Harry Taylor

Harry Taylor was a veteran of the First World War who witnessed the devastating events at the start of the Battle of the Somme in 1916 from a vantage point in No Man’s Land. Despite being wounded and blinded by poison gas he went on to live a full life and was 100 years old when he died in 1988.

Before the war Harry had been a miner at Savile pit in Methley but after serving as a tunneller in the Royal Engineers he returned home determined to better himself after his experiences in France. With the help of his wife he went into the building trade and with hard work and dedication he managed to set up his own business building houses, first in Oulton and Woodlesford, and then further afield.

Harry was born in Mickletown in 1888 into a family which was to grow to 12 children. His father, John Jackson Taylor, came from Top Moorside at Beeston Hill in Leeds. His mother, Elizabeth, had grown up at Holbeck where her father was an overlooker in a flax mill.

John Jackson Taylor was a shot firer at Allerton Bywater colliery but he died in an accident at the pit in 1908 when the roof of the seam he was working in collapsed. Harry and his brothers then had to support their mother and the rest of the children.

Harry Taylor with his younger brother, George, on a belt driven Triumph motorbike in about 1910. By this time their  older brother, James Wilson Taylor, had left home and was married with a 2 year old son.

In 1915 Harry left home to join the army, recruited with other miners from the district into the tunnelling companies which were to play a vital role in the fight against the Germans. They specialised in digging tunnels under No Man’s Land close to the German front line where they placed explosives to be detonated at the start of offensives.

Tunnelling had been used in warfare for centuries but in the opening months of the First World War it was the Germans who were using it to greater effect. Then, on the British side, through the efforts of an engineer and member of parliament, Sir John Norton Griffiths, it was enthusiastically improved and organised.

Nicknamed “Empire Jack” Norton Griffiths ran an engineering company which built sewers in London and Manchester. It was from amongst his workers, known as clay kickers, that the first of the new breed of tunnellers were recruited into the Royal Engineers. As more and more men were needed Norton Griffiths turned to the coal mining industry and it must have been as a result of one of his appeals that Harry Taylor joined up at Pontefract barracks in September 1915.

Along with other miners from the collieries to the south east of Leeds he travelled to the headquarters of the Royal Engineers at Chatham in Kent. With their experience badly needed in France they skipped many of the tedious rituals of army training. Within three weeks Harry was sent as a sapper to the 252nd Tunnelling Company formed at Rouen on 23 October 1915 under the command of Captain Rex Graham Trower.

From a base depot at Rouen they went about 100 miles east by train to Halloy and then by road via Varennes to Toutencourt, a few miles from the front line. As the officers set up their first headquarters the men were sent forward to their billets in the cellars of houses ruined by shelling in the village of Auchonvillers. It was instantly dubbed  “Ocean Villas.”

252 company’s first task was to dig shafts and then horizontal tunnels or galleries about 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. They ran out under No Man’s Land towards the German front line on the Redan Ridge just to the north of the village of Beaumont Hamel. The plan was that they would reach under the German lines and be opened out into caverns large enough to contain massive amounts of explosive. As an attack began these “overcharged” mines would be exploded to destroy the German positions. The problem was that at the same time the Germans were doing exactly the same in the opposite direction and it was a cat and mouse game between the two sides.

Night and day the men digging the tunnels had to work almost silently so they wouldn’t be heard by the opposite side and they had to stop frequently to listen out for the enemy. If they thought they were near an enemy tunnel they would seal their tunnel, pack it with explosives, and detonate what was called a camouflet, collapsing the enemy’s tunnel and killing their miners.

During the first months of 1916 both sides set off explosions. For instance, according to 252 company’s war diary, on 8 January the Germans exploded a large camouflet completely demolishing part of a British tunnel and cutting off two men at the face. The whole company was brought in for the rescue effort with each man working short intense shifts of three to five minutes. A new tunnel was started from the base of the shaft and was driven 22 feet through hard rock to the crushed tunnel. A further 48 feet was then excavated through broken ground. Finally the two men were found alive after being entombed for 21 hours.

It continued like that with tit for tat explosions every few days. When the men were not facing sudden death in the tunnels they were exposed to shellfire in their advance billets. On 11 February a sergeant, a corporal and five men were badly wounded. During the winter at least two lieutenants were so overcome by fright they had to be sent back to England.

With his leadership qualities and his ability to follow a compass heading underground, acquired in the coal seams beneath Methley, Harry Taylor was soon promoted to corporal supervising a section of men. Many of them were unqualified as miners and were drawn from infantry regiments as the ranks of 252 Tunnelling Company grew from about 200 to over 2000 to cope with the amount of work needed. It’s likely Harry may have already known some of these infantrymen as some are thought to have come from the 15th Battalion (1st Leeds), The Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) – the Leeds Pals, formed in September 1914.

Corporal Taylor is seated on the left making a basket at a convalescent home recovering from gassed near Ypres in 1917.

Harry Taylor had a remarkable memory of his experiences during the war. Many years later, when he was 88 years old and blind from the after effects of being gassed, with the help of his wife, he wrote to the Yorkshire Evening Post. Explaining that a French student had researched the graves in the military cemetery at Auchonvillers, the letter included a list of Harry’s friends and comrades who died on, or under, the battlefield.

The first was Sam Garland, a miner from Hill Top at Altofts. His death was recorded as being from an “apoplectic fit” in February 1916. He had joined at Castleford as a tunneller’s mate on 2s. 2d. per day but shortly after arriving at the front was promoted to tunneller and then, just a month before his death, to corporal.

Sam was 38 years old when he died. He left behind two grown up children and a 3 year old adopted daughter. The army gave his widow, Jane, a payment of his back pay of £25 15s. 4d. and in 1919 a “war gratuity” of £4. From the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament the inscription on his grave reads: “Until the day dawns and shadows flee away, ever remembered.”

Tragically Jane Garland’s only son, Thomas, died in May 1916 a few months after his father. He was just 19 years old and was serving as a driver in the Royal Field Artillery when he was accidentally drowned at Basra in Iraq.

Sapper Ernest Cowell was a year younger than Harry Taylor and was probably a close friend, if not before the war, then certainly during it. A miner’s son, born at Whitkirk in 1889, he lived at Castleford where he worked shunting wagons above ground at a colliery. He also enlisted at Pontefract and crossed the channel from Chatham to France on the same day as Harry on 2 October 1915.

He was killed in action in a tunnel underneath the Redan Ridge on 12 February 1916 when the Germans blew up a camouflet. It destroyed 35 feet of gallery and the war diary records that about 2000 lbs of high explosive was used. “This shows that we have driven the enemy back over 200 feet,” it says.

Ernest’s wife, Beatrice, a miner’s daughter who grew up in Allerton Bywater, was also given back pay of £20 and a war gratuity. With a 7 year old daughter and a baby son, named after his father, to provide for she remarried in the spring of 1919. Her new husband, Ernest Lorriman, a general labourer, originally came from Rothwell.   

Three of Harry’s comrades all died together when a large camouflet exploded just before mid-day on 1 March 1916. Sergeant Albert Dean and sappers James Bernasconi and William McManus were working at the face in R3 tunnel when the Germans set off about 3000 lbs of high explosive just to the east of them. It destroyed 62 feet of the gallery and the damage was so bad it was impossible for rescuers to get near the bodies.

Sergeant Dean was 26 and a Staffordshire miner from Butt Lane near Newcastle-under-Lyme. From the Book of Job the inscription on his grave is: “And though worms destroy my body yet in my flesh I shall see God.”

James Bernasconi’s great grandfather had moved to Yorkshire before the 1840s, probably from Italy, and had settled in Holbeck. As a young man James had been a coppersmith but was a miner when he volunteered at Leeds specifically for a tunnelling company and was sent to Chatham. He first served with M Company, one of the “special” companies which undertook gas attacks, and had only been with 252 company as a tunneller’s mate for about three weeks before he was killed.

Of the Catholic faith he was 32 and left a wife and a three year old son. In his army records there’s a poignant letter sent on behalf of his wife, Ethel, to the authorities at Chatham enquiring about his effects. “He had a watch which she would like for her little boy if it has been found and his rosary beads,” it says.

William McManus was born in Batley in 1885 and was still a single man working at Darfield Main colliery near Barnsley when he enlisted as a tunneller’s mate, also in September 1915.

A reference from the pit’s manager was attached to his army record: “This is to certify that William McManus has been employed for over two years as a miner, and we have always found him to be a good worker and thoroughly used to any pit work he took in hand. Signed, J. W. Halmshaw.”

McManus had previously served for 7 months in 1902 with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps during the Boer War. In France his mining skills were quickly recognised and he was “remustered” to tunneller on 6 November.

In early February 1916 he was allowed a week’s leave but returned a day late and was disciplined by having a day’s pay docked. Two weeks later he was dead.

His record also states he was given “Field Punishment Number 2.” This required him to be placed in fetters and handcuffs and be subjected to hard labour. As tunnelling was pretty tough anyway and being shackled around the ankles and wrists was impractical it’s doubtful if this punishment was actually put into practice in the tunnelling companies. William McManus is remembered on the Batley war memorial.

Harry Taylor is sitting on the ground with his hands on his knees. The photo is believed to have been taken at a St. Dunstan’s convalescent home at Sleaford in Lincolnshire in 1917. 

A couple of weeks after losing his three friends at the beginning of March Harry Taylor joined the rest of 252 Tunnelling Company to start work on their most spectacular achievement of the war. In the end though their efforts would be wasted and it was remembered as one of the greatest disasters of the whole conflict.

The company’s task was to dig a 350 yard long tunnel, H3, so that explosives could be placed to blow up the Hawthorn Redoubt, a German position on high ground which overlooked the British trenches. The plan was for this mine to be blown at the start of what became known the Battle of the Somme.

Meanwhile, possibly with the aim of preventing more deaths and injuries from shellfire, the company’s advance billets were moved back from the cellars of Auchonvillers to canvas huts in the grounds of a burned out chateau at Beaussart. There, unfortunately, they were exposed to enemy aircraft and on 29 March four men were seriously wounded when two bombs were dropped. The following day another five bombs were released but nobody was injured.

With the men working continuously in shifts H3 was quickly driven. Its shaft went down about 80 feet underground and on one day in April 35 feet of tunnel was excavated through solid chalk. “This beats all records for the army for work done in 24 hours,” records the war diary. By the end of April 565 feet had been excavated in 26 days. “This is one tunnel with one face only and the length to destroy the enemy trench will be 1055 feet.”

As they advanced further towards the German lines progress became slower as they had to be careful not to be heard from the surface or, more importantly, by enemy tunnellers close-by coming in the opposite direction. On 20 May the diary says: “Extraordinary difficulty is being encountered with mine H3. The length is now 900 feet and the work is being carried on silently by wetting the face and working the chalk out with bayonets. This face is now almost entirely flint and progress is very slow.” As the chalk was prised out the lumps had to be caught silently by the men to stop them falling onto the floor and alerting the Germans.

Map showing the area around Beaumont Hamel and the H3 tunnel. The German front line is in red and the British line is blue. Mary sap leading from Mary Redan is towards the bottom. Auchonvillers is to the left of the square marked 10.

When he wasn’t mining in the deeper galleries Harry Taylor was helping to build a series of shallower tunnels much nearer the surface. These went down on an incline until they were about 10 feet underground and then ran horizontally towards the German lines. Originally devised during the Crimean war in the 1850s they were known as “Russian” saps. The intention was to get them as close to the German lines as possible and then, as an attack started, the ends were opened out to the surface so machine guns and Stokes mortars could be placed to support the advancing infantry.

H3 mine was finished on 22 June 1916 just 5 feet short of the planned length. Harry Taylor was among those who filled a large chamber at the end of the tunnel with 40,600 lbs of ammonal, a new type of powerful explosive. On the same date all the officers and 160 men from 252 Tunnelling Company left the trenches to guard the tunnels and saps. A day later a heavy bombardment began against the German lines and all the infantry seconded to help the tunnellers went back to their divisions to prepare for their part in the attack.

During this period of intense noise, as shells flew overhead, Harry lost two more of his mates. Corporals James Cyril Rayner and Ernest Freakley weren’t tunnellers but they were Royal Engineers and Harry probably got to know them either at the advance billets or through his work on the front line. Both were chemists before the war and it was through this skill that they found themselves practising chemical warfare in M Company. In response to the Germans, who were the first to use poison gas, the British units were trained to discharge phosgene gas from cylinders, fire gas shells from mortars, or to handle flame throwers.

According to a letter sent to Rayner’s father he was “performing his duties in the trench when he was overcome with gas fumes.” He died at a field hospital. Ernest Freakley and another man, Corporal William Thomas Harris, are buried with James Rayner in the same plot at Auchonvillers which suggests they were killed in the same incident on 24 June. It’s possible they were all victims of a direct hit by a German shell or something may have gone wrong with one of their own gas-filled shells.

Rayner, who was known by his middle name, was 19 when he died. He had been born at Openshaw near Manchester and may have become friendly with Harry Taylor as his blacksmith father was from Headingley and his mother came from Gomersal. After joining the army in June 1915 he had at first been sent to train with the 11th (Reserve) Battalion of the Royal Highlanders (Black Watch) before his chemistry knowledge led to him being transferred to the Royal Engineers and sent to France in October.

Ernest Freakley came from Longton near Stoke-on-Trent where his father was employed at a gas works. At the start of the war Ernest was a pharmaceutical student living at Clapham in London. He was 22 years old when he joined up at Westminster in September 1915 after answering an appeal from the War Office for men, between the ages of 19 and 45, trained in chemistry.

The “ordinary standards of height and chest measurement” were waived for such volunteers so long as they were “organically sound and fit for service in the field.” They could also take the eyesight test with glasses. Once enlisted at the Central Recruiting Office at Scotland Yard they went by train to Chatham to be clothed and equipped. All of them were immediately promoted to corporal on pay of 2s. 6d. per day with 6d. engineer pay and “the usual separation and dependant’s allowances.” 

The third M company corporal who died, William Thomas Harris, appears not to have been known by Harry Taylor. The youngest of the three he grew up in Camberwell and Deptford and was only 18 when he was killed. His father had died when he was a baby and his effects went to his mother who had remarried a postman.

The British plan for the Battle of the Somme was for it to start after daybreak on Thursday 29 June 1916 but with bad weather forecast it was postponed for 48 hours. The battlefield stretched from about five miles north of Beaumont Hammel south and east for about 15 miles to the River Somme. Harry Taylor and his company were in the VIII Corps sector made up of four divisions under the command of Lieutenant General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston.

He had wanted to blow the blockbuster mine under the Hawthorn Redoubt four hours before “zero hour” which was scheduled for 7.30 a.m. His plan was for British troops to occupy the rim of the crater before the main attack. However he was persuaded against such an early firing by the Inspector of Mines who argued that British infantry had not been very successful using such a tactic. Other officers were worried that if the mine was exploded at zero hour then their men would be hurt by dirt and debris falling on them as they ran forward, so a compromise was reached with the firing set for 7.20 a.m.

At the start of the offensive Harry Taylor was in charge of a small group of men in a Russian sap they had built. Its name was Mary sap leading from the trenches of Mary Redan, a projection, or salient, in the British line about half a mile south of Beaumont Hamel and the Hawthorn Redoubt.

During the early hours of 1 July Harry and his men had the task of opening out the end of the chamber at the end of the sap making it ready for the trench mortar gunners to come in. At the start of the attack they were to fire into the second line of German trenches to prevent reinforcements reaching the front line.

At 6.30 a.m. Harry’s team went back along Mary sap to the British lines to brew tea and smoke clay pipes. There they met some of the infantry soldiers who were to be in the first wave to climb out of the trenches and advance across No Man’s Land.

Just after 7 a.m. Harry went back to the end of the sap with 24 year old Frank Tomlinson, one of four brothers from Whitwood who’d all joined the army. Before the war Frank had been an underground road repairer at Pope and Pearson’s West Riding colliery at Altofts. As the infantry advanced, hopefully taking German positions, the tunnellers’ role was to dig the sap forward so it could be used as a communication route with captured German trenches.

Meanwhile they had nothing to do, so, under the cover of the heavy bombardment, which was still keeping the Germans hunkered down in their dugouts, Harry and Frank clambered up and out of the end of the sap. There, in No Man’s Land, just a few yards from the German lines they crawled into a shell crater. Then at 7.20 they had a grandstand view of the Hawthorn mine as it was exploded bang on time. Tons of earth and stones were blown skywards destroying the redoubt and killing many Germans.

Harry Taylor and Frank Tomlinson witnessed the Hawthorn Redoubt explosion. As well as still photographs a film was shot by official cameraman Geoffrey Malins.  It was shown at cinemas in Leeds seven weeks later. Click here to see the film and how the area looks today.

In old age Harry’s memory of that moment was still crystal clear: “Up it went, and you could see the soil and the vegetation and bushes and small trees, and they seemed to hang about, a hundred feet up in the air before they started to fall down,” he said in a BBC Radio Leeds interview when he was 90 years old.

At the same time as the mine was blown the heavy artillery shelling of the German positions was stopped. Ten minutes later, to the sound of whistles, the first wave of the British infantry climbed out of their trenches and through gaps in the wire. The problem was that the Germans, forewarned by a week of heavy bombardment, and then the blowing of the mine, knew an attack was imminent. They had just enough time to emerge from their deep dugouts and man their machine guns.

Crouched in their crater Harry and Frank could only look on in horror at the carnage. The first wave of troops in their sector belonged to the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. As they emerged many were cut down by the German guns. Some were hit instantly and fell back dead or wounded into their own trenches. Harry recalled: “As soon as the whistles went then over they came. But they never got to us. We were laid there, and the Germans fired their machine guns. We could see ’em putting them up on the parapets and bullets were whistling over us and high explosive shells were exploding above, so we were in-between two fires.”

After the battalion of Irish fusiliers, who lost 549 men including their commanding officer, Harry and Frank witnessed the 1st Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers start their advance a few minutes later. According to their regimental historian: “They did not succeed in even reaching the few fusiliers who were lying out in No Man’s Land.” One company lost 202 men out of a strength of 219 and the battalion as a whole lost 552 men.

Poor communications meant the divisional headquarters were unaware the attack had gone disastrously wrong and in the confusion they ordered the next wave to advance. Part of it consisted of a battalion of the Royal Newfoundland Regimentwho went forward about 9.15 a.m. By that time the front line of the British trenches was clogged with dead and wounded so the Newfoundlanders climbed up into open ground behind the line. There they were exposed to the Germans and many were cut down even before they reached the front line. Of about 930 men who started, 310 were killed and 374 were wounded.

In his book, “Tunnellers,” William Grant Grieve, an Australian born tunnelling officer wrote: “The use of Russian saps was a tactical device overlooked even by the Germans, masters of the art of trench warfare. We had constructed them, with skill and in peril, and their sole use was to provide a grandstand for men who had to witness the agonizing spectacle of thousands of their comrades being shot down in striving to reach the spot where they stood – men killed and wounded in an attempt to cross 300 yards of fire-swept ground, when they could have passed underground in comparative safety.

The men who penetrated nearest to the German line were the tunnellers and those who accompanied them; at their point of vantage they waited for those waves of “occupying infantry” which never had a chance of breaking. This is actually one of the most significant incidents of the whole war.”

Harry Taylor and Frank Tomlinson were still hunkered down in their crater when the battle went quiet at about 10 a.m. They watched as some Germans emerged from their trenches and at first they thought they were counter-attacking. They soon realised there was a truce as they observed the Germans carrying stretchers. Running back towards Mary sap they managed to rescue an injured soldier and carry him into the opened out chamber at the end of the sap.

After patching him up they made their way back along the sap but it was crammed with the dead and injured and they had to climb over the bodies to escape.

A few miles away to the north Frank’s brother, James, who was a year younger and had worked alongside him down the pit, was also on the battlefield that morning. He was with C Company of the 12th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, known as the Leeds Miners. They were the pioneer battalion of the 31st (Pals) Division and had the task of rebuilding shattered trenches and keeping communications lines open as the division fought to take the village of Serre.They carried barbed wire and ammunition and had the grim job of digging instant graves in the trenches for burying dead soldiers.

As with the attack watched by Harry and Frank the advance on Serre was also largely a failure and at some point during the morning Frank’s brother was killed in action. His body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Thiepval and Altofts war memorials.

During that first day of the battle the British lost over 19 thousand men, the French 1600, and the Germans between 10 and 12 thousand. Thousands more were injured. Despite the losses little damage was done to the reputation of the Lieutenant General in command of the VIII Army along Harry’s sector of the front line. On 4 July Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston issued a printed message to the surviving troops and Harry kept his copy as a treasured memento for the rest of his life.

In part it reads: “It is difficult for me to express my admiration for the splendid courage, determination and discipline displayed by every Officer, NCO and Men of the Battalions that took part in the great attack on the Beaumont Hamel – Serre position on the 1st July. All observers agree in stating that the various waves of men issued from their trenches and moved forward at the appropriate time in perfect order, undismayed by the heavy artillery fire and deadly machine gun fire. There were no cowards nor waverers and not a man fell out. It was a magnificent display of disciplined courage worthy of the best traditions of the British race.”

Precisely what happened to Harry Taylor and Frank Tomlinson in the immediate aftermath after their remarkable adventure in No Man’s Land isn’t known. On 4 July their company restarted work on the Redan mine system and the following day they began a new drive in the H3 tunnel with a plan to re-blow the Hawthorn Redoubt crater which had been taken by the Germans.

Meanwhile on 3 July Harry lost another of his Yorkshire friends. He was James Hawthorne Simpson, a lieutenant with 1st/1st (West Riding) Field Company of the Royal Engineers. He died from wounds, most likely received on the first day of the battle. His unit was attached to the 29th Division and had taken part in the Gallipoli campaign in 1915 before returning to France in March 1916. His family were the owners of Hunslet based Simpson & Fawcett, makers of prams and toys. Before moving to Roundhay they had lived at Stourton so it’s possible he may have known Harry Taylor before the war or they may have met on the battlefield.   

As the fighting on the Somme battlefield continued 252 Tunnelling Company pressed on with its work. In early September they started a 180 feet deep mine designed to reach under the village of Beaumont Hammel but it was abandoned after it was realised it would take six months to finish. During this period, about a year after he had joined up, Harry Taylor was injured. This may have been on 15 September when the war diary states: “We put 8 boreholes in Cat mine and charged and fired 2000 lbs of ammonal. The enemy working very close all the while. We blew into their trenches and destroyed a big gap through their wire, but our infantry party which was raiding failed. One sapper wounded by shrapnel.”

Harry’s wounds were bad enough for him to be sent back to recover in England. He was there about 13 weeks including a week or so spent back home at Methley with his family and fiancé. When he returned to the tunnellers’ depot at Rouen at the start of 1917 he was reallocated to 184 Company which was at Arras about ten miles north of Beaumont Hamel.

They had been working round the clock with three other companies enlarging an old underground quarry system. The caverns and tunnels were kitted out with electricity, running water, kitchens, latrines and medical facilities. They could accommodate 24 thousand soldiers who could then be moved secretly and safely to the front line to the east of the city. Harry arrived just as this work was being finished and would have helped finish it off before the Battle of Arras which started on 9 April 1917.

In June 184 Company were sent to the Belgian coast to work on underground shelters between Nieuwpoort and De Panne. A little later they went inland to prepare bridges for tanks to cross over the canal which ran into Ypres. This was at the start of the Battle of Passchendaele as the British and their allies fought to take control of the ridges to the south and east of Ypres. During this period Harry Taylor appears to have been involved in close quarter fighting as his unit used bombs to ferret enemy soldiers out of their tunnels. On one occasion they took a number of prisoners and as they handed them over they witnessed the execution of a young British soldier accused of desertion.

This photograph was taken in a studio at Chatham and is dated 5 March 1919,  the day after Harry and the others were demobilised. Another Methley  miner, Rothwell born John Varley, is standing next to Harry at the back.  One of the seated soldiers was Dick Hodgins.

At some point during this period Harry Taylor’s was the victim of a German gas attack on the Passchendale battlefield. When he gave his interview to Radio Leeds he remembered the date as being 17 September 1917, although he also gave the same date for when he was wounded in 1916. Unfortunately his army record has not survived to give independent corroboration.

Blinded, he managed to make his way to a road and was picked up by a group of Germans who were giving themselves up. He was taken to a dressing station where he joined other gassed soldiers queuing to be treated.

For a time he lost his speech and hearing as well but after treatment at convalescent homes at Sleaford and Sevenoaks he made a full recovery. He was then sent back to the Western Front but it’s not clear where. After the end of the war, on 11 November 1918, he was eventually demobbed and transferred to Z Reserve at Chatham on 4 March 1919. The reserve had been set up in case Germany refused to accept the peace settlement and restarted hostilities. It was abolished at the end of March 1920.        

Harry Taylor. Fighting fit.
Joyce Taylor.

Just over three months after he returned home Harry married Cassie May Goodall at St. Andrew’s church in Stourton on 29 June 1919. At the time they were living at Board Street in Stourton and on the marriage certificate Harry gave his occupation as shopkeeper. Cassie May had been a domestic servant and had lived at White Street off Midland Street in Woodlesford. They probably met at a Saturday night dance at the Oulton Institute before the war. In those days the dances attracted young men and women from throughout the district who walked from Swillington, Methley and Rothwell.

Cassie’s father, Manasseh Goodall, was a miner at one of the pits run by T. & R. W. Bower on the Lowther estate at Swillington. Her family had lived at Astley before moving to Woodlesford. Manasseh also worked as a farm labourer and gardener when he came out of the pit. His father was a leather shoemaker.

Cassie May Goodall on Astley Lane on the Lowther estate.

In the years immediately after the war Harry worked for Harrogate based property developer Charles Frederick Napper helping to build a house on Oulton Lane in Woodlesford. Napper was impressed by his skills and inspired him to set up in business on his own. To acquire the necessary capital Harry and Cassie bought a fish and chip shop and a fruit and vegetable shop in Horsforth where property was cheap. For three years they worked long hours to save the £500 needed for their first investment in Woodlesford.

They then moved back and bought the house Harry had previously built along with an acre of adjoining land from Mr. Napper. In about 1925 Harry set about building semi-detached houses at the bottom of Oulton Lane which were sold for a profit. After that he developed other plots locally before building at sites at Sherburn-in-Elmet and Church Fenton. With the advent of the Second World War the business declined and Harry concentrated on repairs rather than new building. He was still working when he was 79 years old. He died in 1988 six months after his hundredth birthday. 

Three years before his death Harry Taylor gave a series of interviews to Peter Hawkins from BBC Radio Leeds. Click on the links below to hear him talking about growing up in Methley and how he used to entertain himself by going to local dances.

A Methley childhood. 

Dancing days.

Harry also told stories of his time as a sapper digging tunnels under the front line during the First World War. Click on the following links to hear him talking about life in the trenches and how he took part in the Battle of the Somme. Later he witnessed the capture of some German soldiers and came across the execution of a young British soldier accused of being a deserter.

Harry Taylor. A sapper on the Somme.

I’ve never seen as many dead bodies.

You used to take it as it came.

Execution of a deserter.

Click on the links below to listen to Harry and Cassie Taylor’s only daughter Joyce, who was born in 1927, talk about her father and family life in Woodlesford including the story of how her grandma Goodall brought up two abandoned fairground children.

Harry Taylor. Woodlesford builder.

Fighting in the First World War.

A tale of two abandoned children. 

After the war Harry was friendly with pilots from the Royal Flying Corps who he’d met in France. This plane belonged to the Blackpool Flying Service.
Corporal Taylor proudly displays his war medals.
One of the houses that Harry built, 56 Oulton Lane.