Army and RAF veteran is back in Harborough after being stuck in Australia for four months
Stewart Harrison, 73, went out there to see his friend - but was stuck there in lockdown when Covid-19 struck
A Royal British Legion chief has just flown home to Market Harborough after being locked down in Australia for four months.
Stewart Harrison, 73, made the 9,000-mile trip to Perth in Western Australia on Saturday March 7 to see his old RAF mate Alan Henshaw, 73, for four weeks.
But then the Covid-19 crisis gatecrashed the world stage, striking every continent.
And as a result Stewart is only now sleeping in his own bed again at his home in Naseby Square on Market Harborough’s southern estate an astonishing 16 weeks later.
Stewart, who’s chairman of the town’s Royal British Legion (RBL), told the Harborough Mail: “I didn’t see this coming when I left England behind in the spring!
“I’ve had a sensational time with Alan and his Aussie wife Alison.
“But it’s such a huge relief to be back in good old Market Harborough after being away for so long.”
The RAF and army veteran added: “I’m still in quarantine at the moment.
“But it’s going to be such a thrill to see my family here again in Market Harborough.
“I’ve really missed my son and daughter and my two grandchildren – I can’t wait to give them all a big hug.”
Stewart jetted off from Heathrow to go and see Alan and Alison back in March after setting up the once-in-a-lifetime break for months.
“I checked with the Foreign Office about the coronavirus twice before flying out and they told me I’d be fine.
“I’ve known Alan for almost 60 years after growing up in Winchcombe, Gloucestershire.
“We joined the RAF together on September 25, 1963 when we were just 15, rookies straight out of school,” said the father-of-two.
“We were both sent off to train together and serve at RAF Hereford.
“We had so many great times together in uniform and have so many unforgettable memories to look back on and laugh about.
“I was a clerk and joined the Royal Army Ordinance Corps as a corporal eight years later.
“Alan went on to become a squadron leader in the RAF – and we’ve kept in touch ever since.”
Stewart went to stay with Alan and Alison at their home in Toodyay, near Perth, smack bang in the middle of Western Australia’s sprawling Wheatbelt.
“Alan emigrated in 1998 and has never looked back – he’s a naturalised Aussie now.
“He ran the local racetrack in Toodyay and delivered private aircraft all over the region after getting his pilot’s licence,” said the RBL stalwart.
“We spent March driving all over Western Australia exploring the Bush.
“I was surprised by how many trees and wild flowers there were but it was very hot, often topping 100F, and they really struggle for water.
“It rained just before I left last week – that was the first time they’d had rain out there since July 2019!
“We stayed in holiday huts – and the distances between settlements and communities were just huge, many hundreds of miles.
“We were into the third week of our epic Aussie road trip when the whole world was turned upside down.
“We were at the top seaside resort of Monkey Mia – which was stunning – when everything was suddenly shut down as Covid-19 struck.
“And we were a 12-hour drive from Alan’s home.
“It was a hell of a journey back to Toodyay as the only outlets open were petrol stations.
“I was due to fly back to the UK with Emirates on Saturday April 4.
“That was scrapped pretty quickly.
“I was then told to pack my bags to come home on Friday May 1 but that was cancelled too – and I had no idea when I would be able to leave.
“We were allowed to travel within the Wheatbelt.
“But the police and army set up hard checkpoints and roadblocks to make sure no one left their area.
“And anyone who strayed too far faced being fined $25,000 so they weren’t messing about.
“I headed out for a walk every morning and sat in the park and I got to know a lot of the locals, who were always happy to talk.
“It’s an incredible country and the people are amazing.”
Stewart was finally put ahead on red alert to fly out and bid farewell to his showstopping stay Down Under after an extraordinary four months.
“I finally flew out of Perth at 10pm local time on Thursday July 2.
“We stopped off at Dubai and touched down at Heathrow at 12.25pm on Friday July 3,” said the ex-serviceman and retired businessman.
“It was an exhausting 18-hour trip taking into account the seven-hour time difference.
“I was tip top going out but the flight and the jetlag has really smashed me coming back – I just keep nodding off!
“I had a phenomenal time out there with Alan, Alison and their family – and I’ll never be able to thank them enough for looking after me so well.
“But I did obviously feel as if I was imposing on them as the weeks ground on with no end on sight.
“It means so much to get back but there are far worse places on this earth to be locked down for 16 weeks than Western Australia.”
Stewart’s now ecstatic to be within days of being reunited with his daughter Clare, 43, son Mark, 39, grandson Harry, 16, and grand-daughter Molly, nine.
“They all live close to me here in Market Harborough.
“We are within touching distance but I’ve had to keep my distance as I self-isolate,” said Stewart.
“I’m just so excited at the thought of meeting up again and catching up after all this time.
“Molly’s been FaceTiming me all the time which has been massive.
“Thank God for the wonders of modern technology, keeping us all in touch while thousands of miles apart.
“I’ve also got to catch up with a heck of a lot of work for the Royal British Legion so the next few weeks are going to be hectic.
“But one thing I do know for sure.
“I’m never going to forget the unbelievable four months I spent holed up and locked down with my old RAF buddy and best mate Alan on the other side of the world!”