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My Local Hero of the Boer War
This is a biographical tribute to Harry Crandon who was awarded the Victoria Cross for rescuing a comrade under intense enemy fire during the Boer War in 1901. After his military career he settled in my home town and is buried here. With a summary of the war to put the action in perspective, and a brief account of how the Victoria Cross was established.
Tensions between the two independent Boer republics of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and British interests in South Africa had been building for years until diplomacy finally broke down. In early October 1899, the 1st Army Corps mobilized in England. On 11 October 1899, Boer commando units invaded British territory; siege of the garrison towns of Kimberley and Mafeking in the Cape Colony and Ladysmith in Natal.
Fighting at home in mounted commando units, in some cases containing three generations of the same family, the Boers were a formidable enemy. With superior firearms and smokeless ammunition, and camouflaged in the drab colors of their plain farm clothes, skilled Boer marksmen knew how to hide in the rocky terrain and snipe from long range as the British advanced on parade ground across the open field. . Then leave the scene with excellent horsemanship before the British could respond effectively.
British relief forces made a two-pronged advance during which they suffered three severe reverses in mid-December, at Magersfontein and Stormberg in the Cape, and at Colenso in Natal, which became known as ‘Black Week’. As the Natal Field Force fought their way north, they suffered their worst defeat of the campaign at the infamous Battle of Spion Kop on 24 February 1900, before reaching Ladysmith four days later. Kimberley, under Cecil Rhodes, was recaptured at about the same time, and the relief of Mafeking on 17 May 1900, which had been under the leadership of Robert Baden-Powell, who later established the world-famous Scout movement, caused a frenzy. of imperial hysteria in Great Britain.
Eventually Lord Roberts, whose son had been killed in action while winning a posthumous Victoria Cross at Colenso, took command. His experience turned the tide, and British forces entered the Boer capital, Pretoria on 5 June 1900. The British then began a campaign, mainly in the eastern Transvaal, to track down the Boer commanders, while the Boers resorted to guerrilla tactics, attacking isolated outposts, supply convoys and patrols.
In October 1900, Herbert Kitchener took command and countered the Boer strategy by dividing the country into fenced sections, guarded by blockhouses. With his ‘Scorched Earth’ policy, the farms of enemy Boers were burned to reduce their chances of escape. Their families were placed in secure compounds known as concentration camps where the death rate was high. Not surprisingly, the Boers began to lose heart, but sporadic fighting from the ‘bitter ends’ continued to keep the British troops on alert. Hostilities finally officially ended when a peace treaty was signed at Lord Kitchener’s dinner table in Vereeniging on 31 May 1902.
A young Liberal MP named David Lloyd George made a name for himself by speaking out against the war, and a young news reporter named Winston Churchill’s daring exploits made him ‘quite famous’. Seventy-eight Victoria Crosses were awarded for the campaign, one of whom was Harry Crandon.
Henry George Crandon was born on 12 February 1874 in Wells in Somerset, England, the son of William Crandon and his wife Helen (nee Hewlett).
He joined the 18th Hussars in 1893 and saw service in India from 1894 to 1898 when he went to South Africa. He was stationed with the British garrison at Ladysmith when the Boer War began and was present in the defense of the town until it was relieved by General Buller’s Natal Field Force on 27 February 1900.
British forces captured Pretoria on 5 June 1900 and on 4 July 1901 Private Crandon was part of a British patrol advancing through enemy country at Springbok-Laagt, east of Pretoria. He was acting as an advance scout with a companion when a Boer commando unit totaling 40 rifles opened a devastating fire on them at a distance of 100 yards. He and his comrade, Private Berry, began to fall back to report the incident to the unit, but Private Berry was hit in the hand and shoulder and his horse was injured as it fell to the ground. Private Crandon rode back to assist, and with the enemy’s bullets raining down on him, dismounted, helped the wounded man into his own saddle, and led them away on foot for about 1000 yards until they were out of range. He returned a defensive fire until the main group arrived to assist them.
The award of the Victoria Cross to Private Crandon was announced in the London Gazette on 18 October 1901 and he received the medal from Lord Kitchener in Pretoria on 8 June 1902. For his service in South Africa he also received the Queen’s Medal with five clasps .
After his discharge he settled in Swinton near Manchester, now part of the city of Salford, and was employed on the estate of Sir Lee Knowles. He was a member of the Guard of Honor when King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited Salford in 1905, and was presented to them by the royal carriage when they unveiled the Boer War memorial next to Salford Royal Hospital. Shortly after this he immigrated to the United States.
When the Great War began he returned to the colors and joined his old regiment in South Africa in October 1914. He was wounded in the left foot at the First Battle of Ypres on 13 May 1915 and after his recovery served two years in the Balkans, Salonica, Egypt and Palestine.
On his discharge in 1919 he returned to settle in Swinton. He attended the VC reunion held on 9 November 1929, hosted by the Prince of Wales in the Royal Gallery of the House of Lords. On 8 June 1946 he was one of 150 VCs invited to a special dinner at the Dorchester Hotel. In November 1948 he saluted the Royal British Legion drumbeat at the Swinton Cenotaph. However, shortly after this he was the victim of a traffic accident in which he suffered two broken legs and facial injuries that put him in hospital for several months.
Harry Crandon died at his home, 39 Kingsley Road, Swinton, on 2 January 1953, aged 71, and was buried in the Church of England section of Swinton Cemetery. His medals are with 13./18. Hussars (now Light Dragoons). There is a headstone at his grave and the Royal British Legion Housing Association has named Crandon Court in Pendlebury to honor his name.
The Victoria Cross is awarded for: ‘Conspicuous bravery and devotion to country in the presence of the enemy’. It was instituted by Queen Victoria’s Royal Warrant towards the end of the Crimean War in 1856, and men who fought in that campaign became the first recipients.
Queen Victoria was very interested in the award and in the design of the medal, and the Duke of Newcastle had some interest in the creation of the award in his capacity as Secretary of State for War. Prince Albert suggested that it should be named after Victoria and the original motto should have been ‘For the Brave’, but Victoria was of the opinion that this would lead to the conclusion that only those who have received the Cross are considered to be brave and decided that ‘For Valour’ would be more suitable. The design should not be very ornate and not of high metallic value. All the medals have been cast by Hancock’s in London using bronze from the cascobels of cannon which Russian forces had captured from the Chinese and the British had captured from the Russians at Sebastopol. Rank, long service or wound should have no particular bearing on who qualified for the award. The first recipient notices were published in the London Gazette on 24 February 1857. Investiture took place in Hyde Park, London, on 26 June 1857, when 62 Crimean veterans received the medal from the Queen herself. It initially had an annual pension of £10, which became £100 in 1959 and was raised to £1000 in 1995.
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