WWI

Arthur Harrison: The Only England Rugby Player Awarded The Victoria Cross

He served in World War One but was killed in 1918 during the Zeebrugge Raid.

Arthur Harrison played as a prop and went on to serve with the Royal Navy (Picture: World Rugby Museum).

Arthur Harrison, the only England rugby international to have been awarded the Victoria Cross, has had his medal on loan at the World Rugby Museum in Twickenham.

Mr Harrison was brought up in Torquay and played as a prop, earning his first cap in 1914 playing alongside two others who also fought in World War One.

Mr Harrison in the Royal Navy (Picture: World Rugby Museum).
Mr Harrison in the Royal Navy (Picture: World Rugby Museum).

During the Great War, he served with the Royal Navy as a Gunnery Officer on HMS Lion - the Navy's flagship of the Battlecruiser fleet.

According to World Rugby Museum curator, Phil McGowan, he served on "all of the major engagements at sea" during the Great War until 1918 when he was killed during the Zeebrugge Raid.

"The Zeebrugge Raid was a quite audacious attempt to block the Brugge-Zeebrugge canal by scuttling ships in the mouth," he explained.

"They [the Royal Navy] launched a decoy, that Harrison was a part of, under the cover of smoke they intended to land two ships on the mull which was the pier at Zeebrugge."

Former New Zealand captain, Dave Gallaher, who was killed in action on the first morning of the Battle of Passchendaele

Mr Harrison was among a group who charged towards machine gun emplacements which had around 1,000 men defending - Mr McGowan said there was "no hope of success" but it was hoped they would create a diversion for the ships to get into the mouth of the harbour.

However, the plan went wrong as the wind changed direction, blowing smoke the wrong way and unveiling the ships on their approach. 

The Royal Navy consequently came under fire before they landed.

Arthur Harrison's VC.
Mr Harrison's Victoria Cross.

Mr Harrison was tasked with getting men onto the pier but was "shot through the jaw" and "knocked unconscious", according to Mr McGowan.

But Mr Harrison regained consciousness and despite his wounds, led the charge towards the enemy.

He was shot again and killed - his body was never retrieved. 

However, Mr Harrison's sacrifice was not in vain as the enemy ships were scuttled by the Royal Navy, blocking the entrance to the canal for 2 days. 

Others involved in the Raid were also awarded a VC posthumously.