Tuesday 13 September 2011

Shot at Dawn - Rifleman 14218 James Crozier

In April, I visited the grave of Rifleman 14218 James Crozier, 9th Bn. Royal Irish Rifles, executed for desertion 27/02/1916. He is buried in Sucrerie Cemetery which is about 1¾ miles south-east of Colincamps on the north side of the road from Mailly-Maillet to Puisieux. (About 6 miles north of Albert.)  Sucrerie Military Cemetery was initially called the 10th Brigade Cemetery and then re-named after a close-by ‘sucrerie’ or sugar beet factory.

A cellar at Auchonvillers, which the troops called ‘Ocean Villas’, has a carving on the wall, believed to be attributed to James Crozier.  In the village Avril Williams runs a guest house and tea rooms, aptly called Ocean Villas and there is also a museum and trenches, as well as the cellar, and is well worth a visit.

In a book called Shot at Dawn by Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes, James Crozier’s execution is clearly recounted, together with some background information regarding General Field Courts Marshal. 

There is also a similar account of James Crozier’s trial and punishment on a website entitled: In Memory: ‘West Belfast Volunteers, Lest We Forget, 9th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles’ and in a more recent book, Forgotten Soldiers: The Irishmen Shot at Dawn by Stephen Walker. These accounts all cite an additional source: The Men I Killed by Frank P. Crozier. Frank Crozier’s account gives the lad the name of Johnny Crockett.  As British court-martial records of the First World War stayed closed for sixty years, the identity of Johnny Crockett remained unknown.  In 1989 he was identified as James Crozier.

The Public Records Office also has an account of the events and execution [WO 71/450] which is the most accurate.

On the In Memory website mentioned above, where there is also a photograph of the Sucriere cemetery, it states that the inscription on his gravestone reads :'Remembered with Honour'.  Sadly, it does not as you can see from these photographs of James’s grave.

14218 Rifleman
J. Crozier
Royal Irish Rifles
27th February 1916

I placed a poppy cross on Rifleman Crozier's grave

James Crozier was recruited by a Major Crozier - no relation, but uncomfortably coincidental and it might have been even more bizarre if James Crozier had been underage. When asked their ages, boys often lied. They may initially have said they were seventeen, but when prompted by an officer would say they were older so that they could go abroad.  When researching James Crozier’s age I found conflicting records. The West Belfast Volunteers website states eighteen and his War Graves Commission grave states unknown.  However, I found his birth record which gives his date of birth to be: 6 August 1894.  This made him just twenty when he joined-up and twenty-one when he died.  His mother accompanied her son to the recruitment office and this is especially poignant, because as he was executed she would not have received any allowances which would normally have been paid had he been killed in action.  Frank Crozier states that Johnny Crockett was seventeen, but told to say eighteen so that he could join-up.

Private James Crozier did receive a posthumous pardon.

Frank P. Crozier’s career escalated and he became a Brigadier General. A sniper’s bullet never did find him.

Last Orders is a piece of fact-based fiction about James Crozier, the inspiration coming from the carving in the cellar wall which may have been done by James’s  friend and it is from his viewpoint that the sad tale is told.  

© Karen Ette

Please click here to read Last Orders - which does contain strong language. 

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