England Rugby Star Names New Navy Gym After First World War Hero

  • Author: BRNC Public Relations
  • Date: Wednesday 7th October 2020
England Rugby Star Names New Navy Gym After First World War Hero England Rugby Star Names New Navy Gym After First World War Hero England Rugby Star Names New Navy Gym After First World War Hero

A new state-of-the-art gymnasium, named after a First World War hero, has been formally opened at Britannia Royal Naval College (BRNC), by England’s World Cup winning captain, Martin Johnson CBE. 

The former rugby player was invited to BRNC to see the new facility, which has been named in honour of Lieutenant Commander Arthur Harrison VC. 

Arthur Harrison, who was born locally in Torquay in 1886, lost his life during the Zeebrugge Raid in 1918 and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy. 

Captain Roger Readwin, the Captain of BRNC, said: “Arthur Harrison was reported to be a fantastic all-round sports player at school and was selected to represent the Royal Navy at rugby union when he joined the Service. He was capped by England twice, winning the Grand Slam in 1914, and is believed to be the only England rugby union international ever to have received the VC.  When we were looking to name our new gym, Arthur Harrison was a natural choice and we hope his story will go on to inspire our Officer Cadets and Recruits as they go through their training.” 

Martin Johnson CBE, who led England to victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, was the guest of honour at the opening. 

He said: “It is a real privilege to officially open BRNC’s new gymnasium today.  But to do so, in memory of a former England and Navy Rugby player, who made the ultimate sacrifice so we can enjoy our freedom today, is very poignant indeed.  Arthur Harrison’s legacy will continue to be remembered in this fantastic gymnasium, which will develop Naval leaders with the same courage and resilience Harrison demonstrated in 1918. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to all those serving in the Royal Navy and the support of their families who make such service possible.”   

Warrant Officer Mac McCormick, BRNC’s Physical Development Officer, said: “This facility is a real game changer and will allow us to deliver 21st century physical training to modern Royal Navy standards.  It has a multi-purpose main hall where the Cadets will undergo the bulk of their training, centring on Initial Military Fitness to instil and develop the command response, coordination, robustness and resilience required for our Naval Officers to operate in any environment around the world. The gymnasium is kitted out for a wide range of sports from badminton to netball. With temperature-controlled gymnasium and activity rooms, we are now able to instruct all year round, regardless of the weather outside.” 

During his visit Martin Johnson also presented a new cup to Officer Cadet Caoimhe Madini.  The cup, which has been donated in Arthur Harrison’s honour by the Britannia Association, will be presented annually to the winners of ‘Le Crunch’; the BRNC versus École Navale rugby match. 

Lt Cdr Harrison’s first posting in the Royal Navy was to HMS Mars as a cadet in 1902.  He went on to be Mentioned in Despatches during the Battle of Jutland in 1916.  Almost two years later he was in charge of the Naval Storming Parties at the Zeebrugge Raid; an attempt by the Royal Navy to block the Belgian port and stop the German U-boats taking to sea.  

Early in the action Lt Cdr Harrison was knocked unconscious when a fragment of a shell struck his head and broke his jaw as his ship, HMS Vindictive, was coming alongside the stone structure, known as a mole. 

Lt Cdr Harrison regained consciousness and took his place in command of his party. They were charged with the important task of silencing the guns on the mole head.  In a fully exposed position Lt Cdr Harrison led the attack and was killed by enemy machine-gun fire at the age of 32. His body was never recovered.  The men serving with him were either killed or wounded.   

In 1967 his family donated his VC, awarded to him for his ‘indomitable resolution and courage’, to BRNC, where it remains today. 

Work to build the PT centre started on site last year after extensive consultation, over many years, with numerous interested stakeholders, including the Local Planning Authority, Historic England and Natural England. Construction company Kier were awarded the contract to build the centre by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO).  

Close attention was made to material choices to seamlessly blend the structure into its agreed location while maintaining consideration for both the historic significance of BRNC and the wider community in Dartmouth.  Particular care was taken to ensure the building did not impact any of the local indigenous wildlife while still meeting all Royal Navy training requirements.  The design also considered minimising future maintenance costs, emissions and BRNC’s carbon footprint whilst improving the building’s resilience to future climate change. 

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