165. F L Harrison

HARRISON Frank Lionel 760A
22 B   DoW 19/5/18

Frank Harrison was born in East Ham, London. His parents were George and Bessie Harrison of Upton Park, London. When his father – George Harrison – completed the information for the (National) Roll of Honour, he indicated that his son had attended a grammar school – Upton Manor? – in London. The father also indicated on the form that his son had gone to Australia when he was 17 yo. Possibly, he reached Melbourne in March 1915 as an ‘unassisted passenger’.

At the time of his enlistment (May 1917), Frank was working as a farm labourer for Henry Prescot Rendell (‘Cloverdale’) at North Devon. At the very most, Frank could only have been working and living in the Shire of Alberton for 2 years prior to enlistment.

Frank was 19 yo when he enlisted (16/5/17). There were other cases where underage British migrant workers were allowed to enlist without parental permission but in this case there was formal permission and it came in the form of a letter from the father which is included in the service file. The letter , dated 24/2/16, reads as if the son had written home requesting approval to join the AIF. The relevant part of the letter was underlined:

As for joining up, I [the father, George Harrison] leave that entirely to your own wish. Certainly everyone will have to do their bit before we come out victorious.

Even though the father effectively gave his permission in mid 1916, Frank did not enlist for another year. The enlistment, including the medical with Dr Rutter, took place at Yarram. The Shire Secretary issued him with a railway warrant on 19/5/17.

The occupation on enlistment was ‘farm labourer’ and his address was given as ‘care of H.P. Rendell, Devon North, Victoria’. Rendell farmed approximately 100 acres at Devon North. Private Harrison was single and his religion was listed as Church of England. At the same time, his name appears on the honour roll for the local Methodist congregation of North Devon. The Rendell family was Methodist, and the 2 sons of H P Rendell who also enlisted appear on the same roll.

Private Harrison joined as reinforcements for 1 Machine Gun Company. He left Australia in late October 1917 and reached England in late December. At this point he was transferred to 22 Battalion and then spent the next 4 months training. In early 1918 he was hospitalised with mumps. Finally, on 22 April 1918, he joined 22 Battalion in France.

Private Harrison was killed less than one month later (19/5/18) which, by cruel irony, was virtually the first anniversary of his enlistment.

The official record shows that Private Harrison died of wounds. However the following 2 witness statements indicate how fine the line between ‘died of wounds’ and ‘killed in action’ could be:

Pte Harrison was hit on the head near Ville-sur-Ancre. He was put in a shell hole, but started breathing again so they called the stretcher bearers, who took him to the D/S where he died.   Private Julius Snider (767A) 3/9/18

We were making a small advance at 2.30 a.m. May 19th and were just digging in having advanced 1000 yards – when Fritz got his [ ? ] going and one landed about 7 or 8 yards from Harrison. He was badly hit. The nose of the shell split his forehead open. He was unconscious. He lived for about ½ an hour. The stretcher bearers attended to him and he was taken to the Dressing Station.   L Scutcheon (768) 29/8/18

There is a detailed account (Appendix XII) in the war diary of 22 Battalion of the fighting in which Private Harrison died. The action was centred near Ville-Sur-Ancre about 30Km from Amiens and 7Km from Albert. As the diary notes, the action, which began at 2.00AM on 19/5/18, was intended to ‘straighten the line’. In effect, it involved the battalion moving forward some 1,000 yards on a front of 1,250 yards and capturing several critical German posts. There was thorough preparation for the attack and overall it was a success.

In the advance from 2.30 AM, some units met less resistance and moved ahead more quickly than others. However, these advancing troops came under the fire of their own artillery. The war diary makes it clear that it was ‘friendly fire’:

Reports of short shooting by our artillery were received from “B” Coy at 4 a.m., from “C” Coy at 4.55 a.m. and again at 7 a.m. Brigade were informed at once. The Casualties suffered from our own artillery fire were regrettable, and marred an otherwise very successful operation.

Another witness statement from the Red Cross report for Private Harrison specifically has his death as the result of ‘friendly fire’:

He was of A. Company. 1 Platoon. On May 19th in morning about 4 o’clock during our attack at Ville Sur Ancre – was hit by piece of shell from our own guns whilst digging in after attack. I was about 12 yards away at time. I helped to lift him out and place him in a shell hole. Was hit in head just above the right ear, was unconscious. Was taken to D/S by S/B – know nothing of burial. Had just joined up in the battalion and did not know him well.    Private J Robertson (4773) 28/8/18

For ‘an otherwise very successful operation’ there were still 192 casualties for the battalion, whose strength at that point – before the operation – was just 523. There were 20 killed, 3 who died of wounds – one of whom was Private Harrison – with another 165 wounded and, lastly, 4 who were classed as ‘missing’.

Private Harrison was buried initially at Heilly No. 2. Military Cemetery and then the body was re-interred at Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension, approximately 2Km from where he was killed.

Following his death, all communication was with his father, as next of kin, who was living in London (10 Aintree Avenue, East Ham, London). The will listed the sister – Miss Livinia Blanche Harrison, also of London – as the sole beneficiary. Personal kit was returned very early – July 1918 – but, strangely, there is no record of the actual inventory in the service file.

Private Harrison’s name is recorded on the Alberton Shire Roll of Honor. However this record does not describe him as ‘killed’. More significantly, his name is not recorded on the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial. Presumably, his memory was ‘lost’ because there no continuing link with the Shire. The fact that all medals and memorabilia, the photographs of the grave and the kit were returned to the family in London also helps explain why the memory disappeared.

However, there is some evidence that Private Harrison’s memory lasted at least a short time. In June 1918 (30/6/18) – just a few weeks after the death – H P Rendell, from North Devon, wrote to Base Records specifically to enquire about Private Harrison’s fate,

In one of the latest Casualty Lists Private F. L. Harrison, England, is reported to have died of wounds on the 19th May 1918. Pte F. L. Harrison, an English lad, enlisted from here, and I am very anxious to know if this is the same lad. Could you kindly give me his Regimental Number and any particulars you may have concerning his death, and I will be most grateful.

Base Records replied, providing the regimental number and indicating that the father in England as next of kin would receive further advice as it became available.

Rendell must have passed this information to the local paper because on 17/7/18 – 2 months after the death – the Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative reported:

Word has reached Mr. H. P. Rendell, North Devon, of the death from wounds of Private Frank L. Harrison, 22nd Battalion, late 1st Machine Gun Company. This young soldier, who was highly respected, worked for Mr. Rendell, and enlisted from North Devon. The late soldier’s father visited both Clyde and Perce Rendell while lying in hospital wounded.

It appears that when Rendell’s 2 sons – Percy and Clyde – were recuperating in hospital in England in October 1917 they had been visited by Harrison’s father. Percy was in hospital with serious shrapnel wounds (right shoulder and head) and Clyde with trench feet/trench fever (second occasion). Percy would be repatriated to Australia and medically discharged – late May 1918 – because of his wounds. Clyde would return to the front and he too would be killed in action, on 6/7/18. As indicated, the date that this report appeared in the local paper was 17/7/18 and the date of the cable advising the Rendell family of the Clyde’s death was 16/7/18.

There was another reference to Private Harrison’s death in the local paper on 25/9/18. It was in a letter from the brother (Archie) of Mr Fraser Forbes of Yarram. The date of death was incorrect but it was clearly Private Harrison:

Rendell from North Devon is in the same company as myself. Frank Harrison, who worked for the Rendells was unlucky, and was killed on the 19th June in a stunt.

There was also an in memoriam for Private Harrison in the local paper on 16/5/19 for the first anniversary of his death.

However, by the time the names were added to the Alberton Shire Soldiers’ Memorial in April 1929 – nearly 11 years later – , the memory of Private Harrison – a young, English farm worker, from an apparently middle-class background, who had worked in the Shire for 2 years before enlisting – had obviously been lost.

References

Gippsland Standard and Alberton Shire Representative

O’Callaghan G (Comp) 2006, Clonmel to Federation: Guide to people in the Port Albert area 1841-1901, Vol 3, The Alberton Project

National Archives file for HARRISON Frank Lionel
Roll of Honour: Frank Lionel Harrison
First World War Embarkation Roll: Frank Lionel Harrison
Red Cross Wounded and Missing file: Frank Lionel Harrison

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