The name of John ‘Jack’ Harrison is synonimous with the history of Hull as a hero in two very different elements which still resonate today with the people of Hull and beyond.
Jack was born on 12 November 1890, he was the fourth of seven born to John and Charlotte Harrison and lived his early life in Williamson Street and Newbridge Road, close to Hull KR’s home ground on Craven Street.
His father was a plater and boilermaker at Earle’s Shipyard so Jack came from a very humble background, but his parents worked very hard to give him the best start in life they could, at the time when university places were the almost exclusive right of the wealthy they worked hard enough to get him a place at what is now York St. John University.
Whilst he was in York Jack trained to be a teacher and also represented his college at Swimming, Cricket and also in Rugby League for which he had exceptional talent.
Jack signed amateur forms to play for York Rugby League club and he appeared in five games for them and scored three tries in the process.
Jack qualified as a teacher in 1912 and returned to his hometown when he gained a post as a teacher at Lime Street School, when he returned everyone expected him to sign for Hull KR because of his East Hull roots and the fact that his father had supported them and indeed York had occasion to believe that Rovers had made a dodgy approach to sign him while he was playing for them but Jack said they had approached him before he ever turned out for York.
In a surprising move Jack opted to sign for the black and white side of Hull and made his debut for Hull FC in September 1912, he went on to score 17 tries in 29 games in his first season at The Boulevard.
The 1913-14 season was a triumphant one for Jack and the team as they achieved what the team had been built for and won the most famous competition in World Rugby League the Challenge Cup. Hull, who had a few years before become the first team ever to lose three consecutive Challenge Cup Finals, beat Wakefield Trinity 6-0 in the final at Thrum Hall, Halifax, and it was Jack who scored the decisive second try to wrap up the victory.
On 1 September 1914 Jack married his sweetheart Lillian Ellis and they set up home in Wharncliffe Street, Chanterlands Avenue, married life obviously suited him as he then went on to score the club record of 52 tries in the 1914-15 season, a record which still stands to this day.
Of course by the end of that season World War 1 was raging all over Europe and on 4th November 1915 Jack signed up for the East Yorkshire regiment and was sent for officer training at Inns of Court Officer Training Corps and was subsequently commissioned as a temporary 2nd Lieutenant.
On 25th March 1917 Jack became a war hero by leading a patrol in No Man’s Land and capturing a prisoner and, for setting an outstanding example, he was awarded the Military Cross, the citation for it 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.
Jack was tragically killed at Oppy Wood in northern France on 3 May 1917 ina show of extreme bravery to try and save the lives of the men of his platoon as they were held down by heavy machine-gun fire, for his bravery and self-sacrifice he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the citation for this award says:
For the 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 lieutenant John Harrison led his company against the enemy trench and under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, but was repulsed. Re-organising his command as best he could in No Man’s Land, he again attacked in darkness, under heavy 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; presumed dead.
There is a memorial to him outside the KC Stadium but some people are now calling for his memory to be honoured in the form of a statue at the Cenotaph in Hull City Centre