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Harold Archer was born in York in 1897, the eldest son of Richard William Archer, a school attendance officer, and his wife Jane Ann. Harold had at least two siblings, William born in 1905 and Muriel born in 1909.
Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Archer enlisted in the Royal Artillery Garrison as gunner 312238 of the 199th Siege Battery. He was awarded the British War and Victory medals.