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 city and is buried here. With a summary of the war to bring the action into perspective, and a brief account on how the Victoria Cross became established.

Tension between the two independent Boer republics of Transvaal and the Orange Free State and British interests in South Africa had been building up for years, until diplomacy finally broke down. In early October 1899, and the 1st Army Corps mobilised in England. On 11 October 1899, Boer commando units invaded British territory; laying siege on the garrison towns of Kimberley and Mafeking in Cape Colony, and Ladysmith in Natal.

Fighting on home soil 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 colours of their ordinary farming clothes, skilled Boer marksmen knew how to conceal themselves in the rocky terrain and snipe from long-range, as the British advanced in parade ground fashion across the open veldt. Then with excellent horsemanship leave the scene before the British could react effectively.

British relief forces made a two-pronged advance during which they suffered three serious reverses in mid-December, at Magersfontein and Stormberg in the Cape, and at Colenso in Natal, which came to be known as ‘Black Week’. As the Natal Field Force struggled northwards they suffered their worst defeat of the campaign at the notorious battle of Spion Kop on 24 February 1900, before reaching Ladysmith four days later. Kimberley, under Cecil Rhodes, was retaken 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 Boy Scout movement, caused a frenzy of Imperial hysteria in Britain.

Eventually, Lord Roberts, whose son had been killed in action while winning a posthumous Victoria Cross at Colenso, took over command. His experience turned the tide and British forces entered the Boer capital of Pretoria on 5 June 1900. The British then launched a campaign, mainly in the eastern Transvaal, to track down the Boer commanders, while the Boers took to guerrilla tactics, attacking isolated outposts, supply convoys and patrols.

In October 1900, Herbert Kitchener took command, and countered Boer strategy by dividing the country into fenced sections, guarded by blockhouses. With his ‘Scorched Earth’ policy, the farms of hostile Boers were burned to diminish their chances of refuge. Their families were put in secure compounds, which came to be known notoriously as Concentration Camps, where the death-rate was high. Not surprisingly, the Boers began to lose heart, but sporadic fighting by the ‘bitter-enders’ continued to keep British troops on alert. Hostilities finally ended officially when a peace treaty was signed on Lord Kitchener’s dining table at Vereeniging, on 31 May 1902.

A young Liberal MP named David Lloyd George made a name for himself by speaking against the war, and the daring exploits of a young news reporter called Winston Churchill were making him ‘rather famous’. Seventy-eight Victoria Crosses were awarded for the campaign, one of them being Harry Crandon.

Henry George Crandon was born on 12 February 1874, at Wells in Somerset, England, the son of William Crandon and his wife Helen (formerly Hewlett).

He entered 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 he was present in the defence 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 hostile country at Springbok-Laagt, east of Pretoria. He was acting as an advance scout with a companion when a Boer commando unit totalling 40 rifles opened up a devastating fire on them at a range 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 enemy bullets raining down on him, he dismounted, helped the wounded man into his own saddle, and led them away on foot for about a 1000 yards until they were out of range. He returned a defensive fire until the main body arrived to assist them.

The award of Victoria Cross to Private Crandon was announced in the London Gazette for 18 October 1901, and he received the medal from Lord Kitchener at Pretoria on 8 June 1902. For his service in South Africa he also received the Queen’s Medal with five clasps.

On his discharge he settled in Swinton near Manchester, now part of the City of Salford, and gained employment on the estate of Sir Lees Knowles. He was a member of the Guard of Honour when King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra visited Salford in 1905, being presented before them at the royal carriage when they unveiled the Boer War memorial adjacent to Salford Royal Hospital. Soon after this he immigrated to the United States.

When the Great War began he returned to the colours and enlisted with his old regiment in South Africa in October 1914. He was wounded in the left foot during the first battle of Ypres on 13 May 1915, and on his recovery he 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 at 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 took the salute for the Royal British Legion drumhead at Swinton Cenotaph. However, soon after this he was the victim of a road accident in which he received two leg fractures and facial injuries which put him in hospital for several months.

Harry Crandon died at his home, 39 Kingsley Road, Swinton, on 2 January 1953, aged 71, and he was buried in the Church of England section of Swinton Cemetery. His medals are with the 13th/18th Hussars (now the Light Dragoons). There is a headstone at his grave and the Royal British Legion Housing Association has named Crandon Court in Pendlebury to honour his name.

The Victoria Cross is awarded for: ‘Conspicuous bravery and devotion to country in the presence of the enemy’. It was instituted by the royal warrant of Queen Victoria towards the end of the Crimean War in 1856, and men who fought in that campaign became the first recipients.

Queen Victoria took a great interest 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 the Secretary of State for War. Prince Albert suggested that it should be named after Victoria, and the original motto was to have been ‘For the Brave’, but Victoria was of the opinion that this would lead to the inference that only those who have got the cross are considered to be brave, and decided that ‘For Valour’ would be more suitable. The design was not to be particularly ornate and not of high metallic value. All the medals have been cast by Hancock’s in London, using bronze from the cascobels of guns which Russian forces had captured from the Chinese and the British had captured from the Russians at Sebastopol. Rank, long service or wound was to have no special influence in who qualified for the award. The first recipient announcements were published in the London Gazette for 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 originally carried an annual pension of £10, which became £100 in 1959, and was raised to £1000 in 1995.

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