From our Founder and Trustee – Nicholas Harrison.
Tomorrow, I will be driving all day to South Wales, where I shall, at the grand old age of 40, be living in a tent for 10 days. In the midst of remembering what it is like to live outside, finding out that various burger joints no longer have boxes of milk sachets that we used to ‘steal’ (shame!) and making the 20 mile round trip to find biodegradable wet-wipes, I shamefully forgot, until this morning, an event that, since childhood, has been of great importance to us Harrisons.
On the evening of the 22nd July 1944, at 1800 hrs seven RAF Mosquitos from 151 Squadron, based in Cornwall, flew to South West France to destroy trains being used by the German military. The crew of one of these airplanes was Squadron Leader Reginald Harrison and Flight Lieutenant Andrew Horrex, both RAF Volunteer Reserves. Harrison and Horrex machine gunned a railway station before shooting and putting out of action a German troop train. After attacking another railway station they returned to the first station to carry out a further attack when they were shot down by anti-aircraft fire and crashed near Moulin des Fougeres. Both airmen were seriously wounded and, although they managed to escape the burning wreckage, Horrex was unable to move very far. Harrison, who could have escaped, remained with his friend and gave what first aid he could. Unfortunately, a part of German soldiers, with dogs, arrived at the crash site and the two airmen were captured. After a week being interrogated and held in prison by the Germans in France, they were taken to hospital before being transported, via Toulouse, to a POW camp in Germany. Harrison and Horrex both tried to escape during the train journey and failed. To their delight however, on arriving at Toulouse, they found that the ‘Pink City’ had been liberated by members of the Resistance so they were readmitted to hospital.
On the 6th September they boarded an RAF Hudson which flew the two airmen to London where, still suffering badly from their injuries, they spent time recovering in hospital.
In 1994, a monument was erected near the crash site and the nearby street was renamed, Rue du 22nd Juillet 1944. I am extremely proud of my relation!
So back to my journey tomorrow, off to Wales, with the new-look Soldier On!, the running of which I have handed over to a serving Royal Army Medical Corps Sergeant, and qualified archaeologist, who was himself wounded in Iraq. We are taking with us 20 people, many of whom are disabled, refugees, elderly and lonely, and former armed forces personnel. Many of the participants will have never visited an archaeological site before, some of the disabled members having been turned down from attending sites in the past. They will be taking part in a project to find a Roman mosaic which was written about in the late C19th and of which no proper record exists. We are tdelighted to be working with Liverpool John Moores University on this project.
When I get frustrated in my sleeping bag, no doubt, suffering as a result of too many recent years in a comfortable bed at home, when, no doubt, after digging trenches in the heat leaves me a little peed off with ripping biodegradable wet wipes as I long for a hot bath, I hope I shall remember Flight Lt. Horrex RAFVR and Squadron Leader Reginald Harrison OBE, Croix de Guerre, Legion of Honour, American Bronze Star and not let them down. I couldn’t bear to think of him, looking down on me, with his hands over his eyes, thinking how soft I am and what has happened to his successors! I also know that I will only have to glance across at the other participants, and know that they have endured some shocking things in their lives and if we can help them to have ten days to forget and ten days to learn new skills and start, through the Transperformance programme, to plan a happier and more fulfilling future, then hopefully, we will have done something useful.
If you wish to follow our progress please visit us on Twitter – @soldieronorg We will be updating news as we can! Thanks so much for all your support, it means a lot to us to know you are there.