Lady Armstrong (Harry’s wife), and Mrs Nicholas F. Brady at a New York Girl Scouts fund-drive in 1924.

Harry Gloster Armstrong: Consular General of Boston and New York

In the second of a two-part series, Jonathan Smyth looks at the son of a solicitor who became an actor, a spy and then a Consular General. For part one, fine the link below.

As the guns of the First World War erupted across Europe, Harry G. Armstrong, the agent of the Manchester Ship Canal company became increasingly concerned over economic matters in the region and in a letter to the Cavan MP Vincent Kennedy in October 1914 he impressed upon him: ‘that the present is a great opportunity for Ireland … developing her exports of cattle, butter, and fifty other articles that England has been largely in the habit of drawing on from the continent’. He suggested that what Ireland really needed at this time was a ‘Commercial Department operated on business lines and devoid of sentiment or politics’.

Later in 1916, after Armstrong had been appointed the American representative of the Manchester Ship Canal, he wrote to The Anglo-Celt, offering £1 to each of the first one hundred men to put themselves forward for enlistment into the British Army to face the foe in the ‘Great War’. These prospective soldiers were asked to join in Cavan and must do so, in front of the recruiting officer who was charged with keeping a list of the one hundred recruits. The men were instructed that they should apply to Lieutenant Colonel John Madden when they joined the ‘battalion for training before going to the regular battalion’. Madden was in command of the 4th Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers.

On December 31, 1919, it was written in the Omaha Daily Bee, that Harry Gloster Armstrong, the then ‘British consul-general at Boston’ received news of his appointment as the next ‘consul-general New York’ in succession to Wilfred C. Thesiger who fell ill. Armstrong’s diplomatic skills were considerable, and the newspaper noted that over a twenty year period he had held ‘important posts’ in the foreign office in London. He always liked New York and the job would earn him a neat $25,000 per year, and that did not include the ‘liberal allowances’ he could claim.

On November 8, 1923, Harry was presented with the ‘insignia and Royal Grant of a Knight Commandership of the British Empire’ by Mr. Chilton, Charge d’Affairs, at a function organised by ‘the recipient’ and Lady Armstrong in New York.

Industrial designer

Life magazine, on May 2, 1949, carried a curious article about a French-born American industrial designer named Raymond Loewy who famously designed logos for Shell, TWA and Exxon, as well as creating the livery for Air Force One. In 1919, following the First World War, Captain Loewy boarded a boat from France to New York and during the journey he drew a sketch of a ‘fashionable lady passenger’ and duly put it up for auction, for it to be bought by none other than a fellow passenger, Harry Gloster Armstrong, who paid the expensive price of $150.

Harry imparted some wise advice to Loewy, telling him to take up fashion design as that was where ‘his fortune lay’ and going another mile more than he needed too, Harry recommended the young Frenchman to the publisher ‘Condé’ whose publications included Vogue and Vanity Fair. Loewy’s early success in fashion before moving into ‘advertising art’, may in part, be attributed to Armstrong’s encouragement and his belief in the young man’s abilities.

As consular-general in New York, Harry received a great many invitations to important events. When a dinner event was held aboard the Cunarder Mauretania in 1922 he was counted amongst the fifty-six guests who celebrated the ships recent conversion to an oil burner engine and in remembrance of its previous achievements as the ‘fastest and finest merchant ship afloat’, having in the First World War rushed troops at swift speeds to Gallipoli.

Another shipping event that Armstrong was invited to, was the arrival of the Brittanic in New York on its maiden voyage from Liverpool; it being the newest of the White Star liners, the same company which built the Titanic. The Brittanic was described on June 25, 1930, by the New York Times as the ‘largest British-built motor ship and the first White Star liner to be equipped with Diesel engines’. Armstrong was a dedicated official, with Time magazine noting on August 25, 1930, that: ‘Every weekday for the past eleven years, Sir Harry Gloster Armstrong, (aged) 69, has gone to his office in Manhattan at 6 am.

Catholic charities

Sir Harry’s wife was Lady Margaret Hanway Armstrong and in May 1929, Margaret’s work in the United States came in for high praise, especially her role in assisting the Catholic charities of New York and respects were paid to her by Mr. Whalen, the Chief of Police, who having had appointed her to join his Advisory Committee on Crime Prevention. This newspaper added that, ‘Lady Armstrong, as a Catholic herself, has naturally interested herself especially in local Catholic charities’.

The New York Times report on December 18, 1929, stated that during the Christmas dinner at the consulate, Harry reminded his many friends that he was soon to retire and how ‘a hint of farewell pervaded the annual Christmas luncheon … at the Downtown Association, as more than a score of his friends and associates paid warm tribute to his administration’. In October 1930, the same paper announced that, Harry Armstrong, British consul-general in New York, had resigned as president of the Society of Foreign Consuls in New York, which was formed by him in 1925 and had been in charge of until that month. It was pointed out that he was to leave his post as Consul General in January 1931, ‘by reason of age’, and on stepping down, he planned on returning to live in London.

Cavan Calling

Harry Gloster Armstrong died on February 8, 1938, at Fort Washington and his remains were laid to rest in Holy Cross Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York. Geofrey Parsons said of Armstrong: ‘Ambassadors doubtless have their importance, but it can reasonably be argued that the right consul-general can accomplish more in aid of international good will than any embassy. There could be no question of the rightness of Sir Harry Gloster Armstrong for the post in this city. An Irishman by birth, soldier with the Royal Irish Fusiliers, actor with Maurice Barrymore at the Haymarket, he came to this country in 1891 and for more than twenty years was a highly successful businessman in this city’.

Nor did he forget his homeland according to an Anglo-Celt report on July 30, 1921, which recorded Armstrong’s visit to Ireland to see his old hometown, in 1915.


Part 1: Soldier, actor, spy, consular general… Harry Gloster Armstrong