He was also courting a girl called Alice and, had Harold survived the war, they would have married.
Soon after war was declared in 1914 Harold, like thousands of other young men at the time, volunteered for military service. He was a fit, active and athletic young man but, to his amazement and huge disappointment he did not pass the medical and was rejected. Why he was rejected he never knew. Time passed and he again volunteered, this time passed Al.
The first letter in his family's collection is dated April 6th 1916.
He trained at Witley Camp, Milford, Surrey. Milford was the Artillery quarters. Canadian troops were also stationed there and Harold mentions them in his early letters home.
(see photos of it here: http://www.tudorrow.com/202battalion/witley.html)
He wrote the following of his time training:
“I have some good pals here. One comes from Edenfield, one from Littleborough and two from Bury. Walter Smith from Bell Lane and Herbert Henry from Maxwell Street.”
He complains about the rats (“as big as cats”), but generally seems to enjoy the experience. It was probably the first time he had been away from home - so an adventure and a bit like a holiday at this stage.
In one letter he describes seeing a British airship (most unusual in 1916), "like a boat in the sky".
He had a rough time with the vaccination, as did many, he mentions a lot of his pals ended up in hospital as a result while some tried to brave it out. “There is one chap in our hut and his arm is about three times as big as it should be.”
He became Private Harold Taylor 40333, 20th Battalion Regiment, 14 Platoon D Company, British Expeditionary Force.
He soon found himself in France in the midst of the fighting. All his letters are cheerful, saying he is very well and those at home should not worry about him. “In the pink” is a phrase he uses often to describe how hen is. Sometimes, almost as an afterthought, he mentions the trenches or “going up the line" and never gives any hint of how awful it must have been.
Perhaps he saw no point in worrying the folks back home, he would be restricted as to what he could say by the strict censorship in place and he seems to have had a genuine happy and optimistic disposition. This apparently sunny outlook can be put in perspective by reading the history of the Manchester Pals and the awful time they had. The 20th battalion feature prominently.
That Harold was in the thick of the fighting there can be no doubt. He was mentione in despatches in 1917 for "bravery in the field" and awarded the Military Medal for bravery in 1918. In France he was a "runner" carrying messages through the trench network when other methods of communication were impossible. This was reckoned to be one of the most dangerous jobs on the front line, itself almost suicidally dangerous.
March 1918 he writes from Italy, recouperating from an injury, but saying he is "quite well now" and "in the pink". Only complaining about the rain which, reminds him of Bury. He is ready to go back to his batallion and resume fighting.
HAROLD TAYLOR. Born into a Bury, Lancashire working class family in 1894 to Tom and Louisa Taylor. Both Tom and Louisa worked in the cotton mills, as a spinner and a weaver respectively. As was usual for a working class lad in the early nineteen hundred’s, he left school at just thirteen, finding a job at Peel Mills, a large cotton mill in Bury.
Harold liked drawing and despite his brief education, was a good letter writer. His greatest interests were the outdoors and dogs, an enthusiasm he shared with his father. They combined these interests in the sport of Hound Trailing. This involved a man running three or four miles through the countryside trailing a rag soaked in aniseed for the dogs to chase the first back being the winner. There is a photograph (BELOW) of Harold and his father with one of their dogs along with a dog called Truman, proudly displaying the cup Truman had won. He showed this photo to his Captain in 1917 – so proud he was of his dog and his pastime. Harold is on the left, holding the white dog, with his father to the immediate right of him.
Above are a couple of field cards sent home by Harold. They were sent by soldiers when they were at the front with no facilities for writing letters. It was a simple way of letting the folks back home that you were still OK. There are well over a dozen of these in his collection which implies he was in action very frequently. The last card is dated 3/10/18, only nine days before he was killed.
Upon being injured he was taken to Casualty Clearing Station 41 in Roisel where Sister-in-Charge M.Aitken T.F.N.S. kindly wrote a letter to his family to tell them about his condition "severe woumds of arm and leg", so badly injured was Harold she felt the need to write to them immediately. She wrote again the following day to tell them he had died at 4:40pm that day. This act of kindness, that she took the time to write these two letters and gave as much detail as she possibly could, has not been forgotten by Harold's family. He was 24 years old.
Harold is buried in Roisel Communal Cemetry. His Grave Reference is: II. A. 9. Roisel is east of Peronne and according to Wikipedia "a commune in the Somme department in Picardie in northern France." The cemetery is small by the standards of French War Graves. All the men, English, Commonwealth and German were killed only a matter of weeks before the end of the war.
A sad epilogue to this tragic story, happened when Harold Taylor's medals were stolen from his parent's house while they were at church one Sunday. We tracked them down here: Lot 474 June 4th 2008: Bosleys http://www.bosleys.net/b70/medals.html
"474 20th Bn (5th City Pals Bn) Manchester Regiment Casualty Military Medal Group of Three.
Awarded to 40333 Private Harold Taylor, who was awarded the MM posthumously in November 1918. Comprising: Military Medal “Pte 20/Manch.R.”, British War Medal, Victory Medal “Pte Manch R”. GC. (£600 - £800)
Private Harold Taylor a native of Chesham Bury Lancashire and died of wounds on the 12th October 1918, whilst serving with the 20th Bn Manchester Regiment one of the Pals Battalion raised as the 5th City Bn in 1914. He is buried in the Roisel Communal Cemetery Extension France. The Battalion War Diary states MM Awarded Nov 1918 Posthumously Gazetted 17th June 1919”.
If anyone would like to help recover the stolen medals for his family or find out what Harold received the Military Medal for, his family would be very grateful. You can get in touch with us via the Contact Page.
A Soldier's Things:
Photos ABOVE & BELOW RIGHT: His sewing kit - returned after his death as was his cigarette case BELOW.
Note all the dints on the back. Opening it up, there were still small remnants of tobacco almost 100 years on.