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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

A.E Harrison, 'The Vanishing Captain'



This one is quite an interesting case by any measure.
Albert Edward Harrison was born on August 28th, 1879 in Richmond, Victoria to William [1827-1908] and Catherine [1839-1891] Harrison [nee Miller], being one of two children they would have as well as being the youngest. He attended South Melbourne College for High School and during which, he enlisted into the Cadets and earned the rank of Colour-Sergeant. Albert decided to enlist on January 15th, 1901 into the 5th Victorian Mounted Rifles, also known as the 'Fateful Fifth'. He left Melbourne on February 15th on the Orient which was bound for South Africa during the Second Boer War. During this conflict, he was present at the Wilmansrust Incident.


The Wilmansrust Incident (June 12th, 1901)

The Wilmansrust Incident was an incident involving the officers and men of E, F, G and H Companies of the 5th V.M.R on the night of June 12th. Three Boers snuck up on the campsite but were quickly forced back. A short time later during the night, countless Boers in British Khaki opened fire on H Company. A picquet that night recalls the following.., "We did not expect anything unusual ... The Boers crept up and were lying within 30 yards of the camp for twenty minutes before they attacked. A lot of our men were cooking in front of the fire; some had gone to bed because we had to start out in the morning at half-past three. ... At quarter to eight the Boers put the first volley in and then they rushed the camp, shooting as fast as they could pull their triggers, never attempting to put the rifles to their shoulders. .. They ran along the line of saddles and shot men in their beds". The Boers [who were actually a mix of actual Boers, Americans and Irishman] left after two hours ransacking soldiers and bodies for food, ammunition, money, etc. Trooper White writes "One of them took a purse from me and a few shillings that was in it, all that I had left from my last pay, and asked me what sized boots I took? I told him 'fives' and he said that he wanted a pair of 'sixes' as his were worn out," The attack left the Regimental Surgeon Officer [Herbert Appleton Palmer] dead, meaning the remaining men had to tend to their own wounds. By morning, one officer [Palmer] and 18 NCO's and Other Ranks were dead with five other officers and 36 NCO's and other ranks wounded. Albert wrote to his mentor, Captain Patrick Moloney about Wilmansrust. It reads "It was a sight that I will never forget; the cries from the wounded men and horses were pitiful. Anyhow we got the dead and wounded together, buried 22 dead [including native camp staff] and had the wounded men attended to, and put into ambulances, and then shot all the wounded horses and mules... One man had six wounds, and another seven wounds, but they are still alive." Trooper Arthur Ruddle [who was with the other companies during the attack] wrote "We dug one big hole about six feet deep and twenty feet long, as we had eighteen killed in all, and we buried them all in the one hole, put stones on top and a fence around". Harrison was discharged as a Sergeant in April 1902 and was given the Queen's South Africa Medal with three clasps

Warrant Officer Harrison, pre-First World War

On August 28th, 1906 he married Nora Blamey [No relation to Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey], who was 4 years senior. He was a Commercial Traveler in 1914; shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the A.I.F on May 15th, 1915 and was assigned to 'D' Company, 19th Battalion. He embarked on June 25th, 1915 out of Sydney and is listed as a Lieutenant. Under a month later, he would be promoted to Lieutenant on July 16th. Harrison would disembark at Suez on July 24th and chose to remain with the Transport Section in Egypt instead of embarkation to Gallipoli. On January 24th, 1916 he was attached to the 2nd Division Train but shortly after he was back at the 19th Battalion as the Temporary Quartermaster. His time in Egypt was mostly uneventful; he embarked from Alexandria on March 18th to join the B.E.F in France and arrived in Marseilles on March 25th. The were put in for a spell at Pozieres, during which Captain J.E Donaldson was mortally wounded, leading to Harrisons promotion to Temporary Captain commanding a Company on August 21st, no doubt due to his experience on the veldt. The Battalion was pulled out of Pozieres and Harrison was confirmed Captain on September 4th. On the 26th, he went to hospital with a bout of influenza [2 weeks] and was later also confirmed to have bronchitis. He was at Wandsworth Hospital on September 30th and stayed in England for a few months. He was discharged from Hospital on January 17th and was sent to the Overseas Training Depot. During this time, he was assigned to Perham Down. On June 1st, he requested a 48 hour pass in London but his Commanding Officer [Major Jack Walker] declined the request. When Harrison heard this, he went over Major Walker's head to the Camp Commandant who [apparently] verbally stated to that he was to settle this business, but instead of two days, he spent a week absent. This absence led to the discovery of overdrawn pay which led to his arrest. He was summoned before a General Court Martial with Lieutenant Smith defending him.

Lieutenant Leslie Kennedy Smith; his defending officer
[Killed in Action at Polygon Wood on Sept. 25th 1917]

A First World War Harrison

"I am commanded by the Army Council to inform you that the Proceedings of the General Court Martial held at Tidworth on the 26th/29th July, 1917, for the trial of Capt. A.E. Harrison, 19th Battalion, attached Overseas Training Depot, Australian Imperial Force, have been laid before His Majesty the King.
The accused was arranged upon the following charges:-

First Charge Sheet.

1st Charge:- Absenting himself without leave in that he, on the Third day of June, 1917, failed to report to the Hardening and Training Depot, Perham Down, as it was his duty to do and remained absent without leave until the 13th June, 1917.
2nd Charge:- When in arrest, escaping in that he at Perham Down on the 30th June, 1917 when in arrest escaped.
*It is said he escaped to make a phone call

Second Charge Sheet.

1st Charge:- Conduct to the prejudice of good order and Military Discipline in that he at No.7 Camp Perham Down, on the Third day of May, 1917, without proper authority obtained the issue to himself out of public money under his control the sum of £15 to which he was not entitled.
2nd Charge:- Conduct to the prejudice of good order and Military Discipline in that he at No.7 Camp aforesaid, on the 12th day of May, 1917, without proper authority obtained the issue to himself out of public money under his control the sum of £25 to which he was not entitled.

The Court found the accused guilty of all charges on the First and Second Charge Sheets and by a sentence signed on the 29th July, 1917 sentenced him to be dismissed from His Majesty's Service.

*The court recommended mercy as he had a creditable service record.

Harrison was dismissed from the A.I.F on August 28th, 1917 and given a ticket back to Australia.. but he never began his journey to Australia. His wife tried desperately to find out what had become of him. Nothing was substantiated expect that he might've accepted a commission in the British Army, but even that was proved not to be the case. He has probably disappeared into the post-war British society, leaving his family in Australia alone. Today, he still has grandchildren and nephews/nieces in Australia.
Further reading can be seen on Rootschat

As Harrison's Trio is stripped of him due to his conduct, he only bears the QSA, which would look similar to below


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