James Crichton (soldier)
Private James Crichton c.1918–19
15 July 1879|
Carrickfergus, County Antrim, Ireland
22 September 1961 (aged 82)|
Takapuna, New Zealand
New Zealand Military Forces
|Years of service||
|Unit||2nd Battalion, Auckland Infantry Regiment|
Second Boer War
James Crichton, VC (15 July 1879 – 22 September 1961) was an Irish-born soldier and a recipient of the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.
Born in 1879 in Northern Ireland, Crichton served with the British Army during the Second Boer War, and later emigrated to New Zealand. Following the outbreak of the First World War, he joined the New Zealand Military Forces and served with the Army Service Corps during the Gallipoli Campaign and on the Western Front in a field bakery. He transferred to the infantry in May 1918 and was awarded the VC for his actions during the Hundred Days Offensive. He went to London in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth and again nearly 20 years later for the VC centenary. He died in 1961 at the age of 82.
Crichton was born in Carrickfergus, in Northern Ireland, on 15 July 1879. His family moved to the mining hamlet of Northrigg by Blackridge in what is now West Lothian, Scotland, when he was young. By the age of 10, he was working in a coal mine. Nicknamed Scotty, he joined the British Army by enlisting in the Royal Scots Regiment at the age of 18. Two years later, he transferred to the Cameron Highlanders. He remained with the Highlanders for five years, including a period in South Africa during the Second Boer War, before returning to civilian life. He later moved to New Zealand and settled in Auckland where he worked as a cable splicer with the Post Office and Telegraph Department.
First World War
Following the outbreak of the First World War, Crichton volunteered for the New Zealand Military Forces and was sent to the Middle East with the main body of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF) in October 1914. Promoted to corporal, he was posted to the New Zealand Army Service Corps as a baker in the 1st Field Bakery. He served in the Gallipoli Campaign and, at its conclusion, was promoted to quartermaster sergeant. Two months later, he was promoted again, to warrant officer, 2nd class, before being sent to the Western Front as part of the New Zealand Division.
In May 1918, having served with the bakery for over three years, Crichton harboured a desire to serve with the infantry. He relinquished his rank as a warrant officer and transferred to the infantry. He later stated that he had been selected for officer training, but a senior officer in the Auckland Infantry Regiment offered to arrange his transfer if permission was obtained. It was made clear to him that he would be reduced in rank if he was to proceed with the transfer. Initially placed in the 3rd Entrenching Battalion, one of the training units of the New Zealand Division, he was transferred to the Auckland Infantry Regiment and posted to its 2nd Battalion with the rank of private in late August 1918.
During the Hundred Days Offensive, on 30 September 1918, Crichton's platoon was trying to force a crossing of the Scheldt River, near Crèvecœur, when it came under machine-gun fire. He was wounded and his platoon commander and senior non-commissioned officer were killed. Crichton was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) for his subsequent deeds. The VC, instituted in 1856, was the highest gallantry award that could be bestowed on a soldier of the British Empire. The citation for his VC read:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when, although wounded in the foot, he continued with the advancing troops despite difficult canal and river obstacles. When his platoon was subsequently forced back by a counterattack he succeeded in carrying a message which involved swimming a river and crossing an area swept by machine-gun fire, subsequently rejoining his platoon. Later he undertook on his own initiative to save a bridge which had been mined, and, though under close fire of machine-guns and snipers, he succeeded in removing the charges, returning with the fuses and detonators. Though suffering from a painful wound he displayed the highest degree of valour and devotion to duty.— The London Gazette, No. 31012, 15 November 1918
After he returned to his company commander to report his successful deactivation of the demolition charges, Crichton attempted rejoin his platoon but was ordered to remain behind at company headquarters. He then assisted stretcher bearers transporting wounded soldiers before the gravity of his wounds became apparent and he was taken, despite his protests, to a field hospital. He was later evacuated to England for further treatment. Promoted to sergeant, he was still recovering from his wounds when the war ended.
Crichton's VC was the last to be won by a serviceman of the NZEF during the First World War. He, together with three other New Zealanders who had been awarded the VC,[Note 1] received his medal from King George V in a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on 27 February 1919. He returned to New Zealand in June 1919 and shortly afterwards was formally discharged from the NZEF.
Now a civilian, Crichton resumed his pre-war profession as a cable splicer. He was part of the New Zealand contingent sent to London in 1937 for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. At this stage of his life, he worked for the New Zealand Post & Telegraph Department in a foreman role. Two years later, he retired.
During the Second World War, Crichton served in the Home Guard and worked on merchant ships travelling between New Zealand and England.At the age of 76, he returned to London in 1956 as part of the VC centenary celebrations.
Crichton died at Auckland Hospital in Takapuna on 22 September 1961. Survived by his wife and daughter, he is buried in Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland. Several memorials are dedicated to his memory including a plaque on the first house in which his family lived in Carrickfergus, his place of birth. The town's museum also has a plaque to him and another VC winner from Carrickfergus, Daniel Cambridge. His name is recorded on the Armadale & District Roll of Honour, which included the Scottish village of Blackridge where he had lived as a boy. In New Zealand, there is a plaque honouring him in Queen's Garden in Dunedin.
After his death, Crichton's family donated his VC to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, which continues to hold the medal along with his service medals from the Boer War and the First and Second World Wars.
- Harper & Richardson 2007, p. 173.
- Gliddon 2014, p. 90.
- McGibbon 2000, p. 128.
- McGibbon 2000, pp. 558–559.
- "No. 31012". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 November 1918. p. 13474.
- Gliddon 2014, p. 91.
- Harper & Richardson 2007, p. 172.
- "Four Victoria Cross Men". New Zealand Herald (Vol. LVI, issue 13170). 8 April 1919. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
- Harper & Richardson 2007, p. 174.
- "Presentations". Auckland Star (Vol. LXX, issue 170). 21 July 1939. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
- "Collections record: medal set". Auckland Museum. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
- Gliddon 2014, p. 92.
- "Collections record: medal, decoration". Auckland Museum. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
- Gliddon, Gerald (2014) . The Final Days 1918. VCs of the First World War. Stroud, Gloucestershire: History Press. ISBN 978-0-7509-5368-9.
- Harper, Glyn; Richardson, Colin (2007). In the Face of the Enemy: The Complete History of the Victoria Cross and New Zealand. Auckland, New Zealand: HarperCollins. ISBN 1-86950-650-2.
- McGibbon, Ian, ed. (2000). The Oxford Companion to New Zealand Military History. Auckland, New Zealand: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-558376-0.