Lieutenant Douglas Harrison, 14th Battalion Essex Regiment, later Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)
Born on 8th May 1883 in Armley, Leeds
Died on 11th January 1942 in Tring
Douglas Harrison was born in Armley, Leeds, the youngest of the 4 children of William Henry Harrison and Harriett née Whitworth. He was baptised at St Bartholomew’s Church, Armley on 15th July 1883.
His brother Stanley Whitworth Harrison was born on 29th October 1877, his sister Amy Pentycross Harrison on 3rd February 1879 and his sister Mabel Harrison in 1881. His sister Gertrude Harrison was born on 16th June 1885 but died in 1886.
The family lived at 27 Wesley Road, Armley, Leeds and Douglas’ father was head of St Bartholomew’s School, Armley.
A Family of School Teachers 3
In the 1911 Census, Douglas’ parents and sisters Amy and Mabel were all still living at 27 Wesley Road, Armley. Douglas’ father and both sisters were Certificated Teachers employed by the Leeds Education Committee.
Douglas too became a teacher. In 1911 he was a 27 year old School Master working for Herts County Council as Assistant Master at St Peter’s School, Berkhamsted and living at 58 Kitsbury Road, Berkhamsted, a Boarder in the household of Joseph and Martha Day. He held that teaching position from 1906 to 1914.
In 1914, Douglas Harrison succeeded Samuel Green, the father of Francis Green and Gerald Green, as Headmaster of Little Gaddesden School. He visited the school before taking up the post and his visit was remembered by Gladys Ruffett née Whitman, wife of Horace Ruffett; she would have been aged 6 or 7 at the time of the visit:
Our Headmaster, Mr Green… brought into our Infants Room a tall gentleman and a much shorter lady. He told us that the gentleman, Mr Harrison, was going to be our new Headmaster, and the lady was going to become Mrs Harrison.
In the summer of 1914, Douglas Harrison married Louisa Jane Hind in Macclesfield, Cheshire.
On 1st September 1914, Douglas Harrison became Headmaster of Little Gaddesden School. He and Louisa moved into the School House, 26 Little Gaddesden. Next door at No 27, Doris Fenn was living with her uncle and aunt, Harry and Eliza Temple. Doris later wrote and account of her memories: The Ashridge Estate and Little Gaddesden 1915 – 1955. She was a pupil at the school when Mr and Mrs Harrison moved next door and commented:
He was very promising, a churchman, able to be church organist and choirmaster, with the hope of continuing to live in the village for many years.
Douglas and Louisa’s first son, William Whitworth Harrison, known as Billy, was born on 28th August 1915. He was baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 2nd October that year. Douglas looked set to follow in the tradition of his predecessors John Worall and Samuel Green as a long-serving School Master, church organist and choirmaster, but the War intervened.
The Little Gaddesden School Log Book entry for 17th November 1915, noted that Douglas “attested at Watford under Lord Derby’s Scheme”.
Lord Derby’s Scheme, officially called the Group Scheme, encouraged men to volunteer for War Service. Men aged 18 to 40 could enlist voluntarily at once, or attest and promise to serve if called up later on. Those, like Douglas, who chose the latter option were then officially transferred into Section B Army Reserve and allowed to return to their homes and their jobs until they were called up. They were grouped according to their age and marital status and, as a married man born in 1883, Douglas was placed in Group 38. He must then have hoped that he would not be called up for a long time but this came only six months later.
On 19th May 1916, Douglas’ entry in the Little Gaddesden School Log Book records:
I was absent from 9.30 am till afternoon school on a visit to the dentists – with special permission from the Rector. I have received notice that I commence military duties on June 3.
Doris Fenn recalled that:
Anxiety came to the village when some of the men were called for Service in the First World War, especially when Mr Harrison left in 1916.
The Essex Regiment 10
On the original Little Gaddesden Roll of Honour, Douglas is listed in the 14th Battalion, Essex Regiment, so it is probable that this is the unit to which he was first posted for training. It was a Reserve Battalion, then based at Tweseldown Camp, Aldershot. However, on 1st September 1916 it became the 98th Training Reserve Battalion and this may be when Douglas’ regiment changed.
On 30th March 1917 an entry written in the Little Gaddesden School Log Book by the acting Head Teacher, Miss Winifred Sapsford records that: “Lieutenant D Harrison paid us a visit prior to joining his regiment at North Shields.” That regiment was the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), into which Douglas transferred. His Medal Roll Index Card confirms his address and service overseas in France with this regiment from 27th April 1917.
Wounded in Action 12
One Sunday evening in late October or early November 1917, Mrs Sue Whitman, mother of Arthur Whitman who at that time was still regarded as missing in action, wrote a letter to her husband Joseph Whitman, which has survived. The letter included the information: “Harrison the schoolmaster wounded in the foot”.
On 9th October 1917, just north of Poelcappelle, Douglas was shot through the left foot. The Battle of Poelcappelle was part of the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). Parts of 10 divisions of British, Australian and New Zealand troops were ordered to attack along a 12km front. They aimed to advance approximately 2km into the German defences and capture Passchendaele Ridge. However, after a dry September, the weather had deteriorated and the ground was a quagmire. Troops struggled for hours through mud to reach their start lines and many were exhausted. Conditions prevented sufficient artillery ammunition being brought up to support the advance; the few gains were quickly lost to German counter-attacks. Douglas was one of 12,000 casualties wounded, missing or killed that day. Conditions were very similar to those on 31st July 1917, when Arthur Whitman was killed on the first day of the 3rd Battle of Ypres.
Douglas and Louisa’s daughter Barbara Pentycross Harrison was born on 10th December 1917 and baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 3rd January 1918.
On 11th October 1918, a year after his injury, Lieutenant Douglas Harrison wrote to the War Office to apply for a wound gratuity. The letter explains that, following his injury during the Battle of Poelcappelle, he was hospitalised at Rouen, Plymouth and Ongar (Essex) until 30th March 1918. The bullet had gone through his foot just below the ankle. After hospital treatment, he was allocated Home Service and attached to the 21st O.C.B. (Officer Cadet Battalion) at Twezeldown Camp, Fleet, Hampshire, where his teaching skills must have been well used. His letter notes that, following a Medical Board on 1st October 1918, he was granted a further 3 months’ Home Service. The letter also states:
I carry on my work here, with the aid of a bicycle; as I cannot march more than 100 yards. The bullet evidently cut through the guider with the result that I can’t get extreme flexion in that foot. When discharged from hospital six months ago I was told that further massage was of no use to me, that the foot would get strong in time. I’ve had six months, and although it certainly improves the improvement is very slight.
The Family in 1918 4
While Douglas was away on active service, his wife had two small children to care for. Doris Fenn wrote:
Auntie was very concerned for their well-being, and always had a comforting word for Mrs Harrison. Her relatives lived in Yorkshire*, and at that time, only letters by post passed between them. Urgent news was by telegram; the only telephone was in the Post Office. The yard gates of No 26 and No 27 were rarely closed, when Auntie was alone, so that Billy could toddle into No 27’s kitchen. I remember an alarming incident when Billy was found with black boot polish all over his face, hands and clothes. Mrs Harrison was very upset and called Auntie for advice. I do not know what the remedy was, but there were no ill effects from either the polish or the remedy!
* Yorkshire was the home of Douglas’ family; Louisa’s relatives did also live a long way away, but in Cheshire.
“A Great Loss” 17
An extract from the Parish Diary, written by the Rector, the Revd. Edward Clark, in 1918 makes the following observation about Douglas:
Mr Green was succeeded (as Headmaster of the School) by Mr Douglas Harrison who came with some excellent testimonials & has proved what is not always the case even better than his credentials. It is impossible to exaggerate his usefulness to the parish in many ways & his absence on War Service is a great loss.
Men who have answered their Country’s call in defence of a “Scrap of Paper” 11
Douglas Harrison is named on the Roll of Honour, which hangs in St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden and lists 119 men from Little Gaddesden, Ringshall and Hudnall who served in the 1914 – 1918 War. His regiment on the original Roll is listed as 14th Bn. Essex Regiment. However, before serving overseas, he had transferred to the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), so that is the regiment listed for him on the 2018 Centenary Revision of the Roll. For his War Service, Douglas was awarded the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal.
Rolls of Honour photos: Jane Dickson, Michael Carver
Doris Fenn, a pupil and subsequently a Pupil Teacher, remembered Mr Harrison’s return to teach at Little Gaddesden School on 5th February 1919:
Peace with Germany was declared on 11th November but demobilisation of forces took some time, and I cannot recall if Mr Harrison was home for Christmas. My first recollection of him was at school, waiting for him to arrive. We were assembled in the large classroom and there was some excitement in the senior class as we waited, and kept standing up to look out of the windows.
Mr Harrison was a tall, sturdy man, and we were all very subdued as we saw him limping up the road. We had been prepared for his reception by Mrs Drewitt and Miss Wright. We were to remain standing when he came into school and address him as “Sir”. There was some fear he would be rather severe, but after a short talk the usual school routine was followed. He chose a hymn and played the piano, as he had done a few years before.
On 28th February 1919, Douglas and Louisa’s third child, Douglas Anthony Gordon Harrison, was born. He was baptised at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden on 18th March 1919.
Doris Fenn records the following about Douglas Harrison:
He was a good teacher… and introduced gardening classes for the boys, basketball classes for the girls and hockey classes for both boys and girls. He was a keen cricketer and organised a cricket club, and the grass in front of Ashridge House became a cricket ground… The highlight of Mr Harrison’s headship of Little Gaddesden was the production of a musical comedy – “Golden Hair and the Three Bears.”… Although wounded in War Service, Mr Harrison was a very enthusiastic teacher and took a keen interest in social activities making the village a lively place to live in as well as a place of beauty… There was surely regret when he made it known he would be leaving the village in 1921.
Unfortunately, the War had taken its toll on Douglas and the School Log Book notes periods of illness and absence. He retired from his position as Headmaster on 29th July 1921. His final entry in the Log Book reads:
29th July 1921. We close for Midsummer holidays. I finish my work with this entry, as Head Master of this school.
Just over a week later, on 7th August 1921, Douglas and Louisa’s third son, Alastair Graham Harrison was born.
A note added to Douglas’ Medal Roll Index Card reads: “D Harrison fwds change of address 15/8/21”. The new address, applicable from 17th August 1921, was “The Signal Box, Chorleywood”. Douglas and Louisa are recorded there in the 1922 Electoral Register.
Returning to Teaching 19
It is not clear whether Douglas took time away from teaching in 1921 and 1922, but he certainly taught again later, as his address from 1923 to 1925 was “The School House, Chorleywood”.
In 1925 Douglas became Headmaster of Tring Church of England Boys’ School. His family then moved to Tring, where they lived at the School House in the High Street.
In the 2nd Quarter of 1927, Douglas and Louisa’s youngest son Paul was born.
Then, in 1931, the Boys’ School became Tring Church of England Senior Mixed School; Douglas was Headmaster there for the rest of his life. He introduced swimming, netball and other games to the school curriculum. He also took a great interest in his old pupils, assisting them educationally and with advice in their later careers.
Musical Talents 25
Douglas’ obituary details an array of musical interests, noting that he was Choirmaster of Tring Parish Church for over 16 years. Under his guidance, the Choir “often evoked the admiring comment of musical visitors.” He had a good Tenor voice, performing in local churches and taking “an active part in the successes achieved by the Tring Choral Society“. His obituary adds “the Tring Church has indeed lost one whom it will be extremely difficult fully to replace.“
Douglas was proficient on the violin, viola, organ and piano and was a member of the Wayfarers’ Orchestra in Berkhamsted. He was also a member of the Pipers’ Guild. He introduced recorder playing to his school pupils making them “sufficiently proficient to enable them to perform in public“.
Sporting Interests 25
Douglas was a keen cricketer. He was vice-captain of the Tring Park Cricket Club 1st Eleven and captain of the 2nd Eleven. In later years, he became a member of Tring Town Bowls Club. He was also a keen golfer, cyclist and walker.
Douglas’ obituary describes him as an energetic and enthusiastic member of the Home Guard, noting that he was one of the founders of the Hertfordshire Home Guard. He was Lieutenant in charge of No 1 Platoon (Tring West), 18th Company, 7th Hertfordshire Battalion Home Guard, whose the Adjutant and Quartermaster was William O’Kelly.
In 1941, Douglas played a prominent part in Tring War Weapons Week, in which he organised and directed the school children’s programme. He also led the parade and march past of his Home Guard Platoon.
Douglas was taken ill in July 1941 and bore his illness “with great courage and fortitude“.
However, Douglas Harrison, of The School House, High Street, Tring, died, aged 58, on Sunday 11th January 1942. On Wednesday 14th January, there was a service at Tring Church at 2.30pm, followed by interment at St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden, where he was buried in the old churchyard. The burial service was conducted by the Revd. C.T.T. Wood, Vicar of Tring and six members of the Home Guard acted as bearers.
Douglas’ widow Louisa Jane died at 16 Dartmouth Park Avenue, Highgate, London on 14th May 1950. On 19th May, she was buried with Douglas in the old churchyard of St Peter and St Paul’s Church, Little Gaddesden.
4. Fenn, Doris, 1996, The Ashridge Estate and Little Gaddesden 1915 – 1955, Mike Kearney DeskTop Publishing
6. Little Gaddesden School Log Book 1906 – 1934
7. Little Gaddesden Baptism Register 1813 – 1947
12. Copy of letter from Mrs Sue Whitman to her husband Joe, Oct/Nov 1917, courtesy of Caroline Adams
13. Personal correspondence with Douglas Harrison’s Great Grandson
15. Copy of D Harrison’s letter to the War Office, 11th October 1918, courtesy of Christine Harrison
17. The Little Gaddesden Parish Diary 1877 – 1918
20. https://tringlocalhistory.org.uk/Kelly%201926/index.htm 1926 Kelly’s Directory, Tring
23. ed. Brock, Capt. Alan St H, (1945?) 7th Hertfordshire Battalion Home Guard. A History of the Battalion 1940-44
24. Little Gaddesden Burial Register
25. Douglas Harrison’s Obituary, 16th January 1942, from The Bucks Herald
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Research, text and (unless otherwise credited) photos: Jane Dickson