Most members of the Regiment have at least a passing familiarity with the names of some of the famous men who have commanded it – Rogers and Simcoe chief among them. But alongside this list of famous commanders, we should also be aware of the history of our honorary colonels.
The Regiment has had eighteen honorary colonels and lieutenant colonels in its history, beginning with the appointment of James Wayling, V.D. in 1906. A number of prominent Canadians have fulfilled this important role in the Regiment, whose names might also be familiar – such as William Mulock, General Sir Arthur Currie, and the Honorable Leslie Frost (not to mention our exemplary current Honoraries, Honorary Colonel Darrell Bricker and Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Charles Oliviero).
A lesser known name amongst this distinguished group is Honorary Lieutenant Colonel Sir Harold Cecil Aubrey Harmsworth.
Sir Harold was born on the 13th of June, 1897, in Brondesbury Park, London. His father was Sir Robert Leicester Harmsworth, made the 1st Baronet Harmsworth of Moray Lodge, Kensington in 1918.
Sir Harold’s family was very well known in the UK for their strong political connections and for their pioneering efforts in the field of tabloid journalism. Sir Harold’s father (Lord Harmsworth) and uncles (Lord Rothermere and Lord Northcliffe) collectively controlled the largest periodical publishing empire of the day, Amalgamated Press. Their best known publications, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, remain popular periodicals in the UK today.
Both his father and uncles were ennobled in recognition of the tremendous influence over public opinion that their business was able to exert. 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.”
He was appointed as the Honorary Lieutenant Colonel of the Queen’s York Rangers (M.G.) in 1939, though he continued to reside in the UK. It is unclear when or where he may have visited the Regiment, if at all. It is possible that the appointment was made with the expectation that the Regiment would be moving to England in short order, though of course this never occurred.
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.
How exactly Sir Harold came to be connected to the Regiment, and exactly what service he may have given it, is somewhat unclear – if only because it is undocumented. It is possible, however, that the answer to at least one of these questions relates to the Harmsworth family seat. As was relatively common at the time, Sir Harold’s family purchased land and country houses from noble families who had become too impoverished to maintain them. Sir Harold’s younger brother Geoffrey, who became the 3rd (and last) Baronet Harmsworth, purchased a large estate, including several houses, from the descendants of John Graves Simcoe. This estate included Wolford Chapel, the final resting place of John Graves Simcoe, his wife and children. In 1966, Sir Geoffrey donated Wolford Chapel to the Ontario Heritage Trust, who continue to care for it today.
The chapel was recently visited by our Colonel of the Regiment, Her Honour The Honorable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, O.C., O.Ont, who placed a Regimental Coin and plaque in the chapel on behalf of the Regiment.