William Baxter Crosland

William Baxter Crosland

60720 Bombardier William Baxter Crosland,
38th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Map Barwick showing Bank House above the Church (National Library of Scotland)

William Crosland was born in Leeds on 19th December 1891. He had two older sisters named Nellie, and Minnie, and a younger one called Ibbice. They were the children of William and Annie. William snr was a colliery engine man who was born in Scholes, but had moved around for work to places such as Featherstone and Pontefract, before settling at Bank House in Barwick.

Seaforth Barracks in 1907

William Crosland attested for the Army in Leeds on 4th January 1910. His medical examination showed him to be 5’ 9” tall and weighing 10 stones. He joined the Royal Field Artillery Depot at Seaforth Barracks in Liverpool on the 6th January. Here, he would train as a soldier, learn the history and traditions of his regiment and complete the necessary training tests to allow him to be posted on to an active unit of the field force. On 24th March 1910, he was posted to 72nd Battery, Royal Field Artillery, a unit of the XXXVIII Brigade, 6th Division, which was based in the garrison town of Fermoy, County Cork, in Ireland. Much of the 6th Division was based around the county, although some of the Artillery units were based in England.

On 8th May 1913, William Crosland was sentenced to 28 days detention for not complying with an order. What the order was that was disobeyed isn’t recorded, however, to be awarded 28 detention for it, as well as the associated loss of pay, and the damage an entry of this kind could do to a man’s career, it must have been a serious one. What is clear from Gunner Crosland’s Army Service Record is that the offence and consequent punishment did not damage his career much, if at all. He was awarded 4 days remission from his detention, which must mean he had performed well whilst he was a ‘Soldier under Sentence’, and on Christmas Eve, 1913, he was promoted to Acting Bombardier.

Condé-sur-Aisne, the scene of 72nd Bty's first action of the Great War (National Library of Scotland)

During the summer of 1914, a draft was scheduled to be posted to India. As William Crosland’s 6 years Colour Service would have ended while the battery was in India, he was due to be posted away from his unit, but he elected to extend his service to 12 years so that he could go with them. His Battery Commander supported the extension and made representation to the Brigadier-General Commanding Artillery, 6th Division. The extension was confirmed on 2nd August 1914, and the draft should have embarked of India on 16th September 1914, however, events unfolding in Europe stopped it from happening. William Crosland’s promotion to Bombardier was confirmed on 5th August 1914.

On the declaration of war on 4th August 1914, Regular, Territorial Force, and Reservists were mobilised to their war stations. The elements of 6th Division based in Ireland left for England between 15th – 21st August in order to concentrate around Cambridge and Newmarket. Here, the division was employed in training, getting men horses and equipment fit for deployment, and taking in the Reservists it needed to bring it up to war strength. The division began to move to Southampton by train on 7th September, and by 9th September the first units of the division were landed at St Nazaire on the Atlantic Coast of Brittany, in France, before moving by train to Coulommiers where the division concentrated once more before advancing to the Aisne.

The 24th Battery of XXXVIII Brigade RFA was the first battery of the brigade to fire when it went into action for the first time in the evening of 24th September 1914 when they were shelling the bridge over the Aisne at Condé-sur-Aisne. Bombardier Crosland’s 72nd Battery was not involved, and with the rest of XXXVIII Birgade, bivouacked at Mont de Soissons. On 28th September 1914, 72nd Battery went into action for the first time, firing into the Aisne Valley, between Condé-sur-Aisne, and Ciry-Salsogne.

The villages of Morval and Lesboeufs, with Le Transloy to the north east (National Library of Scotland)

From that time, the XXXVIII Brigade provided artillery support to 6th Division in all its actions, which in 1914 also saw them shoot during the battle of Armentieres, and at Hooge in August 1915. From September to October 1916, it was heavily involved in the Battle of the Somme especially the intense period of fighting around Flers-Courcelette, Morval, Lesboeufs and the Transloy Ridges.

On 6th May 1916, shortly before the Battle of the Somme began, William Crosland was promoted to Sergeant, but something occurred that cannot be explained by his service record, nor by referring to the relevant war diaries. The result of the incident was that Sgt Crosland wrote to his battery Commander and asked to revert back to the rank of Gunner, adding the rider that he ‘was not escaping trial by court martial by doing so’. No record of any punishment for whatever offence he was being tried for survives, but on 10th July 1916, his reversion to Gunner was confirmed, and on the same day, he was posted to ‘D’ Battery of XXXVIII Brigade, away from his original 72nd Bty.

The Hospital Ship Asturias

Soon after his division’s involvement in the battle of the Somme came to an end, Gunner Crosland was admitted to 21 Casualty Clearing Station, which was based at La Neuville, close to Corbie in the Somme Valley, where he was treated for ‘Pyrexia of Unknown Origin’, generally referred to as ‘PUO’. This was a condition which could also be known as ‘Trench Fever’. It was caused when bacteria from the contaminated ground were able to enter the body, usually by coming into contact with broken or abraded skin. Soldiers developed a high temperature that persisted, and though they were not infectious, they became debilitated and required treatment in hospital. Gunner Crosland was transferred from 21 Casualty Clearing Station to No. 8 General Hospital at Rouen on 4th November 1916, and evacuated to UK aboard the Hospital Ship Asturias.

On his release from Hospital in UK, rather than being returned to ‘D’ Battery in France, Gunner Crosland was posted to 5C Reserve Brigade, Royal Field Artillery at Charlton Park, Woolwich, and this suggests that he was still suffering the effects of his PUO. After three months in Woolwich, he was posted to Glasgow, to No.7 Depot before returning to Woolwich in April 1917.

Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar (Vajiram and Ravi IAS Study Centre)

On 29th May 1917, William Crosland was posted to India. He sailed from Devonport on 2nd June, arriving in Bombay (Mumbai) on 28th August 1917. In India, Gunner Crosland belonged to 12th Ammunition Column, which was based at Amritsar in the far north of the country. William Crosland remained in India for the rest of the war, and only returned to the UK in March 1919, when he was invalided back home suffering from malaria.

Tensions were running high in the Punjab and particularly in Amritsar at this time. The situation deteriorated to such a point that the British authorities in the province declared Martial Law in the city of Amritsar, and amongst the things that were outlawed were public gatherings and demonstrations. This coincided with a Sikh religious and cultural festival and people from the outlying areas flocked to the city to worship and celebrate. At one gathering at Jallianwala Bagh, the military commander for the area, Brigadier General Reginald Dyer, ordered the soldiers under his command to open fire on a peaceful gathering within Jallianwala Bagh, which was a space surrounded on all sides by a wall, with only five narrow gates for people to pass in and out of it through, the soldiers blocking one of them.
General Dyer’s men fired continuously for 10 minutes, and the General gave evidence at the subsequent enquiry that he had specifically ordered them to fire into the densest parts of the gathering. The official enquiry death toll was put at 379 men, women and children, however a number of credible sources put the casualty figure at well over 1000 dead, and 1200 wounded.
Rioting erupted across Amritsar as a result, and the British Army Garrison there was called out to restore and keep order, including 12th Ammunition column. William Crosland would undoubtedly have been called out in the policing role, had he not been travelling back to UK to take his discharge.

All Saints Church, Barwick in Elmet (CWGC)

He arrived back in UK on 25th April 1919, and by 28th May was transferred to B section of the Reserve. As a Section B Reservist, William Crosland would have remained on the Reserve for a period, typically 5 years, and would receive a payment of 3 shillings and sixpence per week during that time. He would be liable for recall to the colours, but only under a General Mobilisation. He received the Silver War Badge to show he had been discharged from the Army early.

William Crosland married Kate Silvey in 1922, and they had a son, Frank, born a year later. William was a cable jointer for the Post Office Engineering Department after he left the Army.

Kate Crosland died in 1960, and William died in 1962. Both are buried in the churchyard at All Saints’ Church in Barwick.