Jack Harrison (VC)

John Harrison VC MC (12 November 1890 – 3 May 1917) was a professional rugby league footballer who played for Hull FC. He later became a British Army officer, and was the posthumous recipient of the Victoria Cross during the First World War, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

John Harrison
Jack Harrison VC.jpg
Born(1890-11-12)12 November 1890
Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died3 May 1917(1917-05-03) (aged 26)
Oppy, France
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service1915-1917
RankSecond Lieutenant
UnitThe East Yorkshire Regiment
Battles/warsWorld War I
Other work
Playing information
Years Team Pld T G FG P
1911–12 York 5 3 0 0 9
1912–16 Hull F.C. 116 106 0 0 318
Total 121 109 0 0 327

Early lifeEdit

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) where he was Rugby club captain and also represented the College at cricket and swimming before becoming a teacher later at Lime Street School in Hull.[1] 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 Hull in September 1912 and married Lillian on 1 September 1914. He was invited to join Hull F.C. which included Billy Batten, and played his first match on 5 September 1912. In 1913–14 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 Harrison played right wing, i.e. number 2, and scored a try in Hull F.C.s 6-0 victory over Wakefield Trinity in the 1914 Challenge Cup Final during the 1913–14 season at Thrum Hall, Halifax, in front of a crowd of 19,000.[2]

First World WarEdit

Not long after the birth of his son, Jackie, and while living at 75 Wharncliffe Street, Hull, Harrison volunteered for the army. He started receiving officer training on 4 November 1915,[3][4] as a private in the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps.[5] On completion of training, he was commissioned as a probationary temporary second lieutenant in the East Yorkshire Regiment on 5 August 1916,[6] and was posted to 6 Platoon, 11th (Service) Battalion (the Hull Tradesmen).[3] In February 1917 the Hull brigade entered the front line once again and Jack was soon in the thick of the action. On 25 February, Harrison led a patrol into no man's land, and for this action he was awarded the Military Cross (MC).[3][7][8] 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.

Oppy Wood, 1917. Evening by John Nash

On 3 May 1917 came the actions that led to his VC, during the Capture of Oppy Wood as part of the Battle of Arras. 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.[3][8][10][11] 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.)

— London Gazette[12]

Harrison's body was never found. He is commemorated on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Arras Memorial.[13]

Further informationEdit

Lilian Harrison was presented with his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace by King George V in March 1918. The war widow benefitted 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 Duke of Wellington's 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.[3]

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 Tower St, York).[3][14]

In 2017 York St John alumnus Patrick Neal released his biography of Harrison - 'The Heroic Johnsman - the story of Jack Harrison VC, MC'.


  1. ^ National Union of Teachers War Record, 1914–1919
  2. ^ "A complete history of Hull FC's Challenge Cup finals". Hull Daily Mail. 31 December 2013. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Jack Harrison, VC, MC, Hullsweb
  4. ^ Bilton, Hull in the Great War, p. 149.
  5. ^ "Medal card of Harrison, John" (fee usually required to view full pdf image of medal card). DocumentsOnline. The National Archives. Retrieved 4 March 2009.
  6. ^ "No. 29720". The London Gazette (Supplement). 22 August 1916. p. 8372.
  7. ^ Bilton, Hull Pals, p. 174.
  8. ^ a b Bilton, Hull Pals, Appendix 3.
  9. ^ "No. 30023". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 April 1917. p. 3682.
  10. ^ Bilton, Hull Pals, p. 189.
  11. ^ Bilton, Hull in the Great War, p. 144.
  12. ^ "No. 30130". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 June 1917. p. 5866.
  13. ^ Harrison, John, Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  14. ^ Harrison, John (junior), Commonwealth War Graves Commission


  • David Bilton, Hull Pals, 10th, 11th 12th and 13th Battalions East Yorkshire Regiment – A History of 92 Infantry Brigade, 31st Division, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2014, ISBN 978-1-78346-185-1.
  • David Bilton, Hull in the Great War 1914–1919, Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2015, ISBN 978-1-47382-314-3.