John "Jack" Harrison
- Created: 21 April 2014
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Jack Harrison VC
John Harrison was born in Hull on 12 November 1890. His father was a Plater and Boilermaker in the Earles Shipyard. After leaving school, Harrison studied at St John's College, York now York St John University before becoming a teacher in York, and later at Lime Street School in Hull.
In York, he caught the attention of the York Rugby League Club and played for them five times in 1911-12, scoring three tries. He returned to his native Hull in September 1912 and married Lillian on 1 September 1914. He was invited to join Hull which included Billy Batten, and played his first match on 5 September 1912. In 1913/4 season he scored a record 52 tries and he went on to score a total of 106 tries in 116 matches for Hull up to 1916. Jack scored one of two tries scored by Hull in the Challenge Cup victory over Wakefield Trinity at Halifax
Not long after the birth of his son, Jackie, Harrison volunteered for the army and started receiving officer training on 4 November 1915, as a private in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps. On completion of training, he was commissioned as a probationary temporary second lieutenant in the East Yorkshire Regiment on 5 August 1916, and was posted to 6 Platoon, 11th Battalion. In February 1917 the Hull brigade entered the front line once again and Jack was soon in the thick of the action. On 25 March, Harrison lead a patrol into no man's land and for this action he was awarded the Military Cross (MC). The citation for his MC read:
Temp. 2nd Lt. John Harrison, E. York. R.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He handled his platoon with great courage and skill, reached his objective under the most trying conditions, and captured a prisoner. He set a splendid example throughout
On 3 May 1917 came the actions that led to his VC. Ordered, with the rest of his brigade, to attack a wood near Oppy, Pas De Calaise, his platoon became pinned down by machine gun fire The citation for his VC describes events in more detail:
T/2nd Lt. John Harrison, M.C., E. York. R.
For most conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice in an attack.
Owing to darkness and to smoke from the enemy barrage, and from our own, and to the fact that our objective was in a dark wood, it was impossible to see when our barrage had lifted off the enemy front line. Nevertheless, 2nd Lt. Harrison led his company against the enemy trench under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, but was repulsed. Reorganising his command as best he could in No Man's Land, he again attacked in darkness under terrific fire, but with no success. Then, turning round, this gallant officer single-handed made a dash at the machine-gun, hoping to knock out the gun and so save the lives of many of his company. His self-sacrifice and absolute disregard of danger was an inspiring example to all. (He is reported missing, believed killed.)
Harrison's body was never found. He is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Arras Memorial
A rare photograph, Jack pictured right in a trench system dugout
Lilian Harrison was presented with his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace by King George V in March 1918. The war widow benefited from a fund raised in Hull to provide for the younger John Harrison’s education. Their son went on to serve as an officer in the West Riding Regiment during the Second World War, and was killed as a Captain in the defence of Dunkirk and is buried in the Dunkirk Town cemetery.
Lillian Harrison died on 5 December 1977, and bequeathed Harrison's medals to the East Yorkshire regimental museum in Beverley (now part of the Museum of Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum in Temple St York).
A Memorial fund has now been established and a memorial plinth erected at the KC Stadium home of Hull FC on V.E. Day, 11th December, 2003. Fundraising continues to enable an annual tournament in which local children having to overcome disadvantage will play for the Jack Harrison VC Memorial Trophy.
Prior to Enlisting in the 11th Battalion on 4th November 1915 he was a teacher at Lime Street, Boys School, Hull. Previously teaching at Estcourt Street Senior School Hull and attended the York Training College. On the 3rd May 1920 a memorial Tablet was unveiled at Lime Street School by Colonel Commandant B.G. Price CB, CMG, DSO.
Colonel Price, addressing the boys, told them they had got the most extraordinary privilege that few schools had, of doing their daily task in a room which had a tablet on the wall in memory of one of their teachers who had earned the highest distinction the King could give to any subject. Bravery was also shown almost daily in civil life amongst all classes, and these same men when they passed into the Army did valiant deeds Yet the deeds which earn the Victoria Cross were in a way no greater than the brave deeds performed by many Civilians; but in deeds of bravery in the field a man leading his company or platoon was able to set a great example. In the terrible fights and battles during the Great War there was an extraordinary temptation amongst all men, even the bravest, to avoid either getting themselves or their men into impossible positions. He was sure Lieutenant Harrison did not search for glory or a reputation. He found himself in the ordinary course of duty in " No Man's Land," surrounded by smoke and flame, and horrid noise, the cries of dying men, the constant whizz of bullets and shrapnel, and weird lights and sounds, and the thing that carried him forward, was that he was doing -his duty, and meant to see the thing through.
The tablet has never been found and was probably destroyed in the WW2 blitz on Hull. It is a shame because the boys of the school would have looked to that tablet for inspiration a brave man in their midst.
The Memorial to Jack outside the KC Stadium in Hull
On both sides of the memorial are the emblems of the Military Cross and the Victoria Cross
John Harrison's CWGC Certificate
This photograph was kindly sent to us by Patrick Neal and it is of the Jack Harrison memorial which is at the Lord Mayor's Walk campus in York
Second Lieutenant 11th Bn, East Yorkshire Regiment died 3rd May 1917 age 26. No known grave, remembered Arras Memorial. Known as ‘Jack’ he was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross when losing his life at Oppy Wood when he single handed destroyed a machine gun position. Only three months earlier he had been awarded a Military Cross for bravery in the field of battle. Born 12th November 1890. A student 1910-12 he was Rugby Club captain and won cricket and swimming colours. Also a College monitor. A teacher at Lime St. School, Hull. He was a professional Rugby League player for Hull FC scoring a record 52 tries in the 1913-14 season. He was selected to tour Australia in 1914 but the tour was cancelled due to the war. Memorials in his honour can be found at the KC Stadium, Hull and in the entrance to the Sport Hall at Lord Mayor’s Walk campus York St John University. The Jack Harrison VC Memorial Trophy is competed for annually between the Army and Royal Navy Rugby League teams. Jack’s son was killed at Dunkirk in World war Two.