From Chester to Mesopotamia: Thomas Crawford of the Royal Welch Fusiliers
When sixteen-year-old Thomas John Crawford joined the Second Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers in August 1906 he was escaping a turbulent home life. His parents Clara (née Jones) and Alfred were married on 8 July 1888 in Chester, and daughter Annie arrived later that year. Thomas was born in Chester in 1890, younger brother William in Liverpool in 1894. By this point, the marriage was at breaking point, and Alfred deserted his wife and children, leaving Clara to apply for poor relief.
Report of Alfred Crawford's court case, British Newspaper Archive Chester Chronicle 13 August 1898
In 1897, after dodging the law, Alfred appeared at Chester Petty Sessions and was sentenced to two months in jail. The Justices were outraged at ‘one of the worst cases ever brought before them’ - Crawford earned a decent salary of around £2 per week as a compositor while his wife was claiming poor relief. However the prison sentence was not enough to persuade Crawford to support his family, and he was sentenced to three months’ hard labour in August 1898. By 1901 he had moved to Wales, and spent the period from 1911 to his death in 1925 as a ‘single’ man living in a boarding house in Warrington. Clara moved on with her life, ‘marrying’ Samuel Griffiths in 1901 and starting another family. As an abandoned wife she must have felt morally, if not legally, justified in marrying again.
Thomas Crawford headed overseas, arriving in Shwebo, Burma, in early 1908. On 31 December 1910, he left Rangoon for Karachi, en route for Quetta, Balochistan. The Royal Welch took part in the series of events connected with the visit of George V and Queen Mary in that year, including the Coronation Durbar. The Regimental Records of the Royal Welch state: ‘The Battalion is doing well and is very efficient… Men are clean, healthy and cheerful. There is a tremendous esprit de corps… I consider the Battalion has improved much during its stay in Quetta’. Thomas’s service record shows a charge against him for neglect of duty, insubordination, and being absent from parade in November 1911, so perhaps Quetta did not improve him personally! Despite this blemish, he is described as ‘Honest, sober and thoroughly reliable’.
Thomas returned from India in March 1913, transferring to the Army Reserve. He married his cousin Elsie Maud Jones in July 1914, but Thomas, like many of the Royal Welch reservists, re-enlisted in early August 1914. He was immediately sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force, serving there for two periods during 1914 and mid-1915, before being shot in the thigh and returning home to recuperate.
October 1915 saw Thomas leave for the Mesopotamia campaign, and by February 1916 he was in Basra. A report describes the conditions: ‘The whole theatre of operations is as flat as a billiard table. It is impossible to locate one’s position except by compass bearing and pacing. This induces in the individual a sense of isolation and an impotent feeling of being lost. The mirage also distorts and confuses all objects…Man in these surroundings feels like an ant on a skating rink… Under the effect of rain or flood the country is turned into a bog of particularly tenacious mud’. Thomas went missing in action on 9 April 1916 - his body could not be found. His death was formally certified at Basra on 28 August 1917.
Cataloguer, India Office Records
Reports of Alfred Crawford’s desertion of his wife and family can be found in the Chester Chronicle, 25 December 1897, 18 June 1898 and 13 August 1898, available at the British Newspaper Archive, also via www.findmypast.co.uk.
Regimental Records of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, late the 23rd Foot. Compiled by A. D. L. Cary ... & Stouppe McCance, 4 vols. (London: Royal United Service Institution, 1921-29) - quote from p.326.
IOR/L/MIL/7/6553: Defensive works in Quetta: plans and photographs 1888-1891.
New Horizons Volume 2 Number 1 2008 Cadet Gregory E. Lippiatt ‘No More Quetta Manners: The Social Evolution of the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the Western Front’.
IOR/l/MIL/15/72/1: Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917, Part I Report (Calcutta; Government of India Press, 1925) - quote from p.66.
1911 Census records the 300 men of the Second Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers at the Roberts Barracks, Quetta. Available via www.findmypast.co.uk and www.ancestry.co.uk.