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Faith Harris

(1887-1980) –MBE for war work

Keen Falmouth yachtswoman, Faith Harris, was remembered in later years as ‘always in her white-topped cap, navy pleated skirt’ with a telescope under her arm. However in 1917 she went to America as secretary to a ‘Railway Purchasing Mission’ to rebuild Britain’s railways, for which she was awarded an MBE.

Credit: Falmouth History Archive, Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, The Gwavas Collection and Bernie Pettersen, photographer

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There are people in Falmouth who still remember Faith Harris, keen yachtswoman ‘always in her
white-topped cap, navy pleated skirt and telescope’ under her arm, but who now remembers that in 1920 she was awarded an MBE for war work?

Faith was born in 1887 in Rugby, daughter of locomotive engineer C. J. Bowen Cooke.  Her connection with Cornwall began as a child, when her father built a holiday home at St Mawes. In 1908 she married Dr Dudley Harris, physician and surgeon of Falmouth.  His family practice was at Bank Place in Falmouth, where they also lived. By the outbreak of war in 1914 her father was Chief Engineer of the London and North Western Railway.  He had a key role in mobilising the railway companies in the war effort, initially in using railway workshops for the manufacture of artillery and subsequently in reinforcing the military railway network in France.  Meanwhile Faith took an active part in the life of Falmouth as a garrison town, recording in her diary visits, as guest of the commanding officers, to both Pendennis Castle and naval ships in the harbour.

As the war progressed, it became harder to find the materials at home to maintain the aging railway infrastructure and a ‘Railway Purchasing Mission’ was sent to North America by the government.   This was led by C. J. Bowen Cooke and, in July 1917, Faith left her husband and two young daughters (Honor and Loveday) to sail to New York as secretary to the deputation.  Her organisational skills made an immediate impact on at least one of the locomotive works visited, which reported that Mrs Harris ‘would have no difficulty in securing a permanent position with our Company’.     Her father was awarded a CBE in 1918, and in 1920 Faith was made an MBE for her part in the Mission.  C. J. Bowen Cooke died at Falmouth in 1920 and is buried at St Just in Roseland. 

Faith Harris continued to live in Falmouth, in peacetime pursuing her love of sailing, particularly Sunbeam class dinghies.  In 1927 Henry Scott Tuke painted ‘Berthe sailed by Mrs Dudley Harris winning the Oyster at Loe Beach Regatta’.  She was at one time President of Flushing Sailing Club and after the Second World War became a member of the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, when they began to encourage lady dinghy sailors to join.  In later years she was a stalwart member of race committees and in 1963 was given Honorary Life Membership.   Faith was also prominent in the musical life of Falmouth, as a member of the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society and the local Opera Society.   She died in 1980.

Key words: women

Credit: Falmouth History Archive.  Photo of Faith Harris from Royal Cornwall Yacht Club, other images from The Gwavas Collection and Bernie Pettersen, photographer