Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1917, Second Lieutenant John Harrison VC MC, the East Yorkshire Regiment, was reported missing, presumed killed in action, near Oppy, Pas-de-Calais, in France.
The son of a plater and boilermaker in Earle’s Shipyard in Hull, he attended St John's College in York. He was the rugby club captain, represented the College at cricket and swimming, and went on to become a teacher in Hull. He played for the York rugby league club, then joined Hull F.C.. He scored a record 52 tries in the 1913-14 season, and a total of 106 tries up to 1916. He was to have toured Australia with the team, but plans were cancelled due to the outbreak of the Great War. He volunteered for the army, and began training as a private in November of 1915. In 1916 he was commissioned in the East Yorkshire Regiment and posted to the 11th (Service) Battalion (the 'Hull Tradesmen), being sent to the front the following February. That same month he led a patrol into “no man's land,” securing for himself the Military Cross for his actions. The citation reads: “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 the day of his death he was ordered to lead an attack in the wood near Oppy, Pas-de-Calais, but soon found his platoon pinned down by machine gun fire. His bravery that day earned him the Victoria Cross: “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.” His body was never found, hence the report of him being missing in action, presumed killed.
John, widely known as Jack, from Kingston-Upon-Hull, was 26 years old and married with a son. His son served as an officer in the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment during the Second World War, and was killed in the defence of Dunkirk.