Gilroy, Harold Danvers

He was the elder son of Harold Bowman Gilroy and Dorothea Gilroy (née Lamb), of Fingask, Errol, Perthshire, and came from Horris Hill to Mr. Broomfield’s House in May 1915. He had no gift for ball games, but made his mark as a runner.   In his last year, when he was Head of the House, he won Steeplechase by three hundred yards, and was first man home in his House’s winning team. In Athla he was second in both the Mile and Half-Mile. Architecture was a real interest to him, and he was a keen member of Archaeological Society.

From Winchester he went to Oxford, and at Balliol took a Second Class in Modern  History.   He was first a chartered accountant in Edinburgh, and in 1937 became a Writer to the Signet (a private society of Scottish solicitors). Early in the war he joined up and in December 1940 was commissioned into 2nd Battalion, Black Watch.

2nd Black Watch had moved to Suda Bay at the extreme western end of Crete in late 1940, moving in March 1941 to Heraklion. The Germans launched a major airborne invasion of Crete late in May.   2nd Battalion were defending a small airfield just east of Heraklion and came under attack on May 20th. Much damage was inflicted on the enemy, but eventually resistance became impossible and during the night of May 28th the battalion was evacuated.   HMS Orion and HMS Dido then came under air attack and were hit, resulting in many more casualties.

Still considerably under strength, the battalion was sent in July to Syria.  Reaching the area of Damascus on August 12th, the battalion expected to be sent into action against Vichy French positions. Fortunately an armistice was agreed between the British and Vichy French commanders two days later and the battalion spent the next two months peacefully enjoying training and relaxation near the small town of Zahle in the Bekaa. In mid-October 1941 the battalion went to Tobruk, although by then Gilroy was acting as Captain and Adjutant of POW Advance HQ at Asmara in Eritrea.  Here he managed to have dinner with his old friend Max Harrison (A 1916-1921) and another contemporary, the Reverend D.J. Chitty (Coll.1914-1920), who reported that he was in excellent health and spirits.

Asmara had been captured during the little-known campaign in East Africa, which was in fact of vital importance for the security of British oil supplies and the route to India.   In January 1941 British forces had advanced in three columns, one into Eritrea and two towards Addis Ababa.  The Italian garrison in Eritrea was quickly driven back to the mountain stronghold of Keren which, after a siege of several weeks, surrendered on March 27th. In Ethiopia the garrison was also driven back into the mountains and the Duke of Aosta surrendered to the British on May 16th at Amba Alagi. Isolated detachments continued to hold out, the last surrendering at Gondar on November 27th. During the course of the campaign the Italian army lost about 290,000 soldiers almost all of whom became prisoners – so Gilroy would have been a very busy man.   British forces – of which the majority were white South Africans (27,000) and black East Africans (33,000) – suffered only 1,154 battle casualties.  The result of the campaign was a crushing humiliation for the Axis powers. The fall of East Africa to the British secured the southern flank of Egypt.

Gilroy died suddenly at Asmara, aged thirty-nine, on September 6th 1941.   He lies in grave 3.F.9 of the Asmara War Cemetery.

He is also commemorated on the War Memorial at Balliol College.


War: World War 2

  • Surname: Gilroy
  • Forenames or initials: Harold Danvers
  • House: A
  • Years in School: 1915-1920
  • Rank: Captain
  • Regiment: Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)
  • Date of Birth: 6th November 1901
  • Date of Death: 6th September 1941
  • How Died: Died of unknown causes
  • Location in War Cloister: Inner D2
  • Decoration: NA
  • Burial Site: Asmara War Cemetery: Grave 3.F.9