November 7th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 45
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Looking Back - John Kinnear
Harrison’s in Service to Their Country
Looking Back
Courtesy wikipedia, Courtesy of Fields of War, Fields of Coal
Nathan Cirillo (left), gunned down at the National Monument. William Harrison Junior (right)
So I am loving facebook’s “on this day” feature on my page. I am at the age now where short-term memory is in fact coming up short. A lot! On this day pulls back your posts on the same day from previous years. One popped up on my site the other day that led me to dig a little deeper into the subject of the post. There is of course a story here. The following is the exact text from my October 23rd, 2014 facebook post.

“So I am sitting in the Coleman Legion listening to the Thursday music jammers and I look over at the commemorative wall and I see this picture of a soldier. His name is William Harrison and he died in Italy in 1944, 70 years ago and is buried at the Moro Military Cemetery there. The resemblance to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo struck me. Harrison was 20 when he died, Nathan was 24. Both were wonderful men whose whole lives was ahead of them. It breaks my heart that we had to lose either of them. We will all forget the name of that nothing human being and killer Bibeau but we will NEVER forget the name Nathan Cirillo. "At the going down of the sun and in the morning we WILL remember them"

Nathan Cirillo was shot in the back twice on October 22 and died there at the National War Memorial where he was standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It came just two days after an “ISIL-inspired terrorist attack” in which Marten Couture-Rouleau deliberately ran down two Canadian soldiers that killed Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. It was a disturbing time in our country.
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So curiosity about William Harrison’s life story took me on a research journey with some interesting twists and turns. And in the process I found two more William Harrisons from the Pass connected directly and indirectly to both world wars. It got really tricky. I got off in the wrong direction right off the bat by searching the Blairmore Enterprise records and came across a William Harrison who had passed on May 9th, 1944. The report called him Blairmore’s oldest resident at the time at almost 87 and that he was predeceased by his son’s Mark and Charles.

So okay, this isn’t going anywhere. Can’t be him. Then I spotted another March 1944 Enterprise post labeled “Coleman Boy Dies on Italian Front” that stated: “ Mr. and Mrs. William Harrison, of Coleman, received word from Ottawa the early part of the week, informing them of the death of their 20-year old son William on the Italian front.” So okay this is a different William Harrison.

The next history source I went to was Rosemarie Gascoyne’s amazing book “Fields of Coal, Fields of War.” The amount of research that went into her chronicling the history of Coleman Legion #9 and the contributions of the Coleman men and women who served in the Great War and World War II is remarkable. I did find in the section on the dead of World War II a full page on William Benjamin Harrison.
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Its introduction reads as follows: “Bill Harrison was born in Coleman on February 27, 1923, the youngest of four children. His father William Harrison served with the 113th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force in WWI. Bill junior, like his father, worked at the McGillivray Tipple. His closest friend in Coleman was Ernie Goulding; the pair used to fish together and one of their favourite spots was Daisy Creek.”

William wrote home to Ernie on several occasions after he and Ernie had enlisted in the Army in Calgary on February 16, 1943. Ernie was held back for a time until he turned nineteen but William shipped out overseas five months after enlistment. William wrote to Ernie shortly after landing in England. In his letter he mentioned the following: “The trains over here are sure smooth, they have springs on the bumpers; you can hardly hear them start or stop. The box cars don’t look like they are much bigger than McGillivray mine cars. They sure have been getting me tangled up with the money, with their bobs, shillings and half crowns. I’m getting used to it now, though- I don’t get hosed so much. The beer here is terrible, if you come over, bring about six dozen of Calgary with you.”

By Christmas 1943 William was with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment in Italy who were involved in horrific street fighting in the Battle of Ortona. There were 2,300 Canadian casualties with 512 dead before that city finally fell to the Canadians on December 28th.
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William survived Ortona and wrote again to Ernie in early January of 1944. He noted that: “The women over here are sure tough. I’ve seen one woman pack a load of hay on her head that would put a horse to shame. They carry everything on their head- a big basket of clothes or a sack of oranges…it sure is funny, the woman packing a sack of something on her head and the man beside her would just carry the umbrella.” He ended by telling Goulding to start putting a little money away on the side for when he came back. His letter says: “we can go on a hell of a good spree – or if I don’t come back and you find out I am pushing up daisies, you can go on a hell of a good celebration anyway.”

Ten days before his 21st birthday, on February 17, 1944 William Harrison died of what the Canadian Army Overseas Casualty Notification stated was “acute lumbar paralysis.” It was probably a spinal injury, possibly from a gunshot wound, that took the son of William Harrison Sr.

Williams father, of same name, saw service in the First World War but managed to come home. His file is available on line with Library and Archives Canada under Personnel Records of the First World War. His regimental number was 736901 and there are an astounding 72 scanned pages in his file. Attestation papers (signing up), medical records, pay slips, personal will, separation allowance, discharge papers and even dental maps. On page two of his attestation papers under distinctive marks we find that William Sr. had: “an anchor, heart and cross with initials W.H. on his right arm and also crossed flags and interwoven hearts”. He also had a 2 ½ inch scar on his right cheek.

When William Senior signed up he had three children, William Benjamin (8), Edith (10) and Isabella (6). (A fourth child Amy was born in 1921 according to findagrave.com) William Sr. signed up May 25, 1916, sailed on the S.S. Tuscania on Sept 26, 1916 and landed in Liverpool ten days later. He originally signed up with the 113th Battalion and on August 9, 1918 was wounded at Vimy Ridge. The record called it a GSW (gun shot wound). He recovered, was discharged February 19, 1919 and died in 1956 at age 70.
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So what of the other Harrison I came across in the Blairmore Enterprise that passed at 87 but was predeceased by his two sons Charles and Mark. Well it seems there is more war history here also, unrelated to the William Harrison Sr. and Jr. that I have profiled so far.

Incredibly but not surprisingly both brothers signed up on February 17, 1916 and shipped overseas on the Empress of Britain. Mark Horn Harrison, who was 23 when he signed up with the 49th Battalion died of war wounds on August 16, 1918 and is buried in France.

Charles Hutchison Harrison, Mark’s older brother had an entirely different outcome. His scanned medical record file indicates that as a child he had had mumps, measles, whooping cough and rheumatic fever and also suffered from Bright’s disease (inflammation of the kidneys). The record seems to indicate heart problems, probably from the rheumatic fever. As a soldier he took attacks of asthma and bronchitis and after two years of periodic visits to convalescent hospitals overseas he was deemed medically unfit for service abroad or at home and discharged in February of 1918.

Charles had three children ages four, two and one when he signed up. It always stuns me that men this young (29) would leave behind a wife and family. Charles passed from an attack of appendicitis in 1933 and is buried in the Blairmore Union Cemetery. He left behind a wife and seven children along with his two brothers, two sisters and his aging parents William and Mary Jane. One of Charles’s sons Ernest served in the R.C.A.S.C. (Royal Canadian Army Service Corps) and passed in 1974. I could find no apparent family link between these two Harrison families other than they both originally came from the Yorkshire area of England.

Author’s Note: There are no less than eight Harrisons buried in Coleman and Blairmore cemeteries. Findagrave has done a remarkable job on research on their stories. They post obits, family pictures and links to other family members including siblings, parents and spouses. Just one of many stories of war service to our country from the Pass. At the going down of the sun…..
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November 7th, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 45
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