H Crook was the son of Richard Hermon Crook, who had an architect's
practice in Bolton, Lancashire and Irene Heald- a well read woman
who wrote poetry, studied world religions and became a dedicated pacifist.
Heald - John Crook's uncle: Far left and serving as an infantry officer
during the First World War
uncle Thomas Heald (the brother of Irene) won the Military Cross while
serving in the Cheshire Regiment in the trenches of the First World
War. Heald's war diaries were discovered by his daughter Anne Wolff
after his death at the age of 91 and further research by her of other
diary accounts of other officers in the regiment led to the publication
of 'Subalterns of the Foot' by Square One Publications in 1991. The
military background of the family was further deepened by the fact
that John's great uncle on his father's side was Colonel Harry Crook.
John's grandfather John Crook was a merchant and stockbroker living
in Southport. On his mother's side his grandfather was a solicitor
also living in Southport.
great grand uncle Joseph Crook was Radical/Liberal MP for Bolton between
1851 and 1861 at the height of the Victorian Empire when the economic
engine of Britain was the Cotton spinning industry of Lancashire.
Joseph Crook and his brothers were key figures in a cotton trade that
depended on importing raw cotton from the southern American states
and using the latest manufacturing technology driven by steam power
to spin cloth exported to the Empire, primarily India.
was a dramatic and exciting time in Britain's history. Joseph Crook
arrived in the new neo-gothic Parliament building designed by Barry
at Westminster. The constitution was developing from the Reform Act
of 1832 to widen the franchise to include more of the expanding Middle
Class. Elections were still by public ballot and associated with bribery
Crook was an example of the patrician reforming Whigs/Liberals, a
member of the anti-Corn Law league, who introduced a private member's
act that improved the pay and conditions of women working in the dying
and bleaching industry. He was treasurer of Bolton's Liberal Association,
and responsible for the reopening of the Reform Club in Derby Street.
He was presented with a cheque for £70 as a testimonial to his
work on the "Bleachers and Dyers Short Time Bill" of 1859.
As one of the founders of the Mechanics' Institute; he gave support
to the Bolton Education League formed in 1869, and £250 towards
the association for the founding of nondenominational schools.
Crook was philosophically opposed to war and campaigned for substantial
reductions in military expenditure. He also served on a Parliamentary
reform committee to improve democracy through the introduction of
the secret ballot and extension of the franchise.
historian for the Bank Street chapel, G.M. Ramsden writes: 'Throughout
his life, he was a believer in freedom of religious thought and a
supporter of the chapel and of the British and Foreign Unitarian Association.
He spoke at the opening of the new Chapel building. He married in
1856 Mary Dorothy Biggs (1828-1909) and died in 1884, his funeral
at Deane Church being conducted by the Vicar and the Rev. C.C.Coe.
There is a memorial to him in the chapel.'
H Crook's great great grandfather was Joshua Crook (1779-1849) who
founded the cotton spinning firm of Joshua Crook & Son, in Blackburn
Street. It was to become the second largest employer of labour in
the town. He married Anne Tipping and they built the house "White
Bank" in Deane. His son Joseph (the Liberal MP born in 1809)
took over the firm and steered it through all the turbulent economic
and political crises of the 19th Century. By resigning as MP in 1861
and 'taking the Chiltern Hundreds' he was able to find alternative
cotton suppliers to the Southern American states' plantations. The
American civil war had blocked the supply of cotton and brought about
a deep recession in the cotton trade. He was also able to manage the
reconstruction of the mills when they were badly damaged by fire in
1879 at a cost of £20,000.
Crook family made a key civic, industrial and social contribution
to the history of Bolton and this is reflected in the fact there is
still a street with the family name in the town and the library contains
archives containing the architectural designs by John H Crook's father
Richard Hermon Crook. The Unitarian chapel in Bank Street includes
a memorial on the South wall to a second cousin Lieutenant Phillip
Crook who was killed in action in 1917 during General Alenby's campaign
in Palestine in the First World War:
proud and loving memory of Phillip Joseph Crook Lieutenant in the
Duke of Lancasters Own Yeomanry. Killed in Action at Wadi Hesi, Palestine
November 17th 1917. This was erected by his parents Edward and Hilda
Crook and systers, Evelyn, Anne and Sybil.'
H Crook was actually signed up as an articled clerk (trainee solicitor)
in Thomas Heald's firm of solicitors in Wigan at the age of 19 in
1934. Heald finished the First World War as a staff captain. In 1937
he raised the 6th Battalion the Manchester Regiment as Lieutenant
Colonel until 1940. After entrepreneurial travels in the Middle East
he had taken over his father's law practice.
Crook aged 21
Crook married Sylvia Napier in May 1943, two years after she was widowed
by the death of her first husband, Alan Brian - an Australian pilot
- during a bombing raid in Italy. They had a son, Peter in 1944.
John enlisted in his uncle's territorial battalion in Manchester in
1939 and in March 1940 was accepted for emergency officer training
at the Infantry Training Centre in York.
Crook's first wife Sylvia Napier - the daughter of a General in the
First World War
he had been in the Army cadet corps at St Peter's School, York in
the early 1930s, it was perhaps understandable that he would join
the York and Lancaster Regiment. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant
and formally attached to the 1st battalion York and Lancasters. The
battalion had taken a battering during the ill-fated attempt to pre-empt
the German invasion of Norway in April 1940.
has to be said the Norwegian campaign was chaotic, badly planned and
the evacuation something of a shambles. He would have been fully aware
of the plight and anxieties of the York and Lancaster battalions sent
to Scandinavia ill-equipped and poorly trained while he was being
drilled and instructed as a young officer at the York Infantry Training
Centre. They would have been on stand by as replacements to assist
in either the York and Lancaster 1st Battalion operation at Andalsnes
or the operation involving the Hallamshire Battalion of the York and
Lancaster regiment at Namsos.
the Norwegian debacle John Crook was assigned to a platoon of the
1st Battalion to undertake anti-German paratroop duties in Scotland
during the invasion threat following Dunkirk. He was then transferred
to the Hallamshire Battalion as a Second Lieutenant in "D"
Company and went to Iceland. Whilst there he was promoted to full
lieutenant and when the Battalion returned to Britain in 1942 for
re-equipping and retraining for the invasion of Europe he was promoted
to temporary captain while attached to 146th Infantry Brigade Headquarters.
Lieutenant-Colonel Trevor Hart Dyke took command of the Hallamshires
towards the end of 1943, John Crook was transferred back to the Hallamshires
to "D" company as a platoon lieutenant and second in command.
Rather than land with the Hallamshires in Normandy his service records
indicate he was posted to '105 Reinforcement Group'. It is possible
he had been recruited in the month before D-Day to form a special
reinforcement force called 'First Line Reserve' to plug the gaps in
the initial invasion of the beaches.
of Defence records now indicate that he was posted to Normandy on
14th June 1944, ten days after the D-Day invasion of the beaches and
only four days after the Hallamshires were landed somewhat chaotically
with 146th Infantry Brigade.
the end the losses on the British and Canadian invasion beaches were
lighter than expected. And so he, along with other Hallamshire Battalion
officers and other ranks recruited for this special purpose were moved
to Normandy to help build up the infrastructure for the campaign inland.
invasion troops had failed to break out quickly enough to Caen and
German counterattacks and defence consolidation into Bocage country
led to the exhausting and bloody campaign that lasted until the end
of July and cost the Allies 100,000 casualties.
was as this operation become bogged down in heavy losses that John
Crook was posted from 105 Reinforcement Group to take on the role
of second in command of "D" company on the 29th June 1944.
By this time the original "D" company had been more or less
found himself commanding a terrified and brave group of soldiers made
up of traumatised veterans and nervous replacements experiencing near
First World War conditions of shelling and mortar bombardments and
sniper fire. This was the front line of the British and Canadian army
commanded by General Bernard Montgomery. For more than two and a half
weeks the Hallamshires had to bear an appalling casualty rate of several
men killed or wounded every day from German artillery.
July 16th John Crook had to help lead the soldiers of "D"
company in a suicidal run towards the heavily defended village of
Vendes that left many of his men dead and maimed in the treacherous
fields and hedgerows of Bocage country. They were machine-gunned and
blown up by rockets, mortars and artillery.
flanks of this British army attack collapsed and the original Hallamshire
attack force of "A" and "C" companies and a borrowed
"D" company from KOYLI (King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry)
had to retreat back over the same ground to battalion headquarters.
Crook had to take command of "D" company after the company
commander Captain Mackillop was seriously wounded. He had to lead
what was left of "D" company in a desperate defence against
German counterattacks in this close country. This he did successfully.
the battle of Vendes, he remained a front-line infantry platoon officer
with the Hallamshires during the race across the River Seine to chase
the retreating Germans and prepare for the attack on Channel port
of Le Havre. He was at the heart of six weeks of battles and skirmishes
which took another heavy toll of casualties. By the time he broke
his leg in a motorcycle accident outside Le Havre on 9th September
1944 "D" company had suffered another wave of casualties.
officer roll call for the week ending 21st July 1944 states he was
2nd in Command of "D" Company. By the week ending 29th July
he was recorded as reverting to platoon leader (assumed 7th July 1944).
the week ending 7th October 1944 the roll states 'Officers Quitted
during week: Lieutenant J. H Crook. Cause: X(ii) List. 'X(ii list'
was an army designation for wounded. The MOD records indicate he ceased
his overseas service in North West Europe on 11th September 1944.
contacted by the author say John Crook was well liked by most of the
men and remembered as a quiet and nice man.
released MOD records indicate that he retained his category A fitness
status until injured in the motorcycle crash on September 9th 1944.
The Ministry of Defence has confirmed that he remained with the Hallamshire
Battalion during their campaign in France throughout August to early
documents also record his knowledge of French and familiarity of this
area of Normandy.
will never know the full detail of his experiences in Normandy. Most
of these civilian volunteers did their duty and never thought anyone
would be interested in their stories.
Crook when a private in his uncle's territorial Manchester Regiment
is a fact that John H Crook suffered from post traumatic stress for
most of his life. The details of what happened at Vendes on 16th July
1944 and the dreadful pounding he and his soldiers experienced from
artillery, mortar fire and machine guns for nearly three weeks in
slit trenches before this battle provide some idea of the stress British
soldiers were subjected to in Normandy. The danger and horrors continued
after the breakout from Bocage country and the Hallamshires chased
the Germans across France.
was typical of many men of his generation. It was a combination of
hard training, long periods of patrolling and intense periods of action
most of the veterans of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy he spoke
very little of his experiences. He wanted no credit for what he had
done. He always remembered his fallen comrades with quiet dignity
and profound respect. He won no medals for gallantry. He would never
be celebrated in films or television documentaries as 'a war hero.'
Crook's Officer's record of service was released to his family by
the MOD in 2005
he were alive today and approached by a television documentary team
to do an interview, it is probable he would decline wishing to keep
his thoughts to himself.
many respects he was typical of most of the civilian soldiers of the
British army of 1944 that fought in a bloody, exhausting and terrifying
battle after the D-day beach invasion. The British contribution has
been diminished by American chauvinism and the distortion of Hollywood
histories. It seems to have received little understanding apart from
a few outstanding published histories.
Crook was "demobbed" in 1946. He was discharged with the
rank of honorary captain. He received four medals for his war service:
1939/45 Star, France and Germany Star, Defence Medal, and War Medal
was an enthusiastic supporter of the British Legion and retained a
love of France and Normandy long after his experiences in 1944.
is perhaps obvious that the D-day commemorations for 2004 had been
hijacked politically to equate with 'the war on terror' or to mean
something about Britain's relationship with Europe. John H Crook had
an abiding respect for the French people. He could make polite and
respectful friendships with Germans of the same generation as his
and who had fought against him in 'an enemy' uniform.
to tell his story after his death has not been easy.
It was difficult tracking down relevant official records and those
that exist contain some obvious inaccuracies and mysteries. The Hallamshire
Battalion War Diary for May 1944 is missing from the Public Record
Office files. It has also emerged that many of the published histories
are subjective and prone to partiality when recounting events, particularly
page from his Officer's service record setting out in his own handwriting
his postings overseas
arrival to join the Hallamshires on 29th June is not even recorded
in the Battalion records. This is probably because the Hallamshires
adjutant and replacement adjutants had been repeated casualties in
the days before he made his way to the slit trenches in front of Tessel
Wood separated from the village of Vendes by Bocage fields and a road.
The adjutant was the administrative manager of the Battalion. He would
keep all the written records in order. He would order replacements
in men and equipment. The officer roll call sheets are also not comprehensive.
the research project began the York and Lancaster Regiment's association
disclosed that they were no longer aware of any officers from the
2nd World War period who were still alive. However, there has been
some success in contacting Other Ranks who are now in their 80s and
90s who remembered him as a quiet man who was liked and respected.
driver Corporal James Addison recalled driving him at great speed
off the road to overtake a military convoy in Iceland in order to
make an appointment with Brigadier Procter. Addison recalls Lieutenant
Crook expressing his gratitude and admiration for the Corporal's impressive
racing driver skills.
full story of his war may never be told.
in a school play..
Crook's first marriage ended in divorce in 1950. Sylvia emigrated
with Peter to Australia. John married Sheila in 1952 while he was working as a solicitor. He had finally
qualified in 1947. The war had interrupted his legal studies. He joined
the Colonial Service and worked as a land agent in Kampala, Uganda
until 1957. John and Sheila subsequently moved to Calcutta, India, after
he obtained a solicitor's position in a Bengal legal practice. John, Sheila and their two sons, Nicholas and Timothy
lived in France for several years before settling in London
in the 1960s.
the 1st XV Rugby team at St Peter's School, York, 1933-34. John
is fourth from right, back row. John
had written on the back of this photo: 'Played
13 Won 10 Lost 3 Drawn 1, Pts For 229 Pts Against 48'. St Peter's
School librarian and alumni officer Avril Pedley believes the player
extreme right in the scrum cap is rugby XV captain Norman Yardley
the famous cricketer and captain of England between 1947 and 1950.
John H. Crook went on to play for Liverpool Rugby Union club in the
1930s. This was originally founded in 1856 and one of England's first
football clubs. Unfortunately it lost its City ground in the 1980s
and merged with St Helens. As a result it has lost some of its identity
and individual history. John H. Crook would continue supporting Liverpool
RUFC throughout the rest of his life by going to most away games in
the Greater London area. He also played amateur tennis winning a number
of English tournaments. His enthusiasm for tennis continued with an
annual attendance at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis championships.
Crook had a modest law career specialising in conveyancing and property.
For many years he worked for Baileys Shaw and Gillett which was based
in Queen's Square, Holborn. He died in Chelsea on 14th November 1986
after developing lung cancer. His sons wanted to research and develop
a resource to honour his memory. Peter has commissioned award-winning
Australian author Alan Gill to write a biography of Sylvia which includes
detailed chapters on the romantic and moving love affair with John
website seeks to portray the story of a man who served his country
so that his children and grandchildren could live in peace and freedom.
is also dedicated to the memory of all those comrades who served with
him during WWII and seeks to mark profound respect for those who died
in France in 1944 and the families who mourn them.