This is the time of year when the UK remembers the soldiers that gave their lives for our freedom. Remembrance Day has been observed throughout the Commonwealth since the end of the First World War to remember the members of the armed forces who have died in the line of duty. In a previous article, I wrote about the brother of John Lennon’s Uncle George, who died during The Great War, but George Harrison also had a heroic relative – his grandfather – Private Henry Harrison. George told Beatles’ biographer, Hunter Davies – albeit inaccurately – that he believed his paternal had died in the Battle of Mons, in Belgium, the first major action of the war by the British Expeditionary Force, in August 1914. However, in recent years, many more details of Henry Harrison have emerged, including the actual battle he died in, the location of his grave, and even some of his personal possessions.
George’s father, Harold Hargreaves Harrison, was born 28 May, 1909 to Henry Harrison and Jane Tompson. Henry was born on 21st January 1882 at 12 Queen Street, West Derby, Liverpool. Due to the obvious fact that, at that time, the Harrisons were just another anonymous Liverpool family, little is known about his early life, but what is known is that he was builder involved in the construction of the grand houses on Princes Road in Liverpool, close to where The Quarrymen (before George joined them) would play one of their first major gigs to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the city. George once ascribed his love of architecture to the genetic influence of the grandfather he never knew.
Henry and Jane were married on 17 August, 1902 in Holy Trinity Church, Wavertree, and in the thirteen years before his untimely death, Henry became the father of seven children, including a daughter, Jane, whom he never knew, as she was born in April 1915, while he was on active service. He left Liverpool docks in November 1914, joining the 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.
The Battle of Loos, in France, took place from 25 September – 8 October 1915, the biggest British attack of 1915. The French and British tried to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne, but were contained by the enemy armies. 8500 soldiers were killed at Loos and it was, in fact, this battle where Henry Harrison died, on the very first day of action. He was 33 years old. Henry, and a friend, Alf Berry, were escorting German prisoners on war when they became separated, and Harry was never seen again. His widow, Jane had to wait for two more months to receive news of her husbands heroic death. The local newspaper, the Wavertree Times reported:
“Official notification has been received by his wife at 24 Abyssinia Street, Wavertree, Liverpool of the death of Private Harry Harrison, 1st Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment who was killed in action in France on September 25. Before joining the army he was in the employ of a Liverpool firm of builders. He joined the service in November last and was drafted to the front in the spring. He leaves a widow and seven children.”
It isn’t known whether Private Henry Harrison, Service Number 18190, was ever found, but it is probable that his tombstone, like so many, commemorates an absent soldier. The grave is in St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery, north of Lens in the Pas de Calais – Plot 5, Row F, Grave 10 of the cemetery. It bears the inscription, “A Faithful Heart”. Of the 2,000 or so men buried there, only 218 are in named graves – including that of Private Harrison.
Further information came to light during the Liverpool Family History Regiment day on 28th September 2013. A relative of Henry Harrison – his identity is unknown – went to the Family History Stall seeking information. There was an entry for Henry in the newspaper index so arrangements were made for him to go to the Liverpool Archives the following Tuesday. Before he left he emptied a bag onto the table. The bag contained letters, Henry’s army pay book, and inside it, the ribbons from Henry’s three medals. Also, there was the memorial plaque, known as the ‘War Penny’ or the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’, a bronze coin issued to the next-of-kin of fallen servicemen. The archivist receiving the find noted:
“Jane, Henry’s wife, kept all correspondence regarding her husband right up to the 1920s, so I can only assume she may have pawned the medals as she was left a widow with seven children and two of them, I think, were disabled.”
A couple of interesting, and slightly connected, facts also come out of this story. The 2007 TV movie, My Boy Jack, documents the story of John “Jack” Kipling (played by Daniel Radcliffe, better known as Harry Potter), the son of Rudyard Kipling (best known as the writer of ‘The Jungle Book’ and the poem ‘If’). Jack also died in the Battle of Loos as a lieutenant serving in the Irish Guards, but his family waited for two years for news of his death, and never knew where he was buried. His grave is close to that of Private Harrison. It wasn’t conclusively identified until 1991, when it was given the inscription, “Their name liveth for evermore”. According to French historian – and Beatles fan – Jean Claude Hocquet:
“It was Rudyard Kipling, ravaged by the fact of not knowing where his son had been buried, who campaigned for this inscription to appear in all British cemeteries.”
In my last article, I included a photo of The Beatles, en route to Hamburg, resting at the Arnhem Oosterbeek War Cemetery in the Netherlands – which bears the same inscription.
Given that many of the facts about the death of Henry Harrison have emerged in recent years, it is quite probable that his grandson, George, never knew the whole story of his grandfather, and whether, given his pacifist views, he’d have been terribly impressed, but thanks to efforts of a few determined historians and Beatles fans, we now have another interesting story to add to the history of members of the Beatles’ families … and the real heroes in those families.
Copyright 2017 Philip Kirkland. No original part of this work may be reproduced in whole or in part in any manner without the permission of the copyright owner.