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Pte William Croucher 6th Bn R.W.K.R. Died P.O.W.


Andrew Marshall

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Hi All

I have recently been looking into the details of one of my local men, namely Private G/23102 William Robert Croucher 6th Bn. R.W.K.R. who died on 7th September 1917 at Wittenberg P.O.W. camp. He had been captured on the 3rd May 1917 and I'll quote from the Regimental history by C.T. Atkinson for that day:

As the day wore on the German artillery fire increased in volume; it was, however, decided to make a fresh attempt on Devil’s Trench under cover of darkness, and after over an hour’s artillery preparation, the 6th assaulted about 10.30 p.m., A and B Companies in front line. Intense machine-gun fire swept through them from both flanks: some of the front wave won through to the German trenches, the majority were shot down and the survivors crept back as best they could. Of those who actually reached the German trenches, about 60, headed by 2nd Lieut. Pyrke, pushed on to Gun Trench and established themselves there. Unluckily Colonel Dawson had been hit just before the attack started and was not available to organize an effort to get through to the help of this detachment. It shows what confidence the battalion had in its young commander that everybody was convinced that had he been present he would have found some way of reaching the little party who were making so fine a stand. Though cut off from help and surrounded by the Germans, they maintained themselves stubbornly for 48 hours, beating off all attacks, till eventually sheer lack of food and water compelled them to surrender.

So, Croucher was more than probably one of these men as he was listed as missing on the 3rd May 1917 the same day as this action.

My question is where would I find any details about the camp at Wittenberg? I have looked on the net and come up with a very poor result. I would be interested in photographs, conditions or any other details that anyone could provide.

Private Croucher was a 40 year old builders labourer living with his wife Emily and two small children Mabel and Wallace in a terraced house at No. 51, Church Road, Swanscombe, Kent. He had attested on 11th December 1915 probably under the Derby scheme at Gravesend.

He had only joined the 6th Battalion on the 1st January 1917 and so didn't really see too much trench life but considering he was only mobilised on 12th October 1916 this didn't leave much time for training!

William is commemorated on Swanscombe War Memorial in SS Peter & Paul church, Church Road, Swanscombe.

Medals issued to William are the BWM / VM and these were sent to Mrs E. Croucher at 51, Church Road, Swanscombe, Kent.

Any help as always is greatly appreciated

Regards

Andrew

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Hi All

I have recently been looking into the details of one of my local men, namely Private G/23102 William Robert Croucher 6th Bn. R.W.K.R. who died on 7th September 1917 at Wittenberg P.O.W. camp. He had been captured on the 3rd May 1917 and I'll quote from the Regimental history by C.T. Atkinson for that day:

As the day wore on the German artillery fire increased in volume; it was, however, decided to make a fresh attempt on Devil’s Trench under cover of darkness, and after over an hour’s artillery preparation, the 6th assaulted about 10.30 p.m., A and B Companies in front line. Intense machine-gun fire swept through them from both flanks: some of the front wave won through to the German trenches, the majority were shot down and the survivors crept back as best they could. Of those who actually reached the German trenches, about 60, headed by 2nd Lieut. Pyrke, pushed on to Gun Trench and established themselves there. Unluckily Colonel Dawson had been hit just before the attack started and was not available to organize an effort to get through to the help of this detachment. It shows what confidence the battalion had in its young commander that everybody was convinced that had he been present he would have found some way of reaching the little party who were making so fine a stand. Though cut off from help and surrounded by the Germans, they maintained themselves stubbornly for 48 hours, beating off all attacks, till eventually sheer lack of food and water compelled them to surrender.

So, Croucher was more than probably one of these men as he was listed as missing on the 3rd May 1917 the same day as this action.

My question is where would I find any details about the camp at Wittenberg? I have looked on the net and come up with a very poor result. I would be interested in photographs, conditions or any other details that anyone could provide.

Private Croucher was a 40 year old builders labourer living with his wife Emily and two small children Mabel and Wallace in a terraced house at No. 51, Church Road, Swanscombe, Kent. He had attested on 11th December 1915 probably under the Derby scheme at Gravesend.

He had only joined the 6th Battalion on the 1st January 1917 and so didn't really see too much trench life but considering he was only mobilised on 12th October 1916 this didn't leave much time for training!

William is commemorated on Swanscombe War Memorial in SS Peter & Paul church, Church Road, Swanscombe.

Medals issued to William are the BWM / VM and these were sent to Mrs E. Croucher at 51, Church Road, Swanscombe, Kent.

Any help as always is greatly appreciated

Regards

Andrew

Andrew,

I cant help you on Croucher other than to say I am aware of other Croucher's thorughout Kent notably because I have researched the two named on Rainham's memorial but Dawson is one of the great figures of the First World War and deserves a much higher profile than history has given him. He DOWs, as you probably know, in December 1918, aged 28, an A/Lt-Col with 4 DSOs and more wound history than most people have fingers. Infact it was said that his leading from the front and by example and thus sustaining wounds and then having to spend time convalescing, probably held him back in the wartime promotion stakes otherwise he may well have reached General rank despite his age.

The writer, Alan Thomas, wrote an excellent account of his time in the trenches as an officer with 6 Bttn - A Life Apart. Well worth buying via Abebooks.

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Hi Jonathon

Thank you for the tip I was unaware of this book and will immediately buy a copy as the 6th Bn. are my favourite because of the local connection to Northfleet and Swanscombe.... the recruiting must have been excellent in these areas as so many men went into this Bn.

I totally agree with you about Dawson he is an absolutely remarkable man and as a favour for someone conducting research into this man for a book I went through the Regimental history and pulled out all the references to Dawson. When these are read as one piece they make a fantastic account of extreme bravery and determination. Maybe a good avenue for a book now that I think of it.....hmmm

Maybe after I've finished the project...

By the way, I don't suppose you've got any room in Medway for two of your memorials? One to the British Standard Cement Works in Gillingham and one to another cement works in Strood?

Regards

Andrew

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By the way, I don't suppose you've got any room in Medway for two of your memorials? One to the British Standard Cement Works in Gillingham and one to another cement works in Strood?

Andrew ... sorry can you say this again as I am not sure what you mean. Is there something you think I can help you with?

Re a book on Dawson. I agree and have thought about it. Dawson went to school at Hildenborough I think it was called, near Canterbury - cant find any records of it. Then I think he went on to Balliol College - might be something there. He and his parents were living at Newbury at the time of his death. He had been a regular soldier - just, enlisting in the West Kents around summer of 1914. Previously he had been RA (TF). I think he was an only son but I think there may have been a sister. I am sure all of this is right but would probably need to check my notes. Let me know when you want to get started and I would be happy to help :)

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Andrew ... sorry can you say this again as I am not sure what you mean.  Is there something you think I can help you with?

Re a book on Dawson.  I agree and have thought about it.  Dawson went to school at Hildenborough I think it was called, near Canterbury - cant find any records of it.  Then I think he went on to Balliol College - might be something there.  He and his parents were living at Newbury at the time of his death.  He had been a regular soldier - just, enlisting in the West Kents around summer of 1914.  Previously he had been RA (TF).  I think he was an only son but I think there may have been a sister.  I am sure all of this is right but would probably need to check my notes.  Let me know when you want to get started and I would be happy to help  :)

Jonathan,

Hildenborough is next to Tonbridge in West Kent. I'd be interested to know what you have discovered about Dawson's schooling.

Matthew

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Jonathan,

Hildenborough is next to Tonbridge in West Kent. I'd be interested to know what you have discovered about Dawson's schooling.

Matthew

Matthew ... very sorry I just checked my notes. It was Hildersham House School (nr Canterbury). It opened in 1890 and by 1903 the Rev. C.V. Snowden was Headmaster.

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Hello Jonathon,

Just in case you don't have it.

Hildersham House was a preparatory school for boys on St. Peters Road in Broadstairs. As you state the headmaster in 1903 was the Rev. Harcourt Charles Vaux Snowdon (M.A.) who seems to have turned the school into a family business as his son and grandson seem to have been successive headmasters until its closure in 1970.

It appears that Hildersham was a feeder school for Rugby and to a lesser extent Oundle, so perhaps Dawson went on to one of those. There is a gap between Hildersham and Balliol that needs filling. I have to believe that such an illustrious Old Boy would be mentioned in the relevant book of honour.

Andrew,

I haven't found out much about Wittenberg, but it seems to have a fairly negative reputation as p.o.w. camps go, and a possibly spurrious rumour that the Germans released typhus there in the earlier years of the war as a way of testing biological/chemical weapons.

Best regards,

Matthew

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Matthew - I had assumed Hildersham House would be a Prep School and that a gap existed. The PRO has all six volumes of the Rugbeians Roll of Honour and I will have a look next time I am there.

Many thanks for the additional info on the school as I had been able to find nothing and had anticipated a journey down to Canterbury/Thanet to investigate further.

Jon

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