Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Sir Harold Cecil Aubrey Harmsworth was born on the 13th of June, 1897, in Brondesbury Park, London. His father was Sir Leicester Harmsworth, Bt, and his family was very well known in the UK for their strong political influence and for their pioneering efforts in the field of popular journalism. Sir Harold’s father and uncles (Lords Northcliffe, Rothermere and Harmsworth) collectively controlled the largest periodical publishing empire of the day, Amalgamated Press. Their best-known creations, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, remain popular daily newsapers in the UK today.
Both his father and uncles were honoured in recognition of the tremendous influence over public opinion that their business was able to exert, and for services to the state . Rather than coming from the hereditary noble class, they represented “new money” of the type abhorred by segments of the period British establishment and modern-day Downton Abbey fans alike.
Sir Harold served in the First World War as a Lieutenant in the Royal Marine Artillery, leaving the service upon the conclusion of the war. He then went into the family business, becoming the Chairman of Harmsworth Press, The Western Morning News Company and West Country Publications. Sir Harold was invested as a Knight Bachelor in the 1935 “Birthday Honours” list by King George V for “for political and public services in the West of England.”
Sir Leicester was an avid collector and deeply interested in the history of Canada,, with a particular focus on the period around the Seven Years War. He made a number of generous donations to preserve Canadian heritage, such as the gift of the “Northcliffe Collection” to the Government of Canada in memory of his brother. This collection included the original papers of Generals Monckton and Townshend, Wolfe’s deputies. In 1927 he gave a book that had belonged to Simcoe, with Simcoe’s bookplate in it, to the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. In 1827 Leicester was awarded on Honrary LL.D. by Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario.
Sir Leicester also purchased Wolford Chapel and the surrounding burial ground, where John Graves Simcoe is interred. He didn’t purchase the remainder of the estate, as his intention was to gift the grounds to the Government of Canada, given the importance of Simcoe to Canadian history. Sir Leicester died in 1937 without having been able to find a willing receiver for the gift because of concerns with the potential maintenance costs. His son Sir Geoffrey did finally manage to present it to Ontario in 1966, after a Trust had been formed that could fund and look after the Chapel.
At the outset of the Second World War, Sir Harold, as Sir Leicester’s effective representative, was key to the future of Wolford Chapel, at just the time that the Queen’s York Rangers (M.G.) were expecting to be sent to England and were looking for an Honorary Lieutenant Colonel. With a connection to the Regiment’s deep history, and as an interested, wealthy, connected and prominent figure, Sir Harold was an ideal and obvious choice for the role. He was appointed as the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel in 1939, though in the end, the Regiment was never sent to England.
He was succeeded as the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel by a prominent Canadian, William James Stewart, in 1944. He was unmarried when he died at the University College Hospital, London, on 7 September, 1952.