Francis Harrison was born in Worcester and enlisted in the 2nd South Midland Brigade at Malvern in 1911. He landed in France in March 1915 and a few weeks later on the 12th April he wrote: “All well…in O[bservation] P[ost] with Arthur Noond…. All five days in action no casualties”. However in November 1916 he was severely wounded and invalided home.
The Malvern News reported in March 1918 under the title ‘The Death of F J Harrison: “on his return to France was gassed. After spending some time in England, he again went to the front, and was severely wounded in the leg. He was home in Malvern in January.
Last autumn he received a card signed by the Major General commanding the Division with which he had served. The General stated that he had been informed by Gunner Harrison’s commanding officer and the Brigades commander that he had distinguished himself by his conduct in the field and he (the General) had read their report with much pleasure. Gunner Harrison was in hospital when he had this card, with a letter from his captain conveying hearty congratulations and closing with these words, ‘ Harrison, you have done well.’
During his time with a Reserve Brigade in Buckinghamshire he became depressed and committed suicide in March 1918. At the Inquest the Jury returned a verdict of “Suicide during a fit of temporary insanity”
A Tribute from Old Comrades
Before mobilisation on the outbreak of War, the deceased was employed at New Street Station, Birmingham. The station superintendent has sent the following letter to Mrs Harrison: – ‘ It is with profound regret my staff and self have received the news of your son’s untimely death. Words fail to convey to you the general sorrow and pain it has occasioned. Not withstanding all the pain and anguish he has endured by his wounds and trials at the front, his fortitude, resignation, and cheerfulness to undergo again and again the supreme test with his fellow men, for the safety of his country, has stamped on the minds of his old comrades the memory of an apparently frail body with the strength of the strongest men, with the heart of a lion, and the ideal of a true-born Britisher. His memory will remain with us long after this dreadful trouble is over: and as our thoughts go back to him our minds cannot help being uplifted, as we remember that he led a noble life and in ‘crossing the bar’ will reap his reward. It may comfort you to know that had he lived his promotion in the railway service was certain. He was one of the best men that has served under me and his immediate officers who worked with him had nothing but praise for his willingness and care in the exercise of his duties during the whole time he was with us. Knowing a little of your previous sorrows words fail us when we would express our sympathy with you in the other blow you have now sustained. We pray that in this hour of your great trial you will be given the strength to bear your great loss.
The remains reached Malvern at 7.34 am (9th March) and the interment took place at the cemetery on Saturday morning – Canon Chadwick officiated. The mourners included Mrs Harrison (mother), Miss Harrison (Sister), Mr and Mrs Sessions (Birmingham), Mrs Martin, Mrs Lee, Mrs King, Mrs Wilkes and Mr G. Jones. Wreaths included: – Bdr H.A. Martin, RFA (Italy): C.A.Lee and Fred Ellis.
The Inquest of Frank Harrison
On Thursday 7th, the Coroner for South Bucks held an inquest with reference to the death of Gunner Frank J. Harrison, attached to the Signalling Section of the RFA whose body was found on the railway at West Wycombe on the 5th March.
Gunner Leonard F.J. Thomas, RFA said he last saw deceased alive at teatime on March 4th when he appeared in his usual spirits. He did not notice anything to make him suppose deceased meant to commit suicide. Deceased had been over seas three times, gassed once and wounded twice. The witness produced the following letter, which deceased had addressed to him and it was read by the Coroner: –
I expect when you receive this you will have heard what has happened. Well, old boy, I could see no other way out of it. I am writing this before I depart from this world, and I want to tell you I am as sane as anyone. You know how I have felt this last two or three weeks, and I know it is useless to see the M.O. for I should just get ‘M and D’. You know I am no ‘lead swinger’ for I have always tried to do my best as far as my condition will allow. But I know, and you know, that we fellows, that have been through so much, are here treated worse than dogs, and trained as though we had seen no fighting, but were just recruits. You know that to the Army Council we are but ‘cannon fodder’. I am no coward: I have no fear of death and never did have, and it was a shame I had the ill luck to get hit and come home for you know as well as I, they have a little more reason for us out there, just because they are in the same danger, and their life is just equal to ours. Well, I must say ‘Goodbye’ Len. I thank you and Percy Salter for the chums you have been and do not think bad of me, for I am only ending a life of misery, and, as you know, I am not the only wreck the British army has in khaki. So goodbye: I wish all you boys the best of luck.
The Coroner: I thought Wycombe was a rest camp? – Witness: Not much rest there!
What does M and D mean? – Medicine and duty.
Replying to other questions by the Coroner, witness said that the training at Wycombe was very stiff, and a man, no matter his experience, had to qualify and pass out just the same as an ordinary recruit.
Albert Smith, ganger, spoke to finding the body. It was badly mutilated.
Captain Ivan McGill gave details of the injuries. In all probability he said he was killed about 10 o’clock the previous night. Witness said deceased had M and D but that was not punishment. The deceased was depressed.
The Coroner said that although deceased said he was sane, the doctors said he was depressed, and probably he took his life in a fit of depression.
The Jury expressed a desire to hear more about the camp, and also as to what was meant by ‘treated like dogs’.
Lieut. G.G. Russell said deceased was in the Signal Section, and was classified as one of the best men for over seas. Signallers’ duties comprised one-hour physical training per day; about 6 hours attending lectures and demonstrations; practicing laying wires; gas training; and perhaps one hour a week lamp signalling. A signaller was excused all light duties, guards and picket.
By the Coroner deceased had not been up for any crime; he had a perfectly clean sheet. He believed he had been recommended for distinction, but had not yet received it.
2/Lieut. A.F.G. Cook MM RFA said he instructed the Section to which deceased belonged. The training received was very light. Flag signalling was the hardest work, but by no means arduous. Every man had opportunity to make a complaint, if he had one, but no complaint was made to him by deceased, who was on flag rill on Monday afternoon; he then appeared in good health and spirits.
Answering a question, Lieut. Cook stated that deceased had been in the Army since 1911.
The Coroner said that this being the case, the deceased knew full well to whom to make a complaint.
The Jury returned the verdict of “Suicide during a fit of temporary insanity”.
Malvern News 1/5/15, 2/12/16, 16/3/18