2nd Lieutenant John James CROWE V.C.
John James Crowe was born at the Female Garrison Hospital, Devonport, Devon on the 28th December 1876. He was the oldest son of John James Crowe and Caroline Elizabeth Crowe (nee Turpin). His father was serving private soldier with the 36th Regiment (later to become the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment) and served in that regiment from 1865 to 1880 as a private soldier.
It was a large family and James had 5 brothers and 4 sisters.
John followed in his fathers footsteps and joined the Army. Joining his fathers Regiment on the 1st July 1897 (army number 4959) as a private soldier, the year of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, and quickly rose to the rank of Corporal and by 1906 he was a Colour Sergeant at Norton Barracks.
John married Margaret Ellen Langron on the 3rd February 1902 at St. James, Dublin, Ireland.
They had four children; Annie Margaret (b. 1904), Mary Josephine (b. 1906), John James (b. 1907) and Christina Ellen (b. 1913).
The Worcestershire Regiment had long held the reputation in the British Army of being a top class “Shooting” Regiment and Sergeant John Crowe was an excellent rifle and revolver shot. He was a member of the successful team from the 4th Battalion of that regiment, when it won the Queen Victoria Cup, the "blue ribbon" for rifle shooting, in 1904.
At the outbreak of the First World War he was Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant with the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment and landed with the battalion in France on the 15th August 1914. Thoughout the war he was frequently in the thick of the fighting, although twice being blown up and once buried, he ended the war unscathed.
In 1918 he also served as Acting Regimental Sergeant Major for a short time.
On the 1st April 1918 he was commissioned in the field as a 2nd Lieutenant and continued to serve with the 2nd Battalion. He was appointed Adjutant.
Just two weeks later, on the 14th April 1918 he would awarded the Victoria Cross for for bravery at Neuve Eglise during the German offensive which was launched on the 9th April.
His citation reads:
"For most conspicuous bravery, determination, and skilful leading when the enemy, for the third time having attacked a post in a village, broke past on to the high ground and established a machine gun and snipers in the broken ground at the back of the village. 2nd Lt. Crowe twice went forward with two N.C.Os. and seven men to engage the enemy, both times in face of active machine-gun fire and sniping. His action was so daring that on each occasion the enemy withdrew from the high ground into the village, where 2nd Lt. Crowe followed them and himself opened fire upon the enemy as they collected in the doorways of the houses.
Lieutenant John James Crowe V.C.
On the second occasion, taking with him only two men of his party, he attacked two. enemy machine guns which were sweeping the post, killed both the gunners with his rifle, and prevented any others from reaching the guns and bringing- them in. action again. He then turned-upon a party of the enemy who were, lined up in front of him, killed several, and the remainder withdrew at once. He captured both the guns, one of which was the battalion Lewis gun which had been captured by the enemy on the previous day.
Throughout the seven days of operations 2nd Lt. Crowe showed an utter disregard of danger and was recklessly brave. His personal example and cheerfulness contributed largely to the determination of the garrison of the post to hold out. It may safely be said that but for his coolness and skill at the last moment, when he personally placed the covering party in close proximity to the enemy, who were again closing round, and were also forming up in fours near by, the garrison of the post could never have effected its escape. The valour and zeal displayed by 2nd Lt. Crowe were of the highest order." (London Gazette 28th June 1918)
Below is an account of the 2nd Battalions actions at Neuve Eglise and how Lieut. Crowe won his Victoria Cross on the 14th April 1918.
The defence of Neuve Eglise (14th April 1918)
The second of the great German offensives on the Western front was launched on 9th April, 1918. The Portuguese troops holding the trenches between Armentieres and Bethune were swept away, and a wide rent was torn in the Allied line. To close the gap British divisions were hurried up from reserve and hastily pushed into the battle. Among these was the 33rd Division, which included the 2nd Worcestershire.
The Battalion then formed part of the 100th Brigade, together wtth the 16th K.R.R.C. and 9th H.L.I. The Brigade was ordered to occupy and hold the village of Neuve Eglise, which had already been partially entrenched.
The Brigade occupied the defences of Neuve Eglise after dark on April 11th. Next day the advancing enemy came in contact with their defences.
Two days of fierce fighting followed. By nightfall of April 13th the 100th Brigade, after a most gallant defence, had almost been destroyed. The Germans, by successive attacks, had stormed the trenches, the other two battalions of the Brigade had practically ceased to exist, and of the 2nd Worcestershire there were left only two platoons, which, with Battalion Headquarters, were holding the last organised defence of the village, the fortified "Mairie" (Mayor's Residence).
Even this defended building was not too strong a position. To guard against surprise a smaller house some forty yards in advance had also been occupied. The armament of the Mairie consisted of one Vickers machine gun, and the Lewis guns of the two platoons, together with a small store of bombs.
That night the advancing enemy made their way into the village and gradually encircled the Maine. It was a weird night of battle. Firing was going on in every direction, and the Verey lights sent up by the enemy's advanced troops as signals of position were seen coming nearer and ever nearer. Similar lights sent up by the defenders showed at intervals parties of the enemy creeping up; but these were in every case driven back by fire. Presently the enemy made so heavy a bombing attack on the advanced house that the remnant of its defenders were forced to fall back and join the rest in in the Mairie.
That German advance had laid open the right flank of the 2nd Worcestershire, and the enemy closed in upon the Battalion in the gathering darkness. Orders, as we have seen, were sent at 6 p.m. by Colonel Stoney to recall "B" Company into the village to act as a reserve. Eventually two platoons of "B" company came back and joined Battalion Headquarters at the Mairie. The other two platoons had been sent to help "A" and "D" companies to withdraw.
With the two available platoons of "B" Company and the personnel of Battalion Headquarters, Colonel Stoney organised the Mairie for defence. Half of one platoon was placed as an advanced post in a house forty yards in advance (marked "A" on map) with a large supply of bombs, to break up the enemy's advance. The remainder manned the barricaded windows and improvised loopholesin the walls. A lucky find was made of a large supply of bombs stored in one of the cellars. One machinegun and the Lewis-guns of the two platoons completed the armament of the defences. An aid-post was established in a cellar by the Chaplain, the Reverend E. Victor Tanner.
There was no knowledge as to the fortunes of the three companies in front. Heavy firing all around had lasted throughout the evening. Runners sent forward through the darkness to gain touch with the companies did not return.
Captain Crowe's exploits on the 14th April 1918 (letters mark position)
When darkness fell the enemy's advanced troops pushed into the village. A racket of firing was going on all around. The defenders of the Mairie saw. the enemy's flares shooting upwards among the ruined houses, coming nearer and ever nearer. Presently one of those lights disclosed a party of the enemy creeping towards the building: they were driven off by a burst of fire from the one machine-gun of the defence; but several enemy machine-guns opened fire out of the darkness. Soon the British machine-gun was struck by the hail of bullets and was put out of action.
Undismayed, the defenders fired rifle-grenades from the garden in front of the Mairie at the nearest enemy machine-gun, which had been boldly posted in the road in front, and forced it to move further back. The rifle-grenade bombardment was directed by 2/Lieut. J. Turley, who throughout showed great courage and coolness: he was awarded thp M.C.
Heavy firing lasted all night. The night was very dark, and it was impossible to see far, but it was clear that the enemy's troops were occupying the whole village and were closing round the Mairie. The detachment in the. advanced post (Point "A" on map) after enduring a heavy fire of bombs for many hours, exhausted their ammunition. They ran the gauntlet of the enemy's machinegun fire and rejoined the garrison of the Mairie.
Dawn of April 14th showed the enemy surrounding the Mairie on every side, moving among the houses and across the open crest line on the western side. Trench mortars had been brought up, and their big bombs fell around the house. Several bombs actually hit the building, and two crashed through the roof, causing many casualties as they burst. The little garrison continued the defence, encouraged by their leaders and inspired by the cool bravery of the devoted Chaplain, who calmly tended the wounded in the building; but the situation was serious. German machine-guns were firing at the house from three sides, from the Church, from the cross-roads at the end of the street and from the open high ground to the west. From all sides the bullets of the enemy's snipers struck continually against the barricaded windows and doors; and many bullets penetrated the thin brick walls.
There was a further danger. Seeing the village in the hands of the enemy, the British artillery might bombard it. No telephone was available, nor were signals possible.
2/Lieut. A. Johnson begged permission to try to get through with a message. Reluctantly Colonel Stoney consented. The subaltern, a very brave young officer, set out from the Mairie and made his way out of sight: but before he could pass through the German lines he was hit and mortally wounded. 2/Lieut. A. Johnson had done splendid work during the two preceding days in carrying messages between Battalion Headquarters and the companies and in organising the defence of the Mairie: he was awarded a bar to his M.C.
The little garrison answered the enemy's fire with steady musketry, and presently their good marksmanship, assisted by a Lewis-gun in an upper window fired by Pte. F. R. Bough, who inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, and by a well-directed fire of rifle grenades, proved too much for the enemy's snipers. The sniping fire ceased, and the enemy temporarily drew back.
It was clear, however, that the defence could not be indefinitely prolonged. The enemy machine-guns were still firing from three sides, and it was dangerous to attempt to venture beyond the building. About 11 a.m. the Adjutant, Captain J. Crowe volunteered to lead a sortie and attempt to clear a path for retreat. He called for volunteers: Company-Quartermaster-Sergeant A. Trotman was the first to volunteer, and a party of picked men assembled. C.Q.M.S. Trotman did splendid work in the fight which followed, and was subsequently awarded the D.C.M.
Captain Crowe decided to attempt to drive the enemy from the open high ground west of the beleaguered house. As a preliminary move a cowshed (at Point "C" on map) just outside the Mairie was occupied by a quick rush. Then Captain Crowe led a party of ten men who rushed across the road and threw themselves down in the hedge on the far side and opened fire. It had been his intention to attack the German machine-guns by a direct advance up the slope; that however proved to be impossible, so he decided to approach them from the flank.
Taking two picked men with him, he crawled down the side of the road and round the bend until he was beyond risk of observation. Then (at Point "Z" on the map) the little party turned and worked inwards to the angle of two hedges (Point "P"). Some of the enemy were lining the hedge facing east. They were taken by surprise in enfilade and were shot down.
German machine-guns could be heard firing close in front, but a slight rise in the ground (the dotted lines on the plan are not exact contours but are "form lines" intended to indicate the slope of the ground) prevented their position being seen. Captain Crowe and his men crawled forward until (at Point "Q") they could see the machine-guns—two of them (at Point "R") firing busily at the Mairie. Apparently they had not noticed his shooting on their flank.
Captain Crowe decided to rush them before they could swing round. He and his two men rose to their feet and ran in on them, firing as they ran. That bold attack took the enemy completely by surprise. After a few wild shots the Germans left their weapons and fled. Captain Crowe and one man flung themselves down, panting, beside the abandoned machine-guns, and signalled the party near the cowshed (at Point "C") to advance. The second of his two brave men, who went with Captain Crowe, had been shot dead; unfortunately the other man was killed soon afterwards and their names have not been recorded.
Captain Crowe and his two men ran in on the eneny firing as they ran
(drawing by Gilbert Holiday)
2/Lieut. A. C. Pointon now led forward the party and helped to secure the captured machine-guns. 2/Lieut. A. C. Pointon, who had shown great bravery throughout the defence, received the M.C.
The high ground was secured and was held during the next hour, while communication was established with the 71st Brigade in rear. There was hope of a counter-attack. But soon after midday fresh forces of the enemy came crowding into the village. Ammunition was almost exhausted and further defence was hopeless. About 1.30 p.m. Colonel Stoney gave orders for retirement. Covered by fire both from the high ground and from the windows of the Mairie, the little garrison extricated themselves from the ruined building, taking with them their wounded, and made their way back from cover to cover along the road to Dranoutre. Except three men too seriously wounded to be moved, who were bandaged and left in the cellar. About thirty wounded were brought back.
The retirement from the Maine was covered to the last by the indomitable Private F. R. Bough, who remained at a window, firing his Lewis-gun while the party got clear, although the enemy's trench mortar brought the roof behind him crashing down (Pte. Bough was awarded the D.C.M.). The little column of exhausted and wounded men staggered off down the road, their retreat protected by Captain Crowe's detachment on the hill, who were the last to retire.
The enemy did not attempt to pursue (to such an extent had the vigorous defence impressed the enemy, that two runners seeking Battalion Headquarters at the Mairie, some time after it had been evacuated, found the building empty and were able to withdraw in safety; the enemy apparently being unaware of the evacuation) and without further loss that remnant of the Battalion passed through the line of the troops in rear (71st Brigade reinforced by 175th Brigade). Marching back through Dranoutre they were directed on to Locre, where information as to the whereabouts of the rest of their Brigade was discovered. At 6.30 p.m. the survivors of the 2nd Worcestershire, 6 officers and 100 men, rejoined the rest of the 100th Brigade behind "Hill 70" near Hille. After the 2nd Worcestershire rejoined,the strength of the 100th Brigade totalled 40 officers and 814 N.C.O's. and men.
That stubborn defence brought great credit to the Battalion. It was specially mentioned in Divisional orders and in the Despatches of the Commander-in-Chief. Lieut.-Colonel Stoney was awarded the D.S.O. and Captain Crowe's brave enterprise earned him a well-deserved Victoria Cross.
Lieut. (acting Captain) John James Crowe receiving his Victoria Cross from H.M. King George V
(This event took place in the field at Blondeck, not far from Neuve Englise)
On the 26th May 1918 (London Gazette date) he was given the rank of Acting Captain.
Crowe was awarded the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal for 18 year service (London Gazette 1st Januaru 1917, his rank at the time was Quartermaster Sergeant. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his actions at Festubert.
He received two mentions-in-despatches (London Gazette 23rd May 1918 and 17th August 1918).
Captain John James Crowe V.C. medals
Victoria Cross, 1914 Star & clasp, British War Medal, Victory Medal,
Coronation Medal GVI (1937), Coronation Medal EIIR (1953),
Long Service & Good Conduct Medal,French Croix de Guerre with palm
John James Crowe as a Sergeant in 1904
After the War
Three days after the Armistice he was promoted to Captain
The family home was still at Dudley House, Roedale Road, Brighton, Sussex, England where they had move in 1916.
Captain Crowe retired from the Army on the 23rd November 1920 and granted the rank of Captain. In 1921 he applied for a position of School Attendance Officer for Brighton. Brighton Education Committe selected him out of some 200 applicants who applied. After 25 years he eventually retired from post of Children's Care Enquiry Officer, Brighton in 1946. Having continued on beyond December 1941 when he could have retired.
During his 24 years army service he was regimental athletic champ and a keen hockey player. Shooting at Bisley used to occupy a lot of his time, and Brighton and Hove League's 1923 De Lancey Shield is among the many markmanship medals he held.
In 1931 the Crowe family home moved to McWilliam Road, Woodingdean, Brighton, Sussex, England.
In his leisure time he enjoyed gardening and weekend shooting on the Downs.
Sadly, in 1953 his wife Margeret Ellen died, at the age of 80.
In 1962 in an article in the "Brighton and Hove Gazette" he recalled the time he won his V.C. saying; "We were sent into Neuve Englise, near Kemmel, to hold it. We held it for seven days, but only 14 survived out of 250 of us. We captured the German Machine guns and recaptured our own."
From 1960 until his death he was the president of the Woodingdean Happy Circle Old People's Club, Brighton.
Captain Crowe V.C. died at the General Hospital, Brighton, on the 27th February 1965, aged 88 years. He was buried at Downs Crematorium, Brighton in March.
After his death the Woodingdean Happy Circle Club, Brighton provided a seat in his memory, to be put in the entrance hall of Woodingdean Community Centre. Mr. Edwin Billington, chairman of the Happy Circle Club, who unveiled the seat in the Community Centre main hall, said that he was "quite overwhelmed by this wonderful gift." Captain Crowe's family, including his daughter, Mrs. Anne Murray, of Rottingdean, Brighton were specially invited to the unveiling.
Captain John James V.C. medals are now held by the Worcestershire Regiment Museum Trust, Worcester are are on display in the Worcestershire Regiment Museum section within the Worcester City Museum and Art Gallery, Foregate Street, Worcester WR1 1DT.