Robert James Harrison

Robert James Harrison
Born in Crown Street, St Ives, in 1889, Robert was the youngest son of six boys and one girl born to William Sparrow Harrison and Emily (née Frank). Robert's father was a butcher and business was good in 1891, when the family had two servants; a general servant and a domestic nurse. His father was a prominent member of St Ives Bowls Club, St Ives Town Council, and Mayor from 1914 to 1916. By 1901 the servants had gone, most likely a sign that the growing children needed less care and could help with household chores.

In May 1907 Robert, aged 17yrs, emigrated to Canada, arriving in Quebec City, Canada, with his elder brother Ernest. The brothers then had a journey of 1,500 miles to arrive at their ultimate destinations. Robert, a mechanic, was bound for Souris, Manitoba, a small rural community that even today has a population of under 2,000 inhabitants. His brother, a joiner, was destined for Winnipeg, the capital city of Manitoba, some 200 miles to the east of Souris.

Robert was back in England on a family visit by December 1908, arriving at Liverpool aboard the SS Canada. He was back aboard the same steam ship in March 1909, returning home to Souris. On the passenger list his occupation was shown as farmer.

By 1911 Robert was living with his elder brother John's family in Brandon, the second largest city in Manitoba, about 100 miles north of Souris. Canada was clearly a Harrison obsession. Another brother, George, was living with John, making it four out of six Harrison boys in Canada. All three on the Census listed themselves as Canadians and farmers.

In December 1914 Robert enrolled for the Canadian Overseas Expedition Force. His attestation form states he was just over 5ft 6ins tall, his chest all of about 35ins when fully expanded. He was of fair complexion with brown hair. Robert joined B Company, 1st (Saskatchewan) Regiment, Canadian Mounted Rifles and sailed for England in June 1915. The Regiment landed in France in September 1915. Very quickly they found conditions at the front made their horses something of a hindrance. In January 1916 they were converted to foot infantry.

Canadian Mounted Rifles
Canadian Mounted Rifles in 1915
Robert fought in a number of engagements. In June 1916 he was involved in the Battle of Mont Sorrel. The prominence was occupied by Canadian forces, affording excellent observation of the surrounding area. The Germans took six weeks to plan their attack, their aim not only to capture the hill, but also to divert British resources away from the build up on the Somme.

On 2 June 1916 the enemy began a massive heavy artillery bombardment against the Canadian positions which just about wiped out everything in the area. When the Germans attacked they found resistance minimal and were able to capture Mont Sorrel. They did not press their advantage, the few surviving Canadians managing to hold on to some ground. An Allied forces counter attack the following day failed.

On 6 June the Germans detonated four mines under the front line at Hooge, shattering the trenches and almost wiping out the occupants. After further exchanges, Allied forces finally took back possession of the Mont on 13 June 1916. Robert's Battalion suffered heavy casualties, 80% of its members killed, wounded or captured.

Robert was one of those fatalities. He is officially recorded being killed on Tuesday 6 June 1916, aged 26yrs. If correct, he was most likely blown to pieces by the German mines. But the official records show he could have died any time during the Battle for Mount Sorrel. Robert has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.

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Source documents
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