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Harold Stow was born on the 7th July 1888 in Little Marsden near Nelson in East Lancashire, the son of Charles and Sarah Ellen Stow (nee Brown). Harold`s parents married in St. Paul`s Church in Little Marsden in 1882 and it seems shortly after their marriage they emigrated to Montreal in Canada where their first child William Samuel was born in 1883.

Charles and Sarah Ellen didn`t stay long in Canada because by 1886 they were back in Nelson in East Lancashire where another son Frank was born that same year. After Harold arrived in 1888 the family spent a couple of years in the Blackpool area where two daughters were born; Mary Maud in 1891 and Violet in 1892.  By 1901 the family had moved again, this time to 7 Russell Street in Preston where Harold`s father was employed as a plumber`s labourer.  Harold`s two elder brothers were both working, William as a cart driver for a greengrocer and Frank was on the docks as an errand boy. Harold, who was now aged thirteen was working part time in a biscuit works.

At some point prior to 1911 Harold joined the Territorial Force of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and the Census of 1911 shows him serving with the 2nd Battalion at Ghorpuri Barracks at Poona in India. After serving his time with the T.F. Harold returned home and was then placed on Reserve. After war was declared he was recalled to the colours and went to France, disembarking on the 12th August 1914 with the British Expeditionary Force (2nd Brigade in 1st Division).

He took part in the retreat from Mons and was unfortunately wounded by shrapnel in the subsequent fighting in Belgium, his wounds were sufficient enough for him to be brought back to England for treatment. On his return to Preston he spoke about his recent experiences of the war to a representative of the Herald newspaper;

Preston Herald – 4th November 1914  



Right from the most violent and fiercest of the fighting for the coast of Belgium, Private H Stow of Preston returns wounded to his home. He carries with him, in commemoration of his last conflict on the Continent, the warrior like helmet of one of his fallen foes. It is a trophy that conjures up visions of a war-like people and even in itself conveys an impression of blood and iron ferocity. Fashioned in hard, black enamelled leather, surmounted by a spike, it bears the eagle emblem of Prussia, upon which is inscribed; “Mitt, Gott fur Keonig and Vaterland”.

Private Stow, a reservist of the Loyal North Lancashire’s left England with the Expeditionary Force at the commencement of the war. Upon arrival in France, he went with his regiment to Havre, and thence by train to Mons. Here they were soon busily engaged in digging trenches, which, however, they occupied for only a short time, for the great retirement then began. They were not in the thickest of the fighting, but it was fortunate that the trenches were vacated, for a few minutes later the German artillery had set their aim to a nicety, and the trenches were completely blown up.


The retirement went on day after day and Private Stow found himself within four miles of Meaux. Going on to Aisne he saw some of the fiercest of the fighting, by the side of Vendessy, lasting for over thirty days. His company starting with 28 Officers, returned with only 8, “it was terrible” said the Private, “it was murder”. He, however, came through unscathed, although he was in the firing line all the time.

He had a lucky escape one morning when, while it was still dark, he and a friend, went out “sniping”. Creeping along on all fours in the dark, they made some progress until his companion, looking ahead, saw they were faced by a small company of Germans. They exchanged shots, but it was a case in which discretion was the better part of valour. It would have been absurd for the two Britons to contest such unequal numbers, and they beat a safe retreat.

Private Stow, was eventually moved with his company into Belgium, to take part in the great fight for the coast. It was at Langemarck that he was wounded, and at the same time captured his valued trophy.


Starting almost as soon as it was light, the fighting kept on all day, until the British troops charged the enemy`s trenches. “I got the helmet off a German” said Private Stow. “But I killed him first” he added laconically. All the Germans in the trenches who had not been killed were taken prisoner, but not before a splinter from a shrapnel shell had wounded Stow on the top of the head, He was quickly carried to safety, and conveyed, in turn, in a great variety of vehicles.

Speaking of his impressions on the Continent, Private Stow said at first the horrible sights made him feel sick, but he got used to it after a time, and thought little of them. The Germans, he said, were, with a few exceptions, poor shots with the rifle, but the artillery fire was more deadly. It was not that the enemy were particularly good artillerymen, but that they covered so much ground and wasted a tremendous amount of ammunition. The British soldiers in the trenches, he said, were always in the highest spirits, and are constantly laughing and singing. They are treated extremely well by the French and Belgiums who seemed never to be able to do enough for them.

Harold`s service papers are missing so we cannot say for certain how long he was out of action for but at some point he did return to France and re-joined the 1st Battalion.

Sadly, Harold was killed in action near the Somme on the 1st July 1916. The Preston Guardian printed the following information after his death.Stow 1

After his death Harold was buried in Maroc British Cemetery in Grenay, Pas de Calais, France. His family would later receive the 1914 Star and Clasp, British War and Victory Medals that he was entitled to.

Rank: Lance Corporal
Service No: 8373
Date of Death: 01/07/1916
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 1st Bn.

Additional family information

Frank Stow who was two years older than Harold joined the Royal Navy in 1904. 222409 Able Seaman Frank Stow served a total of 15 years with the Royal Navy in both shore establishments and at sea. On January 1st 1915 he was on board HMS Formidable off the coast of Devon when she was torpedoed twice by a U-boat and sank.

HMS Formidable had a complement of 750 men and out of those only 199 men were saved, Frank Stow one was of the survivors. After his narrow escape Frank went back home to Preston on leave, he visited the offices of the Preston Herald with his recently wounded brother Harold, the paper later published Frank`s story.

Preston Herald – 20th January 1915


Fourteen hours exposure in the icy waters.

“It was at 2.15 on New Year’s morning, and the Formidable was steaming on patrol duty about sixteen miles out from Brixham, when the first tremor of shock told of the first torpedo having struck the vessel. Stow was then laid by his gun in his night clothes. All the lights went out, and the engineers shut off the power and left the ship at the mercy of the heavy seas that was running.

THE SECOND TORPEDO – All the men below the deck were called up, and the three boats that could be got away were away; the others could not be got into the sea owing to the list on the ship and the absence of steam to lower away the steam boats. The night was stormy, and the heavy sea that was running made the task of getting out the boats extremely difficult. The sea, too, swung round the ship, and about half an hour after the impact of the first torpedo another struck her on the other side. The seaman gunner, who was in his shirt at the time of the impact, was thrown into the water, with the new supporting collar – served out after the sinking of the Aboukir and Cressy – round his neck. For two hours he was buffeted by the icy cold waves that were running mountains high, and from his position he saw the ship go down with some 520 of his brave comrades still on board. The ship sank about two hours after the first torpedo had smashed through her side and through the stoke-holds, one of which was flooded.

IN THE OPEN BOAT – But for that collar Stow would never have lived in the icy waters. Then he was picked up by one of three launches from the Formidable. A hole had been hammered into her side when she was lowered away. For twelve more hours the seamen and thirty or forty comrades were in water constantly bailing out the seas that had swept over the boat, and rushed upwards through the holes in her bottom that had been hastily plugged with jumpers, trousers and anything that came to hand. The exposure was fearful, and by the time the men were picked up by the Brixham trawler Provident, not one of them cared whether the boat sank or swam, to such a state they had been reduced.

THE AFTER EFFECTS – For a full week after landing at Brixham Stow was in hospital, where two men are still undergoing treatment. He is on leave now for a few days before he returns to the Chatham Barracks before being assigned to another ship. It is a peculiar thing that the seamen do not grumble at the Admiralty order that all ships in the vicinity of a stricken vessel shall cut and run. It is a harsh order to us ashore, but to the sailor who knows the conditions it seems the most natural thing in the world.

The seamen gunner saw the mystery vessel, of which much has been said. She was, he said, a steam trawler, though where she hailed from, no one, not even the Brixham trawlermen could say. To the new collar the seamen undoubtedly owes his life.

Frank survived the war and was demobilised on the 20th May 1919. He married Lucy Hood in Preston early in 1928 and he died later that same year. Frank received the 1915 Star, British War and Victory Medals in recognition of his service for his country.



Janet Davis
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