rank of Petty Officer. As torpedoes were used particularly in submarines, it raises the question whether he was ever in that branch of the service, but he never mentioned it if that was so.
During this period he must have been in New Zealand waters at some stage, for after his discharge from the navy he emigrated to New Zealand.
He took a job as a stock hand on a farm in the Waikato. There is record of his working at Churchill, a small township west of Rangiriri.
When the Great War broke out in 1914, Harry rode a horse some one hundred miles to Auckland to join up with the NZ Infantry. He was the 94th volunteer.
He went overseas with the NZ Expeditionary Force. He served at first in Egypt, then in the landing at Gallipoli with the Anzac Corps, rising to the rank of sergeant.
He suffered a gunshot wound in his left arm, and was admitted to hospital in Cairo for transportation to England on June 9, 1915. But he was drafted back to the Middle East Forces later that year.
In later years he experienced a minor paralysis in his left arm and he used to exercise the arm by "finger creeping" up a door post, gradually extending his upward reach in this way.
He was discharged from the NZ Expeditionary Forces on May 1 1916 and transferred to the British Expeditionary Forces, 3rd Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, for further service in Macedonia.
He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant on May 2 1916 and promoted to Lieutenant on July 30, 1916 and to Captain on May 19, 1917. He was Acting Major when discharged from the army on August 22, 1919.
He was mentioned in a despatch from Lt-General G.F. Milne dated October 25 1917 for his service at Salonika. The War office certificate for this, dated March 1 1919, was signed by no less a person than Winston S. Churchill, who was at that time Secretary of State for War.
Harry had been posted back to England during 1918 and was stationed for some months at Cowlarns Camp, near Barrow-in-Furness.
He was on his way to be demobilised when he met his future wife, Gladys Allday, a concert pianist in those silent movies years. They became engaged and were married in the Stratford-le-Bow Church, London, on January 4 1919.
Harry had always been very good at drawing and painting.
One account of his early skill tells that even at infant school he used to draw sketches on his slate. At one time he drew a cartoon caricature of his teacher, for which he received a suitable retribution.
One water-colour, painted when he was 8, shows a soldier mounted on a horse, a highly creditable effort. Some of his earlier works survive in sketch books, either in pencil or pen and ink, or in water-colours, a medium in which he worked almost exclusively in his later years. He left many fine paintings of either original scenes or copies from chocolate box covers or coloured prints of that period. His style was more "photographic" with careful attention to fine detail rather than following the "impressionist" format of contemporaries. This is particularly evident in his sailing ship pictures,
The couple discussed the possibility of staying on in England after their marriage. He wanted to pursue a painting career, while his wife wanted to continue with music. But they realised that with modern art techniques in reproduction and printing in colour coming to the fore, there was little expectation of making a living by that means.
Hence they decided to emigrate to New Zealand.
There is a parchment certificate, dated July 19 1919, issued by "The Parishioners of Ashley to Capt. Harry Erlam, 9th Battn, S. Lancs Regt. in grateful recognition of his services ... during the Great War ... Egypt, Gallipoli, Salonika". The certificate confirms that departure for New Zealand must have been some time after that date. It also reveals that he must have been redrafted from the 3rd to the 9th battalion of the regiment at some stage.
It will be seen that there was quite an age difference between them and moreover Harry had little appreciation of music. However, let it be said that they were very devoted to each other over the years.
They travelled to New Zealand, landing in Auckland on September 17, 1919.
Apparently they moved first to the Whangarei district, where he either bought a farm or took a farm hand position. It was a tremendous change for Gladys and Harry saw the need for some better alternative. So they moved to Auckland, where he was awarded a returned soldier's re-settlement allotment of land, working mainly with dairy cows. The venture failed however, partly because a crop sown for pasture was washed out during one of those heavy rainfalls not uncommon to Auckland. There were no funds for a new sowing, so they left the allotment.
An advertisement for a "magazine keeper" in the Department of Internal Affairs, Explosives Division, specifying a prerequisite of experience with explosives, caught their attention. From 104 applicants Harry got the appointment, which meant a move to Wingatui, south of Dunedin, to take charge of the main explosives storage depot there.
Harry continued there for some eight years. When he was promoted to inspector covering all the South Island, he moved to Wellington. He continued in this role until his untimely death in 1945 at the age of 61, after urgent surgery.
He was a devoted family man, leaving one son, also named Harry, and two daughters. Gladys survived him for a little over 40 years. He never returned to England, but from time to time he kept in touch with the family in Ashley.