John Crook joined the York and Lancasters probably because he went to school at St Peter's in York. It was the local regiment and he had been in the CCF (army cadets),with the rank of lance-corporal, during his time at school.

 

John H Crook, aged 17, and head of School House at St Peter's School standing behind the seated Headmaster S.M.Toyne

John was a keen participant in school sports and extracurricular activities. He is standing the middle row far left behind the then headmaster sitting down with his arms crossed in 1933. John was 17 years old and had excelled in hockey, cricket and rugby. He had also been editor of the School magazine. In the school yearbook the following observation was made about his rugby-playing prowess: 'Invaluable for his work in the line-out. Good in the loose rushes, but too slow off the mark for wing-forward play.'

 

John H Crook, now aged 18, is slightly obscured back row far left. Norman Yardley is the Hockey XI captain, front row third from left.

 

In 1934 he was awarded the school's Whytehead Memorial Prize for Divinity, and the leather-bound Avon edition of 'The Complete Works of Shakespeare' with the gilded stamp of the school's insignia and motto 'Schola Regalis Sancti Petri Ebora Censis' is still held by his family.

 

John H Crook, 17 years old, far left in St Peter's School Cross Country Team.

 

The Hallamshire Battalion was a territorial volunteer regiment and had its origins at a meeting in Sheffield Town Hall on 24 May 1859 at which it was agreed to form an infantry volunteer unit and by 27 June the Hallamshire Rifle Volunteers were raised, being named after the Saxon manor of Hallam.

Headquarters were established in Eyre Street, with Mr Wilson Overend DL being elected Major-Commandant. Drills were carried out at the Collegiate School and Bramall Lane cricket ground.

Approval for formation was received on 30 September and shortly after the title of 2nd Yorkshire West Riding (Hallamshire) Rifle volunteer Corps was officially granted. Among others to enlist was John Brown, proprietor of Atlas Steel Works from where he raised two companies. At this time, John Brown was building Endcliffe Hall, the future home of the Hallamshires. In 1862, the Hallamshire Rifles were presented with Colours in the Botanical Gardens, Sheffield, before a crowd of 12,500 spectators, the Unit now commanded by the Earl of Wharncliffe.

Following the Cardwell reforms of the regular regiments of infantry in 1881, the 65th and 84th regiments of foot became the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the York and Lancaster Regiment. On 1 February 1883, the War Office retitled the Hallamshire Rifles as 1st (Hallamshire) Volunteer Battalion, The York and Lancaster Regiment. Later that year the Hallamshires moved to Hyde Park barracks where they were to remain until 1914. Annual Camp had mostly been held locally but in 1883 it was held in Blackpool.

Boer War

In common with most Volunteer Battalions, the Hallamshires raised two "Active service Battalions" for service with regular forces in the Boer War for which they were granted their first battle honour SOUTH AFRICA 1900 - 1902. In 1900 a new rifle range was opened at Totley on land that was purchased by officers of the battalion.

In 1908, on the reorganisation of the volunteers into the Territorial Force, the Hallamshires were redesignated 4th (Hallamshire) Battalion, the York and Lancaster Regiment TF. New Colours were presented at Windsor by King Edward VII on 19 June 1909 and the old Colours were laid up on 3 April 1910 in Sheffield Parish Church which, four years later, became Sheffield Cathedral. The Colours still hang in the York and Lancaster Regimental Chapel of Saint George.

World War I

The battalion was ordered home after only a week of annual camp at Whitby in July 1914 to prepare for war. It was to be April 1915 before the battalion moved to France and first saw action in the Ypres salient two months later where they were to remain, in and out of the trenches, for six months, losing 94 killed and 401 injured.

After a period of rest in the Calais area, the battalion moved to the Somme where, on 1 July 1916, they were in the follow-up assault wave. The battalion was like many regiments and 'Pals battalions' of the First World War cruelly cut down in this bloody action. In the three months they were engaged in this battle, the battalion sustained 27 officers and 750 soldiers killed and wounded.

What is described as "wearying routine of six days in the line followed by six days in reserve" saw the battalion at Nieuport where they had the dubious honour of being subjected to the first use of mustard gas sustaining some 288 casualties in the last two weeks of July 1917. From here, it was back to the Ypres salient where they suffered further heavy casualties in the German spring offensive of 1918. In the final Allied Advance to Victory, the Hallamshires were ordered on 13 October to reach the line of the river Selle which was supposedly undefended on the western bank. They advanced across open ground without artillery support to find strongly defended enemy positions. They achieved their objective but with only 4 officers and 240 men present of the 20 and 600 who had started the advance.

Their last action of the war was 28 October 1918 when Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel D S Branson was severely wounded. His father was Commanding Officer when Douglas Branson joined the Hallamshires in 1910. He commanded the battalion from 1917 to 1925, became Honorary Colonel in 1940 (succeeding his father), and continued until 1965 by which time he had been knighted for his service to the Territorial Army, been ADC to four monarchs and won the MC and three DSO's in ten months in the First World War.

The battalion returned to its new Headquarters at Endcliffe Hall in November 1919. In 1924, in recognition of their war service, King George V decreed that the "4th" be dropped from the title and henceforth they should be known as The Hallamshire Battalion.

World War II

Training between the wars saw many changes. It was 1938 before the battalion said goodbye to its horses and the Vickers and Lewis machine guns were withdrawn. Bren light machine guns and Boyes antitank rifles appeared followed by tracked Bren Gun Carriers. In 1939 the battalion went to camp in the Isle of Man, only to be mobilised on their return.

After moving to Thirsk racecourse, the battalion took part in the ill-fated Norwegian campaign where they were ashore for all of twelve days. Although they saw limited action, the only casualties were on the way home when one of the ships in the convoy was sunk by German aircraft killing thirteen and wounding eleven.

The battalion spent the next two years "defending" Iceland before returning to Scotland for garrison duties and to prepare for the invasion of North West Europe. The Hallamshires landed in France on 9 June 1944 and moved into the front line four days later. Twelve days later the Hallamshires were involved in the attack on Fontenay-le-Pesnel against the 26th Panzer Grenadier Regiment. The attack was successful but at the expense of 123 members of the battalion killed or wounded. Former members of the battalion at that time would celebrate the victory as the Fontenay Club in the decades following.

 

Hallamshire Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, April 1944

John is in the middle, back row. The officer seated second from the left, front row in glasses, is Captain Douglas Bell- A British Olympic athlete. He died from wounds received while in action in Belgium. He shot in the stomach while crossing a canal, and did not recover while in hospital in Britain.

 

This is John Crook's original handwriting on the back of his copy of the battalion officers' photocall. This is his record and identification of his fellow officers at Hopton Camp.

 

The main published history of the Normandy to Arnhem campaign was written by Brigadier Trevor Hart Dyke. It would appear he completed his manuscript in 1946. The book contains a battalion photograph taken shortly before D-Day that features John on the back row in the middle. Hart- Dyke had been 'drafted in' as the battalion's CO during a training camp at Inveraray, Scotland in 1944.

Lieutenant-Colonel Trevor Hart Dyke. At the front centre with moustache and flat cap. Commanding Officer of the Hallamshires in Normandy 1944.

 

In a sense he brought about a 'management takeover' transferring in majors and other officers he had served with in other regiments. This meant that by the time the Battalion carried out its final training for Normandy at Hopton Camp near Great Yarmouth in March/April 1944 John Crook was in an officer group virtually unrecognisable from the battalion which had served in Norway and Iceland.

It is difficult to understand what kind of relationship Captain Crook had with Hart Dyke. Hart Dyke's book gives the impression he had 'favourites'. His nickname was 'Dark Night' and Hallamshire officers were initially wary of going into battle with him. His ruthless 'culling' of the previous officer corps had left the survivors with somewhat apprehensive feelings.

He seemed peremptory and had something of a volatile temper. The atmosphere was not helped with the apparent tension between Hart Dyke and Brigade headquarters after the landings on 9th June. Brigadier Dunlop, who had had a distinguished service during the First World War, drove himself too hard and was unable to get enough sleep. At the height of the fighting he had to return to England exhausted.

There are many accounts and testimonies that point to Hart Dyke proving himself as one of the most effective infantry battalion COs in North West Europe. He won the respect of officers and other ranks. He learned the lessons of leading men in battle the hard way and it could be argued that these experiences may well have softened the hard and sharp edges of his personality.

The Hallamshire shoulder badge worn by battalion soldiers in the Normandy campaign.

Hart Dyke makes no mention of John Crook in his descriptions of actions and skirmishes in which "D" company shined during June 1944. This became understandable when months of research eventually established that John Crook joined the Battalion in the line on 29th of June after the first phase of the dramatic Fontenay battle was over.

Hart Dyke's narrative does stray in some significant details from the official War Office records available at the Public Record Office in Kew. Some of these records were completed by Hart Dyke himself and so have greater historical 'primary source' value. Reliable information can also be gleaned from 146 Infantry Brigade's War Diary where there was a bigger contextual picture of the activities of the Hallamshire Battalion and a larger infrastructure of signals and intelligence.

There are signs in Hart Dyke's personal narrative of the strain he had to bear before, during and after the battle for Vendes on July 16th.

He was clearly worried about the impact of nearly 3 weeks of bombardment on "D" company which remained in slit trenches at the head of the British Army's frontline. He was also angry that he had been ordered to lead a frontal attack on Vendes in broad daylight with no tank support.

Normandy was the first time he had ever been action. Men in these circumstances have to make sense of frightening and emotional events. A commanding officer knows that what he decides can save or cost lives.

It was not the first time Hart Dyke had been ordered to deploy his Battalion in a formation and action that was virtually hopeless. Prior to Fontenay the entire battalion had been formed up in open and exposed fields. Had the attack gone ahead they would have been slaughtered. Fortunately the attack was called off.

The operation planned for July 16th was full of hazards and Hart Dyke had pleaded for tanks or a 'flanking attack.' They were turned down.

The heavily depleted platoons of "D" company commanded by Lieutenant John Crook and Captain Colin Mackillop were to support the attack by "A" and "C" companies that had got bogged down throughout the morning just outside Vendes and at a neighbouring farm.

The Germans remained ensconced at Vendes and in the deep and excellent cover that rubble and high ground could provide throughout the battle. Even at the height of the British attack they had between 30 and 40 men defending Vendes with a Tiger tank at the crossroads in front of the church. In fact their positions had been reinforced with many machine gun placements before Major Nicholson used his radio to ask Hart Dyke to send reinforcements.

This is the information provided by the POWs debriefed by intelligence officers after the battle. In fact "D" company under the command of Captain Mackillop and Lieutenant Crook reached Nicholson under intense fire faster than it had taken Nicholson to get to the same position with his soldiers in front of Vendes earlier in the morning.

"D" company's efforts enabled Nicholson and the remainder of his company to retreat and it was "D" company that held back the German counterattacks.

The trail for John Crook's continuing involvement with the Hallamshires has been disclosed as a result of cooperation by the Ministry of Defence which has kindly released all the papers relating to his war service and clarified the meaning of bureaucratic acronyms and expressions.

It is now clear John Crook continued serving as a front line infantry officer with the Hallamshires through July, August and early September when he was injured in a motorcycle accident. In the preparations for the attack on Le Havre he had to travel at high speed on a motorcycle through surrounding woods and on rough ground and it was while doing this that he lost control and collided with a tree.

He was evacuated in the wounded list to a hospital in Wakefield. He embarked from France on 10th September and reached England the following day.

In a typically self-effacing manner he would tell his sons that drinking Calvados might have hindered his ability to steer around an oncoming tree, a story which should be taken with a pinch of salt as it would seem most Normandy veterans would divert discussion about their war experiences with jokey tales of champagne and consumption of French wine and liqueurs.

Given the fact that front-line British Army infantry officers had a one in five to ten chance of surviving action during Normandy, the accident probably saved his life.

After John Crook's evacuation, the Hallamshire battalion was involved in the capture of the docks at Le Havre before the Germans could destroy the vital installations. Between the 10th and 12th of September, they captured 1,005 prisoners, three Dornier flying boats and a submarine.

In September, the Hallamshires crossed the Antwerp-Turnhout canal and for his part in a subsequent action, Corporal John W Harper, who was in 'C' company was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross. During the winter months, the battalion served in the Nijmegen salient and participated in the attack on Arnhem in April 1945, their final action in World War II.

Eleven months had seen the battalion suffer 158 killed and 689 wounded.

The battalion came home in 1946 where it reformed in 1947. In 1950, the role was changed to a Motor Battalion equipped with armoured half-tracks. Each company was attached to an armoured regiment. National servicemen arrived the same year and for five years the Hallamshires trained in their armoured infantry role before reverting to traditional infantry.

1959 saw the Hallamshires celebrate their centenary in style with a parade in Sheffield, a service in the Cathedral and hospitality being offered by the Officers and Sergeants at Endcliffe Hall and by the City to the battalion in the Town Hall. In 1964 the Hallamshires paraded in Norfolk Park to be presented with new Colours by the Earl of Scarborough. The old Colours, in service since 1909, were laid up in St John's Church, Ranmoor.

The final chapter

1967 saw the beginning of the last chapter in the Hallamshires' service with the formation of the Yorkshire Volunteers, to which the Hallamshires provided a company, and the reduction of the role of the battalion which was finally reduced to a cadre of eight men in 1969. This cadre expanded in 1970 to form a company in the 3rd Battalion, Yorkshire Volunteers.

Subsequent changes to the Territorial Army saw the demise of the Yorkshire Volunteers and the loss of the Hallamshire companies. The last colours of the Hallamshires are now in the ballroom at Endcliffe Hall alongside a mural depicting the capture of Fontenay.

The regimental museum is now based in Rotherham at the Department of Libraries, Museum and Arts, Brian O'Malley Central Library and Arts Centre, Walker Place, Rotherham S65 1JH. The museum was reopened in March 1985 after the transfer of regimental collections from Sheffield the previous year.

The regiment's principal recruiting areas were Barnsley, Rotherham and Sheffield. The museum traces the history in chronological order from the time of the 65th and 84th Regiments of Foot (beginning 1758) until the regiment's dissolution in territorial army cuts in 1968. Displays include uniforms, campaign relics, weapons, regimental campaigns and a revolving display of around 1,000 medals including 9 Victoria Cross groups.

The museum is currently undergoing refurbishment and upgrading with National Lottery funds and is expected to reopen early in 2005.

Sheffield Central Library has copies of Hart Dyke's book 'Normandy to Arnhem A Story of the Infantry' as well as the three volume official Regimental history. The Imperial War Museum also contains photographic and document collections relating to the Battalion's campaigns and actions.

In 2001 Don Scott published an excellent history of the Hallamshire Battalion during the Second World War. 'Polar Bears From Sheffield' was published by Tiger & Rose Publications and was being marketed by the York and Lancaster Regimental Association.

A book telling John Crook's story in greater detail is being written for publication in the near future. If this country were involved in any large scale conflict in the future, it highly likely that the Hallamshires would be reconvened as a territorial battalion recruiting service men and women from Sheffield, Barnsley and Rotherham.