Born at Gilberdyke in 1894, James was the oldest son of John and Sophia Harrison. His father was from Spaldington and his mother from Bedworth in Warwickshire. When James was born his father was a butcher in Gilberdyke but at some point in the 1900’s the family moved to Garthorpe where his father took over The Bay Horse Hotel. In the 1911 census James was an assistant to John Hallgarth, a baker and confectioner in Mill Road, Crowle. He must have left Mr Hallgarth’s employment quite soon afterwards, as when he joined the army he stated he had been a butcher’s assistant for two years. In the army he was described as a model soldier, ‘always neat and clean, sober, respectable and works well’.
James enlisted in the Royal Dragoons at Hull on 1st December 1913. He was posted to the 1st (Royal) Dragoons and joined them in camp at Dunbar the following day. When the Dragoons returned to South Africa, James stayed behind in the UK to finish his training and was posted to the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) in York on 4th February and then the 5th Dragoon Guards on 16th August 1914. On 24th September with the 1st Royal Dragoon’s now returned back from South Africa, he rejoined them again.
When James rejoined the 1st Royal Dragoons they were at Windmill Hill Camp at Ludgershall, Wiltshire, where they had joined 6th Cavalry Brigade in 3rd Cavalry Division in preparation for service on the Western Front. On 5th October the Division left Windmill Camp for Southampton and began to embark next day for Belgium. After some sailing delay due to suspected submarine activity in the English Channel, they arrived at Ostende on 8th October and proceeded to Bruges as part of IV Corps.
The Division had originally been intended to assist the Belgian Army at Antwerp, but following the fall of that town they made their way south to Ypres, and on 13th October were the first British troops to enter that town.
The following day the 1st Royal Dragoons were active south of Ypres, skirmishing with German cavalry near Neuve Eglise and camping with their brigade in Wytschaete that evening. On 15th they again patrolled south of Ypres, moving north to St Julien that evening. On the 17th and 18th the Brigade sent forward squadrons towards the Menin to Roulers road where they again skirmished with German cavalry patrols. The night of the 17th was spent at Zonnebeke and the 18th at Moorslede, near Passchendaele.
On 19th October the two armies finally met in what was to become the First Battle of Ypres. 7th Cavalry Division had intended to attack Menin and whilst 1st Royal Dragoons and 10th Hussars advanced from St Pieter to capture Ledeghem, it was soon clear the force opposing them was much larger than anticipated and under sniper fire from German Cyclist Battalions, they fell back west of Ledeghem towards Rolleghem Cappelle (Rollegem-Kapelle). The German infantry now appeared and supported by several artillery batteries launched a determined attack on Rolleghem Cappelle, forcing the Brigade to withdraw back towards Moorslede.
James Harrison was one of the five men of the 1st Royal Dragoons to loose his life that day, the unit’s first casualties of the war. It appears he was killed in the initial withdrawal from Ledeghem to to Rollenghen Capelle, his body left on the field where he fell, 1 mile south of Rollenghem Capelle. James has no known grave and is remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
Not having heard from him since he went over to Belgium in December his parents had become extremly concerned so they wrote to the War Office. The reply came back with official notification of his death in October.
James appears to be commemorated on the War Memorial in St Stephen’s Church, Gilberdyke (as J C Harrison).