Born on 17 September 1895 to James Edwin and Susannah Harris of Bilston, Staffordshire, Roland James Harris was the eldest of four children. Little is known of his early years, but by 1911 the family had moved to Stockton-On-Tees where his father worked as a sheet mill iron worker at Rolling Mill.
At the age of fifteen Roland sat the Oxford Junior Local examinations, and was 1st in all of England. This led to him being awarded a Council scholarship of £60 a year, and an Open Mathematical Scholarship of £70 at Durham as a Foundation Scholar. On enrolling at Hatfield College as a Modern Arts student at Michaelmas 1912, Roland won the University Mathematical scholarship and in the year 1913-1914 he achieved a 1st in his exams. Had he finished his studies at Durham, he intended to go on to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he had already won an open exhibition of £75 a year, but the war intervened.
At the outbreak of war Harris enlisted into the 6th Durham Light Infantry and was appointed as a second lieutenant; a promotion to temporary lieutenant followed on 2 March 1916. Roland Harris was killed in action on his 21st birthday, 17 September 1916. Elements from the battalion was involved that day in an attack on a strongpoint called The Crescent in the area of High Wood near Flers: two attempts were made by two bombing squads, led by Second Lieutenant Aubin, Brigade Bombing Officer, but the attacks were broken up by a barrage that preceded a large German attack on the whole Brigade in that sector. At what point Harris died is not clear. His unit’s actions that day are described in The Story of the 6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry (1919), edited by Captain R.B. Ainsworth M.C. His body was never identified, and so his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial. Harris’s sacrifice is also commemorated in his home town of Stockton-on-Tees, in a Book of Remembrance in the church of St Thomas, and on plaques in the church of St Peter, in the Methodist church, and in the Secondary School. Harris’s name is also recorded on a plaque in the chapel of Hatfield College, Durham University.