b. 06/01/1905 Devonport, Devon. d. 15/07/1989 Bexley, Kent
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 11/02/1940 Immingham Dock, Lincs.
Leonard Henry Harrison (1905-1989) the son of a Royal Navy recuiting officer, was born at Devonport on 6th June 1906 and educated at the local secondary school in Plymouth. He enlisted in the RAF as an Aircraft Apprentice in 1922. He did his initial training at No 1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton. He graduated as a Fitter Armourer AC1 in December 1924 and was posted to Hong Kong in 1926. When he left the service in 1934 he had reached the rank of Sergeant. He was then employed by the Air Ministry as a Civilian Armament Instructor and became well-known as an expert in bomb disposal.
Harrison earned his George Cross for a series of coolly executed bomb disposal operations in the early part of the war. The first of these was in February 1940 making it the first action for which the George Cross was awarded when it was instituted in September that year. Several other awards of the GC were published in The London Gazette before Harrison’s was announced on 3rd January 1941 but he set the high standard for the new decoration.
The series of actions for which Harrison was awarded the George Cross began on 12th February 1940 when the merchant ship S.S. Kildare arrived in Immingham, near Grimsby, with a 250 kilo German bomb wedged half-through the main deck. Harrison and Flight Lieutenant John Dowland, who was also awarded the GC, rendered the bomb harmless despite realising that the fuse was of a previously unknown type.
But on Harrison’s own admission, his most hazardous task was on Good Friday 1940. Called by telephone from digging his garden, he made his way to Grimsby where he boarded a trawler which had a live mine lodged in its bow. Harrison spent four hours working on the mine with tools borrowed from the trawler before defusing it. Only then did he realise that the firing pin had jammed and that any attempt to meddle with the arming mechanism would have almost certainly detonated the mine.
In May 1941 he was commissioned into the RAF Volunteer Reserve and from then until after the end of the war continued to carry out all kinds of bomb disposal work. This included defusing 700 tons of booby-trapped bombs in an arms dump near Brussels in 1946. Harrison and his team knew that the slightest slip would cause the detonation of the entire cache. He probably defused more unexploded devices than any other man during and after the conflict.
Harrison, who was head of the RAF’s Bomb Disposal Organisation from 1944, retired in 1949 but remained employed at the Air Ministry in a civilian capacity until 1970. He retired to Bexleyheath, Kent, was for many years the Hon Treasurer of the VC and GC Association and died on 15th July 1989 aged 83. He was cremated at Eltham Crematorium and his ashes were interred in Section R of the Garden of Remembrance. There is no plaque. A service of thanksgiving for his life was held on 17th October 1989 at St Clement Danes, Aldwych. Rear Admiral Basil Godfrey Place VC read the lesson and Air Marshal Sir John Rowlands GC, gave an address.
His medals including the GC, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, General Service Medal with “Bomb and Mine Clearance” clasp, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal, 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal and Long Service and Good Conduct Medal were sold at Dix Noonan Webb in February 2016 and were purchased by Michael Ashcroft for £145,000 and are now part of the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOLD FOR £145,000 IN FEB 2016 TO LORD ASHCROFT.
BURIAL PLACE: ELTHAM CREMATORIUM, LONDON.
Harrison's medals just prior to their sale on 24th February 2016
The medals image prior to sale, the reverse of his GC and the image and Alastair Kennedy-Rose holding the medals appear courtesy of Alastair Kennedy-Rose and Pierce Noonan from Dix Noonan and Webb.