b. 12/11/1890 Hull, Yorkshire. d. 03/05/1917 Oppy, France.
John “Jack” Harrison (1890-1917) was born at Drypool, Sculcoates, Kingston-upon-Hull, Yorkshire on 12th November 1890. He was known as Jack to distinguish him from his father, also John, who hailed from Middlesbrough. Jack’s father worked for Earle’s Shipbuilding in Hull as a boilermaker-plater. He married Charlotte Carr, a domestic servant, in 1883. Jack had three older sisters called Beatrice, Lilian and Charlotte, with two younger sisters (Elsie and Elma) and a younger brother, Stanley.
Jack was educated at Craven Street Higher Grade School, Hull from 1901-1909, Hull Secondary School from 1909-1910 and York Diocesan Teacher Training College, York from 1910-1912. Jack was also well known as a sportsman in the north of England. He was one of the finest Rugby League wing three-quarters in the Northern League. He initially was captain of St John’s College and then for York Northern Union Rugby Football Club in the 1911-12 season before moving to Hull Northern Union Club, making his debut in September 1912. He made 116 appearances, scoring 106 tries and two goals. His record of six tries against Wakefield, stood until 1968. He scored one of the two tries in the Challenge Cup Final to beat Wakefield 6-0 on 26th April 1914. In the 1914-15 season, he set an unbroken record of 52 tries in a single season.
Jack was a student teacher at Estcourt Street Junior School, Hull until September 1912 when he became an assistant master at Lime Street Senior Boys/Council School, Hull in the dockland area close to the river. On 1st September 1914, he married Lilian Ellis at Sculcoates. They lived in Hull, and had a son, John “Jackie” Harrison, born on 29th June 1915. Sadly, Jackie Harrison would die in action in World War II, on 1st June 1940, commanding C Company in the defence of the Dunkirk perimeter on the canal between Furnes and Bergues.
Jack enlisted in the Inns of Court OTC on 4th November 1915 and trained at No 14 Officer Cadet Battalion, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire from March 1916. He was commissioned in the East Yorkshire Regiment on 5th August 1916 and was posted to 14th (Reserve) Battalion at Seaton Delavel near Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He went to France on 19th September, where he joined 6 Platoon, B Company, 11th East Yorkshire.
He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions on 25th February 1917 when during the enemy retirement near Hebuterne he led one of two platoon strength patrols towards the enemy lines as part of an advance guard. This was soon followed a few months later by his VC action. On 3rd May 1917, he was ordered, with the rest of his brigade, to attack a wood near Oppy, Pas de Calais, his platoon became pinned down by machine gun fire. 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. 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.
Jack was killed during the action, and sadly his body was not recovered. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. He left £149/18/10 to his wife. The VC was presented to his widow by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 2nd March 1918. In addition to his VC and MC, he was awarded the British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. When Lilian died, she left the medals to the East Yorkshire Regiment Museum in Beverley and they are now held by the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum, York.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRINCE OF WALES' REGIMENT MUSEUM, YORK.
BURIAL PLACE: NO KNOWN GRAVE - ON ARRAS MEMORIAL, FRANCE. BAY 4 AND 5
John Harrison's VC on display at the Prince of Wales Regimental Museum, York (February 2012).
KC Stadium, Hull
Lord Mayor's Walk Campus, York
Harrison's medals in an updated display at the Regiment Museum in York (Eddie Dixon)
War Illustrated, 21st July 1917
Harrison's memorial stone to be laid in Hull on 7th May 2017
Beverley Minster (Mick Brand)