Born in Stockport, Harold was the eldest child of Andrew Townley, a postal clerk and Mary Townley. He had two sisters, Dorothy and Hilda and the family lived for many years on Winifred Street, Stockport – first at No. 39 and later at No. 21.
He worked for S & J Watts Ltd, as a salesman, at its warehouse on Portland Street, Manchester (now the Britannia Hotel) and he is commemorated on the Company’s Memorial to 99 of its employees who were killed during the War. The marble plaque is now in the hotel foyer.
In his spare time, Harold was a keen footballer and had long played for Great Moor AFC. He was also a talented musician playing trumpet with the Stockport Silver Band of the London & North Western Railway Ltd. In October 1915, when Harold decided to enlist in the army, he didn’t join up in either Stockport or Manchester but chose to travel to Shrewsbury. He must have had a clear wish to try to get into the Shropshire Royal Horse Artillery. This was a Territorial unit which provided artillery support to the Shropshire Yeomanry – itself the local Territorial cavalry. Harold and his comrades went overseas on active service around March 1916 and were redesignated as “A” Battery, 293rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. At some later point, he transferred to the 223rd Brigade. This was possibly in July 1916, when the 223rd was considerably reorganised.
Around the beginning of 1917, he undertook an act of bravery for which he was awarded the Miltiary Medal. The award was officially published in the London Gazette on 17 April. Two days later, the Stockport Express wrote “He was entrusted with despatches to carry through the danger zone. His path was opposed by a barrier of heavy gun and machine gun fire but, happily, he succeeded in his object without injury.”
By the autumn of 1917, 223rd Brigade was attached to the Army’s 63rd Division and had been supporting its infantry throughout the Third Battle of Ypres which had started on 31 July. The main battle was petering out by the beginning of November but the 63rd Division was still undertaking some small scale attacks. The artillery will have been firing at the Germans in support and, no doubt, coming under counter-fire from their guns. It is not known when Harold was wounded but he will have been evacuated to a field hospital some miles behind the front line. His condition will have been stabilised sufficiently for him to be moved further to the rear to the full hospital facilities at Rouen. There military surgeons will have done all they could for him but without success.
When the newspaper reported his death, it also published and “In memoriam” notice from the Silver Band :-
“Some day we hope to meet him
Some day we know not when
To clasp his hand in the Better Band
Never to part again”