Shoeing Smith John Frederick HARRISON

Royal Field Artillery
"A" Battery. 119th Brigade
Service Number:
Date of Death:
17 April 1918 - Killed in Action
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
IV. B. 10.

Personal History:

John was born on 12th May 1894 the son of Leon (Grocer) and Elizabeth Harrison of Primrose Cottage, Tideswell, Buxton (1901Census RG 13/3268). He had three older brothers, Joseph William, George Leon and Thomas Johnson, and two younger brothers and a sister, Henry Edwin, James Reginald and Eliza Hill.

In 1911 (Census RG 14/21433) John was lodging at 40 Massie Street, Cheadle, Stockport, the home of Emma Preece, employed as an "Apprentice Grocer". He had one son, John Frederick Harrison Walton, with Dora Walton of Tideswell, born in November 1918, 7 months after he was killed.

Military History:
Unfortunately, John's Service Records have not survived, but it is known that he enlisted into the Royal Field Artillery at Stockport. His Medal Index Card shows that he entered France on the 24th December 1915.

Th 119th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, was often known as the Welsh Bantam Brigade, until February 1918. [These were men whose height was under 5 ft 3 ins (1.60 m.) and who had originally been passed over.] The 119th Brigade R.F.A. was at Vieille Chapelle on 15th January 1916 probably as part of the 38th (Welsh) Division. Later it formed part of the 40th Division. This Division was formed between September and December 1915, composed of some bantam units and others which had a mixture of regulation-height and shorter men.

In 1916 the Division took part in The Battle of the Ancre (a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916) and in 1917 the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (March); the capture of Fifteen Ravine, Villers Plouich, Beaucamp and La Vacquerie (April and early May) and the Cambrai Operations, in which the Division participated in the capture of Bourlon Wood in November.

1918 saw them in action during phases of the First Battles of the Somme and phases of the Battles of the Lys. In this latter Battle the 119th Division were engaged at The Battle of Estaires, 7th - 11th April, and The Battle of Hazebrouck, 12th - 13th April. The 119th Brigade was equipped with the 119th Trench Mortar Battery.

On the 9th April 1918, the Germans launched the second phase of their spring offensive. Similar to the attack in March 1918, the assault was overwhelming and the British were rapidly driven into a fighting retreat. By the 16th, John and his comrades were in their gun positions behind the front line near to the French village of Vieux Berquin (some 10 kilometres south east of the town of Hazebrouck).

At 2.20 a.m. the Germans could be seen massing in the village in preparation for an attack. All the guns of the Brigade were brought to bear on them and over 5000 rounds were fired over the next few hours. It was successful in breaking up the attack and the British infantry holding the front line found it relatively easy to repulse the assault.

The rest of the day was spent in registering the guns onto new targets and firing harassing shots onto the roads behind the German front line in the hope of killing reinforcements moving up. However, the German artillery was not silent and at 6.00 p.m. “A” Battery’s reserve area was shelled killing 7 men and wounding another 13.

The next day, the 17th, John was killed along with 7 other members of "A" Battery. The most likely cause would have been incoming shell-fire as on the 16th. Five of these men are buried alongside John in Plot IV, Row B of Le Grand Hasard Cemetery. Originally they were buried near to where they fell, but after the Armistice Plots III and IV were added to the Cemetery when scattered graves were brought into the cemetery from a wide area around Hazebrouck.

· I am grateful to The War Graves Photographic Project for the photo of John's grave
· I am also grateful to John Hartley, via his Stockport Soldiers who died 1914 - 1918, for details of the action when John lost his life.

Link to CWGC Record
John Harrison's Grave