The name John “Jack” Harrison is infamous to Hull FC’s heritage and history, as during both an illustrious rugby league and service career, Jack went on to gain honourable records in both fields of work that still stand unmatched to the present day.
An inspirational human being, Jack was a professional rugby league player for Hull FC, who became a British Army officer and 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.
But before his service heroics, Jack Harrison excelled in a Hull FC side very much establishing itself as a Rugby League powerhouse following the twenty-two rebel clubs breakaway from the Rugby Football Union in 1895.
After studying at what is now York St John University, Jack returned to Hull, married Lillian, and was invited to join a Hull FC side which included the likes of Billy Batten, playing his first match on the 5th September 1912.
Jack, playing a key role in Hull FC’s early heritage, had it all. Possessing devastating speed, a swerving ability and an agility defying sidestep off both feet, such attributes saw the winger acclaim a club record of 52 tries during the 1914/15 season.
Over a 100 years prior to Hull’s 150th year celebrations, Jack was part of the clubs first ever Challenge Cup winning squad, scoring one of two Hull tries in the final victory over Wakefield Trinity at Halifax.
Jack was a star, and went on to score a creditable total of 106 tries in 116 matches for Hull up to 1916, crossing the white line for a final time on Boxing Day of that year.
Jack Harrison was born in Kingston upon Hull on the 12th November 1890. His father was a platter and boilermaker in the Earles Shipyard, an engineering company based on the Hull docklands.
Having left school, Jack was a centre figure of York’s sporting scene, playing for the universities rugby, cricket and swimming sides, before settling down as a teacher at Lime Street School in Hull.
Not long after the birth of his son, Jack Harrison volunteered for the British army and started receiving officer training in November 1915 as a private. On completion of training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the East Yorkshire Regiment, and was posted into the First World War.
The Hull brigade entered the front line once again and Jack was soon at the heart of the action. On the 25th March 1917, Harrison led a patrol into no man’s land and for this action he was awarded the Military Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty’.
Stated on his citation Jack 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 3rd of May 1917 came the actions that led to Jack’s Victoria Cross. Ordered, with the rest of his brigade, to attack a wood near Oppy, Pas-de-Calais, his platoon became pinned down by heavy machine gun fire.
Harrison led his company against the enemy trench under such fire but they were repulsed, which therefore captivated the conspicuous bravery and self-sacrifice in an act of altruistic courage.
Jack’s absolute disregard of danger was an inspiring example to all. After assaulting the machine gun fire, armed with just a pistol and a grenade, Jack Harrison heroically repelled the enemy, but consequently fell face down in sacrifice, never to be seen again.
Harrison’s wife Lilian was presented with his Victoria Cross at Buckingham Palace by King George V in March 1918. The war widow benefitted from a fund-raiser back in Hull to afford the younger John Harrison’s upcoming education. Their son went on to emulate his father by serving as an officer in the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment during the Second World War, and sadly was killed as a captain in the defence of Dunkirk.
Lillian Harrison died in December 1977, and bequeathed Harrison’s medals to the East Yorkshire regimental museum.
Today Jack Harrison’s memorial stands with the upmost pride opposite the West Stand reception at the KCOM Stadium. Jack’s legacy remains a cherished and respected part of Hull FC’s history and heritage. After all, he’s the only rugby league player to ever earn the Victoria Cross, and one that club, player, fan and foe can come together in remembrance to the ultimate sacrifice.
Jack Harrison MC VC, 1890-1917, Rest In Peace