Title - John Harwood

Captain John Harwood died at his home in Accrington on 17th December 1923 aged 74. Although his service to his country during the war years was never rewarded with honours, his place in history is assured as the founder and raiser of the Accrington Pals battalion.

Family photograph at the wedding of Thomas Yates Harwood and Ida Bradley, September 1915

Family photograph at the wedding of Thomas Yates Harwood and Ida Bradley, 29th September 1915. Standing left to right Mr. Robert Bradley, Bombardier John Richard Harwood, Lt. Thomas Yates Harwood and Mrs. Ida B. Harwood, Miss Gladys Haworth and Capt. John Harwood. Seated left to right Mrs. Bradley, Miss Butterfield and Mrs. Harwood. Photograph by kind courtesy of Paul and Anne Willett.

John Harwood was born at Pickup Bank in Darwen in the late 1840's. He married Sarah Fisher, a Chorley girl, on 4th July 1867 and spent three years in the United States before accepting a position at a Bombay cotton mill. In 1880, he joined the Elgin Mills in Cawnpore (present-day Kanpur) as a weaving master but left after three years, having raised the finance to found the Cawnpore Cotton Mills. Harwood held the rank of Captain with the Cawnpore Volunteer Rifles, and organised an annual shooting competition with the Accrington Volunteers, the scores of the competitors being transmitted by post! Harwood returned to Accrington in 1898, handing over the Mills to his son, Thomas Edward Harwood.

On returning home, Harwood became chairman of directors at Messrs. Lang Bridge & Co. Ltd. and a director of Henry Livesey & Co. Ltd., Blackburn. Having first served as an Accrington town councillor from 1900-1903, he was re-elected to the council in 1910. In November 1912, he was elected Mayor of Accrington, a post which he held until September 1915. He evidently made a favourable impression on King George V and Queen Mary during their visit to Accrington in July 1913, being remembered as "the man who made the King laugh" (his joke unfortunately seems not to have been recorded).

Visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Accrington, 9th July 1913

Visit of King George V and Queen Mary to Accrington, 9th July 1913. The temporary ornamental platform was sited on the Peel Street side of the market ground. Mrs. Sarah Harwood (with hands clasped together) is in conversation with Queen Mary; Capt. John Harwood (with chain) has his back to the camera, and is facing King George. Photograph by kind courtesy of Heather Fereday.   Click to enlarge

On 31st August 1914 - less than a month after the declaration of war against Germany - Harwood telegraphed to the War Office offering to raise a half-battalion from the Accrington district. Six days later - to comply with Army Policy - the offer was raised to one of a full battalion of 1,100 men. On 7th September, Harwood was able to announce to Accrington Town Council that the offer had been accepted on condition that the town took responsibility for the battalion's clothing, housing and training. By the 24th, recruitment of the Accrington Pals battalion had been completed. Such was Harwood's success at raising a full battalion that he was subsequently asked by the War Office to raise a local artillery brigade; while one of his grandsons, Thomas Yates Harwood, was commissioned into the Accrington Pals, the other, John Richard Harwood, enlisted into the 158th (Accrington & Burnley) Brigade, R.F.A.

Harwood's proudest moment came perhaps on 1st August 1915 when his khaki-clad Pals battalion marched into Accrington on a recruiting visit. A local newspaper reported:

A buzz passed along the crowd. The distant sound of the band drew nearer, and as they approached the Town Hall, the rumbling cheer had developed into a deafening roar. Captain Harwood, in his Mayoral robes and chain of office, stood erect under the portico and must have derived unbounded satisfaction at the sight of eight hundred of the boys - his boys - marching "as to war".

It was a sight never to be seen again. Within a year the battalion had been shattered on the Somme battlefield.

Regardless of his advancing years, Harwood took on the thankless task of local Military Representative, a post which he occupied throughout the latter half of the war. He was a prominent figure at the ceremonial handing-over of the Accrington Pals' Colours on 18th October 1919 and placed the first wreath - in honour of the Accrington Pals - at the unveiling of Accrington's War Memorial on 1st July 1922.

There is one thing about our Mayor. We shall write across the tombstone one epitaph, "The Mayor that got things done." (quote attributed to Accrington Town Clerk, Mr. A. H. Aitken)

© Andrew C Jackson 2009

Compiled from the Accrington Observer & Times of 7th September 1914, 3rd August 1915, 2nd October 1915, 3rd July 1917, 21st October 1919, 1st July 1922, 4th July 1922 and 18th December 1923, "Accrington: Chronology and Men of Mark" (R. S. Crossley, 1924) "Boxwallahs - The British in Cawnpore, 1857-1901" (Zoë Yalland, 1994) and with the kind help of Paul and Anne Willett, and Heather Fereday.

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