No.1172 – Private John James Harrison – 10th Light Horse Regiment
John James Irwin Harrison was born in Sandhurst (Bendigo), Victoria on 30 July 1878. He was educated in Bendigo and after leaving school he did a Farrier apprenticeship for four years. After completing his apprenticeship he worked as a Farrier and Blacksmith in Victoria. He also joined the Victorian Militia Forces and went on to serve in the Boer War with the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles. The Rifles departed Victoria for South Africa on 15 February 1901 and mobilised at Pretoria on March 24. He served for 15 months and was discharged May 7, 1902; aged 23 years with the Rank of Farrier Sergeant. He was issued with the Queen’s South Africa Medal on September 10, 1902, a distinctive medal with three clasps. After returning from South Africa John and the Harrisons moved to Western Australia and took up residence in Douglas Street in South Fremantle (later moved to Mandurah Road South Fremantle). On June 14th 1911 John married Alice Victoria Payne in Fremantle and they would have a daughter Alice Jean, born in April 1912.
Prior to the War John, Alice and their daughter moved south to Nannup where John had secured employment as a Blacksmith.
On 16 June 1915 John enlisted into the AIF at the Perth Drill Hall. He was accepted as fit and found to be 5 feet 9 & ½ inches tall; weight of 146 lbs; chest measurement of 35-37 inches; fair complexion; grey eyes and Brown hair. His religious denomination was Wesleyan. John was assigned to the 8th Reinforcements to the 10th Light Horse Regiment with the regimental no.1172.
His Brother-in-law, George Payne, was in the same reinforcement unit. John trained with this reinforcement group in WA until the end of August 1915 when their embarkation orders came through. On 2 September 1915 John boarded the HMAT Anchises in Fremantle Harbour and set sail for Egypt.
Below is a postcard that he send home with Christmas wishes for his family, although it is unclear if this note was for his wife or daughter as they were both named Alice.
After arriving in Egypt in October it does not appear that John was sent to join the Regiment on Gallipoli, but it can’t be ruled out as his records are sparsely detailed. The first notation in his service form is from April 1916 despite the fact he arrived 6 months previously. However on 15 April 1916 he was promoted to Shoeing Smith and held this rank through the next few months. It seems John was either based with the 10th Light Horse Transport Lines or a separate squadron. Again his records are very low on detail.
On 7 August 1916 John was sent sick to hospital at Hod el Fatir. He was soon diagnosed with pneumonia and was sent back with the transport of sick convoy to the Base Hospital. On 12 August 1916 he was admitted to the 31st General Hospital at Port Said. Unfortunately his condition continued to deteriorate and on 15 August 1916 he died from his illness. John was buried in Port Said War Memorial Cemetery.
Nursing Sister, A Davison, of the British Red Cross and Order of St John at 31st General Hospital wrote to his wife, Al, on 14 Aug 1916 to inform her that her husband, Jim, was in hospital and too ill to write himself, and telling her that "he is a little more comfortable this afternoon and I sincerely hope he will progress favourably and will do our best to let him have every attention and all that is necessary.”
Below is a poignant postcard kept by John's daughter, Alice.
Just one day later, Wesleyan Chaplain, Hugh A. Stevens, wrote a poignant letter of comfort to his family and related that Jim was unconscious all the while that he was in hospital and passed away quietly at about 3.30am on Aug 15, 1916.
His grieving widow, Alice Harrison, kept every possession and document relating to her late husband’s war service. Including the photograph of his grave, his 'dead man's penny' and other personal items pictured below.
After a time, Alice Harrison did go on to marry David Gunn, whilst her only child, Alice Jean, married George Wylie who himself served overseas in WW1 with the Royal Irish Rifles. He emigrated to WA from Northern Ireland in 1925; aged 25.
Many thanks to Andrew Pittaway for writing and sharing this story and to Lois Wylie for these images.