UK

Martin Johnson Opens Naval College Gym Honouring Great War Hero

England's victorious Rugby World Cup 2003 captain paid tribute to former player Arthur Harrison.

A new gymnasium dedicated to one of English rugby’s bravest players has been opened by modern-day great Martin Johnson.

The new facility at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC) Dartmouth honours former England player and Great War hero Lieutenant Commander Arthur Harrison, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions.

Having carried out "a little bit of research of his own" on the England front-row forward, 2003 World Cup winner Mr Johnson honoured the legacy of Lt Cdr Harrison who went on to become a naval war hero.

Notable performances against Ireland and France in 1914 solidified Harrison’s ability as a player, but it was his voluntary role in the 1918 Zeebrugge Raid that brought the highest praise.

The Lt Cdr took on a mission from which he knew there was no return – to sink three vessels in the mouth of the Bruges canal to prevent German U-boats from leaving port in Belgium.

Alongside a small platoon, Lt Cdr Harrison was tasked with creating a diversion by attacking the heavily fortified harbour.

Shot through the jaw before landing, he continued to charge the enemy – but his body was never found.

"His legacy lives on with the gym, which is fantastic, his name and his deeds linked with it," said Mr Johnson, who also coached the international side between 2008 and 2011.

Arthur Harrison's memory offers ties between the Royal Navy and English rugby history.

The new gym at Dartmouth replaces another built in 1905, likely to have been used during Lt Cdr Harrison’s training period at the historic college.

All around the latest facility are reminders of the naval hero’s bravery.

There will now be an annual commemorative rugby match between the cadets of Dartmouth and their French counterparts from the École navale for the 'Le Crunch' Trophy. 

Captain Roger Readwin, Captain of BRNC Dartmouth and Director of Royal Navy Rugby, said: "It’s really important to ensure we train tomorrow’s leaders with the same core values that Arthur Harrison experienced when he came through Britannia Royal Navy College in the early 1900s."