The diaries of Yorkshire Regiment soldier, Stanley Harrison, are the spark which lit the fire of the museum’s 2019 exhibition, Hostile Environment – the British in Russia. The exhibition marked the centenary anniversary of the little-known story of the men sent to north after the armistice to fight on.
The two diaries span the period 15 October 1918 to 27 June 1919.
Harrison’s observations of deployment on Operations Syren and Elope give us a unique insight into the grinding reality of everyday life for the men sent to fight the Bolsheviks, at a time of enormous global social and political upheaval.
You can read the transcripts here:
All about Stanley…
Born on 29 July 1899, Stanley Nunn Harrison was the son of shopkeepers in Kimberley, on the outskirts of Nottingham.
He left school at 14 and was employed in a junior position at a lace warehouse. On 12th April, 1915, Stanley presented himself as a volunteer at the recruiting tent in Nottingham’s Market Square.
On being asked his age, he gave this correctly as 15 years and 9 months, whereupon the Officer told him to “have a walk round lad, and come back when you’re 17”.
Stanley did just that – he walked around the square and went back to the recruiting tent again. The Officer asked him how old he was this time, to which Stanley replied “Seventeen, sir.” As a result, Stanley became Private No. 1688 with the South Nottinghamshire Hussars.
After 86 days service, and on parade one morning, he was ordered to ‘fall out’ and told that his mother had sent his birth certificate to the War Office and requested his release from service as under-age. Back at home, he joined the St. John Ambulance Service.
On 7th August 1915, he wrote to the Nottingham Evening Post:
I was discharged from a local regiment about a month ago, being claimed out by my parents, as I was only 16. I look easily 18 or 19, and although I have tried to serve my King and country, I am continually being told I ought to enlist…..It is about time badges were given or some distinction made between triers and slackers.
I am Sir…….
Never a slacker, Stanley enlisted again in August 1917, at the age of 18, in the Sherwood Foresters 7th Reserve, and was transferred to the 6th Yorkshire Regiment in September 1918. On 16th October 1918, the regiment embarked for operations in Russia.
His two ‘best pals’ from school had been killed in the trenches and both parents died in 1921 from Spanish flu. Government grants enabled him to benefit from higher education at Loughborough College, studying economics and commerce, which led to a career in the Civil Service. Whilst at college he met his future wife and they married in 1926. Stanley died in 1954.
“I was 25 when these diaries came into my possession on the death of my father. I knew that they had been of great importance to him, and most carefully preserved, but apart from a few anecdotes, he had never talked about his experiences. I was amazed and enthralled by what I was reading – not only snapshots of army life in a bleak and inhospitable place, but a deep and moving insight into the mind of a young man who found himself there.” Stanley Harrison’s collection, which includes newspaper cuttings, photographs and postcards from his time in the army was donated to the museum by his daughter, Joan in 2009.
Stanley Harrison’s diaries feature in our online version of the exhibition Hostile Environment: The regiment in Russia.