In the three years or so since I began writing about the military men of my family, I’d come to a number of roadblocks in the collective memories of those who were the gatekeepers of the facts: mainly dad, and my mother and the few remaining cousins of hers, and the limitations of the archives. I’d crossed back and forth within the sources based on faded and torn photographs and the equally faded stories that came with them. I’d added colour here and there with facts from the limited details accessible to researchers and guessed the rest by extrapolation, but slowly and surely, after paying an expert to do some work for me, concluded I’d reached the limits of useful available knowledge.
The central spine of many of my stories are the Crook boys, which you may have read about in the other blogs on this site. All of them Norfolk farm boys and sons of my great grandfather Harry Crook. Of his sons, Harry, Sid and Fred all went to Canada before or, in the case of Fred, soon after WW1. Another son Herbert joined up in 1919, and my grandfather, Frank, youngest of the family, served in WW2. I’d reached out to family in Canada a couple of years ago, and made contact with Donna Lonson, mum’s cousin, and daughter to Fred Crook who’d established the Saskatchewan branch of the family. I’d conversed with Donna occasionally, but it seemed she had little information about the military service of her uncles Harry and Sid, so we’d sort of forgotten about the subject and were just enjoying a normal Facebook friendship 4000 miles apart.
You can imagine my surprise then, late on a January Saturday evening, when my phone snapped into life with a stream of messages from Donna. Now she’s not exactly prolific on social media, but there, suddenly, was Donna uploading old photographs. Not just any old pictures, but cellphone snapshots of crumpled heirlooms laid on a kitchen countertop, and clearly of the men who took the Crook name to Canada (or Crooks if it helps the Canadian branch). Before I could ask any of the thousand questions that filled my mind, it became apparent it wasn’t Donna at all, but Kris her son, using her phone. Hopefully, sometime soon we’ll discuss the history behind the pictures; but I thought I’d start the debate here by sharing some of them and giving my opinion on who I think they are, and maybe provoke a conversation that will reveal more facts. They’re posted in no particular order but might help family in Canada make sense of the English heritage……
The first three images are simple. They’re of Overa Cottages at Eccles, where Harry and Mary Crook raised their family while Harry was bailiff at Overy Farm.
The next three images above are also reasonably straightforward to identify. Harry Crook, on a bicycle, next to the railway embankment at Overa Cottages fits the narrative. Also, Harry and my grandfather Frank are instantly recognisable. I’d guess Frank looks about twelve years old, so this would be around 1922, a whole century ago.
The third picture creates a few more questions. I think it’s Frank with Harry, but mum says the ears are too prominent. It could be Herbert. The reference point that makes me wonder if it’s Herbert is a military photograph you’ll see shortly.
From here on in, things get a bit more complicated and I’m hoping that the Canadians will scratch their heads and challenge the assumptions I’m now going to make. The only context I have for the military images are that the only First World War service connected to Fred Crook’s family were his brothers Harry, Sid and Herbert, so if these pictures are not of his brothers, I’ve no idea who they are. So here goes:
This picture shows two men, one standing. The man standing has a wound stripe on his left sleeve, and what appears to be the Silver War Badge on his lapel. The only Crook brother who survived the war and was entitled to wear a wound stripe or the silver war badge was Harry Crook jr, veteran of St Eloi, The Somme, Vimy Ridge and Passchendaele where he received the wounds that gave him the entitlement. If it’s not him, I’ve no idea – but remember the face.
I’ve no idea who the seated man is. Is it a comrade? Is it Fred (it doesn’t look like a brother)?
Bearing in mind the picture of ‘Harry’ above, are these next two pictures the same man? Are they both the same man? Is it Fred? Is it Harry and Fred? Help me Canada! Did they all look alike!?
Another image, of a man with three horses. Is this the man with the silver war medal?
Another horseman, but is this someone else? Is this Fred?
Another image shows an early homestead. Sid was at Mancroft and Moose Range. Is this Sid who settled in Saskatchewan, or Harry who followed him, or Fred who followed Sid to Saskatchewan after Sid’s death in 1916? The family are still there at Carrot River.
Below we have a picture from a shooting competition dated 1913. From records, we know that only Harry and Sid were in Canada at that time, as Fred was only 11 and still in England. Are both Harry and Sid in this shot? The man center rear looks familiar, but then the man front left also looks like the men in the other pictures. So many questions…
Now we move on to what might be the really exciting aspect of the journey for me. Having researched the brothers and their military exploits, the one thing missing is their faces. In spite of all the details gleaned about them, my great regret was that they remained anonymous, but maybe we are close to giving them back their identities.
This picture is of men wearing the uniform of the Royal Army Medical Corps. My father has an ancestor, William Hinnells, who served with the Canadian Army Medical Corps, but it’s not him and he has no connection to the Crook brothers other than the coincidence that he also emigrated to Canada, but there’s no evidence they’d know about each other. If then, these RAMC men are connected, it can only be by Herbert who enlisted in the RAMC in December 1919 aged 18, and died in August 1920 in Mesopotamia. He left England for India by March that year. Looking at these men, most are wearing medal ribbons, which suggests the picture was taken post 1918 and that they’re first world war decorations. Using the logic that Herbert was a new recruit and had no decorations, I want you to look carefully at the young looking soldier seated second from the left. If this is Herbert Crook, it’s the only known image of a young man who met a terrible end in the desert of Iraq. I see a family resemblance and can make no other sense of this picture being in the hands of the family of Fred Crook. Then of course, there’s those ears, which takes us back to that earlier picture of a young man with Harry Snr.
The final military image is the one above. A young man marked by an X stands in shirtsleeves in an informal group. We know Herbert was an RAMC man, but these are infantry tunics we see. Records tell us that Harry was in the Royal Artillery by 1907 aged 16 and enlisted in the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in 1914. If the previous picture is of Harry, this doesn’t look like the same man, and looks too young for him in WW1. So is this the only picture we have of Sydney Crook, Saskatchewan pioneer, and sniper with the 5th Battalion Canadian Infantry? Sid was killed close to Hill 60 near Ypres in June 1916. Again, if it isn’t Sid, I have no idea who it could be or why we’d have this picture. My only other thought is could it be Harry some time after 1907? Who knows
The only sense I can make of these photographs being in the hands of Fred Crook’s descendants are that at some point in the distant past a relative in England sent out pictures as a memento as a sad reminder of brothers lost or left behind. Maybe Fred took them with him as a reminder of the old country when he followed the trail across the sea. There are so many questions and guesses to be made. Maybe this will help shake out the final definitive answers, or perhaps memory really has faded beyond recall. When I talk to mum about the uncles she never knew, we always come back to aunt Edna. She was the one who knew the stories and held the key to her brothers legacies. I’m not sure how she was affected as a child as her brothers, one by one, left for Canada or wars on foreign fields, but mum will tell you Edna was the one who kept them alive in memory. I remember Edna from when I was young, but she too has been gone for almost 40 year, and all the memories went with her. As I’ve pored over these crumpled pictures, I’ve wished we could go back and ask her, but here we are. A message out of the blue from Donna and Kris, and an inch closer to understanding our past and those who made it. We keep going.