Harry Thomas Palmer was born in Auckland to Frank and Elizabeth Palmer on 19 July 1871. They moved to Palmerston North when Harry was young and went to Campbell Street School, where he later became the chairman of the school committee. Harry became an auctioneer at Harry Palmer and Co. Harry married Mato Meyer in 1898. Mato’s parents were Prussian and she would later take the more Anglicised name of Margaret perhaps to shield her German ancestry.
Harry Palmer was a founding member of the Kia Kaha Football Club and for a number of years acted as secretary of the Rugby Union. He was secretary of the Athletic Club and the Harriers and at one time was a well-known gentleman rider, being particularly successful in his mounts in 1883. He was a leading member of the Palmerston North Operatic Society and of took leading roles in performances or acted as stage manager. He had been a member of Loyal Manawatu Lodge of Oddfellows which he joined in 1897 becoming District Grand Master in 1899. He was elected as a Borough Councillor in 1909 but retired due to health conditions.
Harry commenced his military career in 1900 as a quarter-master sergeant with the Manawatu Mounted Rifles and rose to the rank of captain in 1909. In October 1914, he enlisted for the First World War and was sent to the Dardanelles in Turkey. He took the lower rank of lieutenant, so he could join the machine gun section of the Wellington Mounted Rifles. In June 1915 he would again be promoted to captain. Shortly before his death, his wife Margaret had received his letter explaining that he had been wounded in the hand and head by splinters of shrapnel while in the trenches at the Dardanelles. He made light of his wounds, however, and his letter was of a cheerful tone. But he mentioned that he had been serving with his gun section in the trenches for 48 to 52 hours in drizzling rain and this, no doubt led to his death. Harry Palmer contracted pneumonia and succumbed to the illness on the hospital ship “Gascon” on July 15, 1915 and was buried in the Aegean Sea about 10 miles south of Lemnos.
Harry's last letter to Margaret from the ship on July 8 read: “After dodging shells and bullets and carrying my life in my hands no end of times since May 12, I’m blessed if I don’t succumb to pneumonia, which I attribute to overwork or being run down, more particularly since I took over the Brigade officer’s work and as I had great hopes of the job being a permanency, it is jolly hard luck to crack up at this stage. I came on board ship Monday and in the interval have been very rocky but as I am getting the best attention and plenty of medicine will come out of it smiling, don’t worry. Within myself I feel tip-top. How this sickness reminds me of my bout of typhoid. Will cable at first opportunity.” Manawatu Standard, “The Late Captain Harry Palmer”, 14 August 1915.