Noel was a committed Bedalian, having spent over eight years at Dunhurst and Bedales. He had been born in Newcastle upon Tyne on Christmas Day 1896, the first child of Edward Frank and Edith Helen Harrison. Like his older brother and sister, in 1870 Edward had been born in Camberwell, the son of William and Susannah Harrison. At the time of his birth his father was a clerk in the Home Office but before the 1881 census William had died and Susannah was bringing up her three sons in Croydon. Starting work as an apprentice to a pharmacist, Edward proved his ability and won a scholarship to the School of Pharmacy and medals and certificates whilst a student, leading to a successful career as an analytical chemist.
Before brother Douglas was born on 1st September 1900 the family had moved to Kent, but on census day 1901 Edith and her sons were staying with her mother Martha Jupp in Liverpool. It is possible that it was the influence of William Jesse Jupp (Martha’s second husband) that took the boys to Bedales. He had been influential in the Fellowship of the New Life (founded in 1893) and well acquainted with Edward Carpenter, who was a friend and powerful influence on John Haden Badley, and with Reddie, first headmaster of Abbotsholme where Badley began his career as a schoolmaster. Badley’s emphasis on the development of the whole person, intellectual, emotional and practical, and the ethos of the school embodied in its motto “Work of Each for Weal of All”, echoed the principles of the Fellowship. Another connection was through Edward Pease (Secretary of the Fabian Society) whose younger son Nicholas was an exact contemporary of Noel at Bedales.
In September 1905 Noel, aged just over nine and a half, arrived at Dunhurst, Bedales’ Junior School in Steep and he remained at the schools until July 1913. His academic career was undistinguished; although he attempted the Lower, the Middle School and the Higher School Certificate he managed to achieve the certificate only at the Middle Level in the summer of 1912. However, at the other levels he had success in scientific and mathematical subjects.
Noel’s major achievements at school were on the cricket field and in the swimming bath. He achieved his 3rd XI colours in July 1911 and 1st XI colours the following summer. In October 1912 he established a school record for “throwing the cricket ball” achieving 86 yards, a skill probably honed on the boundary in many matches. The Bedales Record report on the swimming sports in July 1912, said “In the second set (ages 14 & 15) Harrison broke no fewer than three records, his time for the two lengths race being faster than that of Trubshawe (who had just set a record for the older boys) by two-fifths of a second. He is our only exponent of the crawl stroke, which he has practised patiently this term and he has reaped the reward of his labours in the sports.” That term he had also successfully competed, with 29 other Bedalians, for the Life Saving Bronze Medal of The Royal Life Saving Society. A year later The Record’s report was equally enthusiastic. “Harrison I is by far the fastest swimmer, as he is still the only exponent of the crawl. Harrison carried off both races but I think no one was prepared for his reducing his old records by such large amounts. (He took 6 seconds off his previous record for the two lengths and 14 seconds off the record for the four lengths.) He has developed his leg action in the crawl so that he now gets along very fast.”
Leaving Douglas behind at Bedales (they had overlapped in the senior school for that last year) Noel went to Birmingham University to study oil mining and was preparing for his second year when war broke out. In November 1914 The Bedales Chronicle reported that he was in the University OTC and on 9th December, supported by the Military Education Committee of the University, he applied for “a temporary commission in the Regular Army for the duration of the war”, expressing a preference for the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. At 5 feet 11½ inches and weighing 11 stone 2 lbs with good teeth, vision and hearing, it isn’t surprising that the Medical Officer passed him as fit for active service. The February 1915 edition of The Bedales Chronicle reported he was a 2nd Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion.
I haven’t traced a War Diary for the Oxford and Bucks but it seems likely that Noel spent most of 1915 in training and then was posted to guard duties in various parts of the UK: the 9th battalion was in Wareham in March 1915. According to Mr Badley’s obituary Noel was transferred to the 2nd Battalion (part of the Regular Army) and went out to France in March 1916. Initially “he was in a fairly quiet part of the line”. Granted a week of leave Noel returned to endure “a very hard time” on Vimy Ridge. “At one period it was thought that their front trench was mined by the Germans, and he was given command of a storming party. Luckily the mine did not explode during their eight days in the trench but two of the men went out of their minds.”
Mr. Badley must have received some of his information from Douglas (at Bedales until the summer of 1918) or the Harrison parents as he had the impression that Noel thought it “a welcome change to go into the rush of the new offensive on the Somme”. He concluded: - “There he was killed early on Sunday morning, July 30th, in our most advanced salient during an assault on the German trenches. He had the satisfaction before he died of knowing that he had just been promoted Lieutenant.” Noel’s body was not recovered and he is one of the thousands commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial; Bedalians visiting the site two years ago saw and photographed his name.
Edward Frank Harrison had tried to join the active army when war broke out but was rejected as too old. However he enlisted as a private in the 73rd Royal Fusiliers on 10th May 1915, was transferred to the Royal Engineers as a corporal on 22nd July and commissioned a week later. As a chemist he was soon deployed in the Anti-Gas Department and was responsible for the development of the first effective gas mask, the large box respirator. He continued refining the mask and was rapidly promoted; at the time of his death (from pneumonia) in November 1918 he had reached the rank of Lieut-Colonel and become Controller of Chemical Warfare. In his letter of condolence to Mrs. Harrison, Winston Churchill, Minister of Munitions, stated that her husband was responsible for saving the lives of thousands of British and Empire soldiers.
The Harrison connection with Bedales continued as both Douglas’s son and daughter attended the school at the end second world war.