(L to R) Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Relief of Ladysmith', 'Laing's Nek', 'Belfast'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'
Harry was born in around November 1872 in Salford, Lancashire. His father was called John Collier and his mother was Hannah. He had an older sister called Louisa and 5 younger siblings: Thomas, Frederick, William, Bertha and Joseph. The family were members of the Church of England.
John worked as a file cutter. This was a difficult and highly skilled job that involved cutting the teeth on files. This was done by hand, using a hammer and chisel. In 1881 the family lived at 33 Wilburn Street in Salford. At some point during the 1880s they moved to 36 Isaac Street in the Ordsall area of Salford.
Harry was living here and working as a labourer when he joined the 4th Battalion of the King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment) on the 2nd October 1890. This was a unit of the Militia, so Harry would keep his civilian home and job, and train as a soldier for a short period every year.
When he enlisted Harry was 5 feet 3 1/2 inches tall and weighed 107 pounds. He had a 'sallow' complexion, brown eyes and black hair. He had 2 blue dots tattooed on his left forearm. He was given the service number 2773 and began his training.
Army life must have suited Harry, because on the 28th November he joined the Regular Army. He chose to join the Manchester Regiment and was given the service number 3044. He had gained 8 pounds during his training with the Militia.
After training at the Manchester Regiment Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire, Harry was sent to join the 1st Battalion in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland on the 12th February 1891. He stayed with them until November 1892 when he was posted to India to join the 2nd Battalion at Dinapore, now Danapur, in India.
We don't know what Harry did during his time in India. The 2nd Battalion stayed in Dinapore during his entire service there. He was awarded an extra 1 penny (1d) per day Good Conduct Pay in October 1897. He received another pay rise on the 1st September 1898 when he elected to 'come under the terms of Army Order Number 65 of 1898'. This ended the practice of deducting 2d per day from his pay to cover the cost of his food, but meant he would not receive the money back in a lump sum when he left the Army.
The 2nd Battalion had left India in November 1897 and sailed to Aden, now in Yemen. After a year they returned to the UK. Harry had originally enlisted for 7 years Regular service, to be followed by 5 in the Army Reserve. As he had been abroad he had been kept in the Regular Army for an extra 12 months; this would be subtracted from his Reserve service. He transferred to the Reserve on the 6th December 1898. He was now free to find a home and a job, but he could be called back to the Army in an emergency at any point.
On the 12th November 1899 an emergency arose and Harry was recalled. The emergency was the British defeats and casualties in the opening weeks of the Boer War, which had begun in October 1899. After two weeks at the Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne training and receiving equipment Harry was sent to South Africa. The 1st Battalion of The Manchester Regiment had taken casualties during the early fighting and were now under siege in Ladysmith.
Harry could not get to the 1st Battalion, so he joined other reinforcements in the 4th Provisional Battalion. This took part in the Relief of Ladysmith that broke the siege on the 28th February 1900. He then joined the 1st Battalion and fought with them during the rest of the war.
Harry received his 'Laing's Nek' clasp for taking part in operations to the north of Newcastle in Natal (now KwaZulu Natal Province) between the 2nd and the 9th June 1900. His Good Conduct Pay was increased to 2d per day on the 2nd August.
After Ladysmith the British Army tried to force the Boers to face it in battle. They succeeded on the 21st August 1900 at the Battle of Belfast, or Bergendal. Harry and the 1st Battalion took part in this battle, which lasted until the 27th and ended with the defeat of Boer forces and the capture of their temporary capital, Machadodorp (today called eNtokozweni). The Boers did not surrender; they fought on as guerrillas in small units, so Harry stayed in South Africa.
There were no battles on the same scale during the rest of the war. Harry took part in many smaller operations intended to restrict the Boer's movements and force them to face British soldiers. This strategy was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.
Reservists such as Harry were quickly sent back to the UK and demobilised. He left South Africa on the 6th July and was demobilised to return home on the 7th August. His Army service came to an end on the 27th November, and he was discharged.
Most of the rest of Harry's life remains a mystery. By 1935 he had married and lived at 6 Thorpe Street in Patricroft, Salford. He worked as a lift operator in an office building in Manchester.
At some point around this time the office was visited by an officer of the Manchester Regiment. He was told that Harry had served in South Africa and that he had several mementos of his time there that he was prepared to donate to the new Museum of the Manchester Regiment. The officer spoke to Harry, and discovered that he was also prepared to donate his medals. He turned him down, saying 'those are yours'. Harry insisted: 'I want to give them now, if they'll have them. I'm a Manchester Regiment man and always have been; I've no one to leave them to, and I'd rather feel they were safe with the Regiment'.
Harry continued, saying 'No, I've talked it over with the wife, and we want them in the Regiment. I might go off or get knocked over by a bus, or anything, and then no one knows where they go. We want to feel they are safe in the Regiment'.
This encounter was reported in the April 1936 edition of the Manchester Regiment Gazette. A note appeared in the October 1937 edition, saying that Harry had 'gone off'. He was around 65 years old. We don't know his wife's name.