Southam in WW1

Centenary Archive

Honouring those who died and all who served


Private Allen Harrison (10178)

Allen Harrison was born in 1897 in Ashton-under-Lyne. He was brought up locally, for by the age of four years he was living with his aunt and uncle, Mr and Mrs Alf Martin of Southam, who were a childless couple.  Alf Martin was a saddler whose shop was in the High Street and by the age of fifteen Allen was apprenticed to his uncle. But Alan was sometimes reunited with his family for this eloquent picture shows Allen on the left with his mother Mary Harrison, and Alf (right) Allen’s brother whom he was to correspond with whilst serving at the front.

Private Harrison served with 8th Royal Fusiliers. During the winter of 1916/17 conditions were fearfully cold with 15 degrees of frost. Allen Harrison wrote to his brother Alf that although they were in billets:

 ‘We have to sleep with our boots on in the blankets otherwise it would be an hour to thaw them in the morning. Even the bread it is necessary to keep under the blankets or else it becomes so hard by breakfast time that it is impossible to cut it’.

Allen was on sentry duty as a signaller on the front line near Arras on 1st May 1917 when he was killed. His CO, Captain Royle, in a typed letter to Alf Martin, said:

‘The cause of his death was a shell of heavy calibre which burst quite close to where he was standing and I myself was only about 6 yards from him. His death was instantaneous and he did not even groan or say a word so he could not possibly have felt in any way, any pain whatever’.[1]

He is buried in Happy Valley British Cemetery a small site in the midst of rolling French countryside close to the battle area. The documentation at the French cemetery states that he was the son of William and Mary Elizabeth Harrison of Coventryside [sic], Southam. Whether the couple moved to Southam after the 1911 census was completed is not known but they do not appear in any Southam census records. Mary H. Harrison died in 1933 and the record of her burial in plot 70a of Southam Churchyard states ‘mother of Allen’. Allen Harrison is also commemorated on the same plot.

When Alf grew up he married Evelyn May Cardall, sister of Jack Cardall which may account for why not only this picture but Allen’s school arithmetic book and two commemorative scrolls were in the Cardall Collection and now are part of Southam Heritage Collection.

[1] Information about his army service is explored more fully in Alan Griffin, Lest We Forget.

Private Allen Harrison’s family received these two commemorative scrolls. Still in their frames, they are now in the Southam Heritage Collection.