My friend Harry Hilton, who has died aged 100, was a probation officer who began his work in Birmingham and ended up as chief probation officer for south-east London.
Harry was born in Dartford, and after attending Dartford grammar school started work in interior design just before the outbreak of the second world war. During the war he was called up as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and survived the torpedoing of his ship, HMS Birmingham, in the Mediterranean. Badly damaged, it limped into Alexandria but with the loss of around 70 men. Later he was posted to naval command in India with an office adjacent to the home of Mahatma Gandhi. He spoke of his meetings with the great man and they proved to be a strong influence on his life.
After the war Harry took a social studies course at the London School of Economics and then went on to probation training. After five years as a probation officer in Birmingham he moved to Surrey, where he became a senior probation officer with responsibility for an area covering some of the most deprived areas of south London as well as its more affluent suburbs. A cluster of old-style mental hospitals also featured strongly in his work.
Harry’s supportive and imaginative style was much appreciated by those who worked with him, and several members of his team in Surrey progressed to leading positions in the national probation service. He moved on to become chief probation officer of the south-east London service until retiring in 1983.
Throughout his life Harry gave his time generously to organisations in the local community, including Round Table, Rotary and the church. For nearly 40 years he had been a Scout leader and he was deeply committed to that movement.
Through his local church and the Round Table he played an active part in helping to settle families of Vietnamese refugees in London during the 1970s. He maintained his contact with many of them until the end of his life, and a number of Vietnamese friends attended the celebration of his 100th birthday. For Harry, as a bachelor, they became part of his extended family.
He was a sensitive, compassionate and gentle man who had enormous integrity. His life reflected an outstanding commitment to public service.