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An Invalided Fleetwood Soldier – Private Croston
Fleetwood Chronicle - Friday 27th April 1900
Wounded at Spion Kop
There arrived at Fleetwood on Saturday morning Private Croston, who has been invalided home from the Royal Lancaster (King’s Own) Regiment in consequence of wounds received after the capture of Spion Cop while gallantly endeavouring to save a fellow-officer. Private Croston has had an experience of one of the most fearful battles of the present war, and it was with a view to hearing from an eye-witness something of the conditions of the modern battlefield that we sought an interview with the gallant soldier. Private Croston, it may be stated, has been recuperating at Netley Hospital for the last few days, and it was announced that he would reach Fleetwood on Friday evening. A large crowd accordingly assembled at the station to give him a rousing reception, the company including one of his most intimate acquaintances, an adept accordion player, who intended to lead him home. Private Croston, however, did not come in for the reception, for, whether intentionally or unintentionally – he did not say which – he missed the train, and his would be receptionists were naturally greatly disappointed. He, however, arrived early on Saturday morning, attired in khaki jacket, with his usual regimental trousers and hat, he is still very lame, caused through his ankle having been twisted on Spion Kop, and he has to use a stick. Being well-known in the town, Private Croston has since his home-coming received numerous congratulations on his fortunate escape.
Private Croston is a Fleetwood man by birth, and he resided in the town up to a few years ago. He is unmarried, and enlisted in the army about five years ago. On the 2nd of December last, his regiment, the Royal Lancasters, left England for the scene of hostilities arriving at Cape Town on Christmas Day. They were at once ordered to Durban, where they arrived three days later, and from thence proceeded to Estcourt. After a week’s stay there, they received orders to strike camp at Springfield’s. Here they received their baptism of fire, and executed a fine piece of work, arriving just in time to save the Little Tugela Bridge from destruction. According to Private Croston, the Boers had actually the fuse laid ready for lighting the explosive for blowing up the bridge, when they were driven off. A skirmish ensued, and by means of a cavalry charge the Boers were repulsed, and retired towards Spion Kop. Having crossed the bridge, the British force proceeded to Frere, where they remained for two days. Their force now numbered about 25,000 men, and they had to re-cross the Tugela by means of a pontoon bridge. On January 17th, they proceeded on the right edge of Spion Kop, the Boers being assembled in strong force, and for two days they had practically nothing to eat, as the transport had not come up. The Boers indulged in a good deal of sniping, and Sir Charles Warren gave the Lancashire Brigade, which was composed of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, Lancashire Fusiliers, South Lancashire and the York and Lancaster regiments, orders to advance. On the 19th, they made a general advance, and took Three Tree Hill by a charge with the bayonet. Then they got six batteries of artillery on the hill, and gave the Boers a warm time of it for four days. The attack on Spion Kop was entrusted to the Lancashire Brigade under General Woodgate. It was made during the night of the 20th January, and they secured the summit at four o’clock the following morning. They came across a picket of the Boers about 100 strong, two were killed with the bayonet, three wounded, and the remainder escaped. As soon as they got on the hill, the Boers commenced to fire, and General Woodgate gave orders to fix bayonets and lie down. About half an hour afterwards, they advanced further up, and gave the Boers battle. The fog was too thick to permit them to see each other, but about 6.30 in the morning the mist cleared, and the battle started. They held out against great odds for eight hours, when they met with a misfortune, through General Woodgate being wounded, and they immediately sent for reinforcements. Lieutenant Colonel Thorneycroft then took command at the summit. The Boers continued to shell the hill, and as the British reinforcements arrived they were cut down by the Boer shells, and in about eight hours’ time no fewer than 1,766 Britishers were killed or wounded, while the Boer losses must have been still more severe. While the battle was still in progress, about 3.30 in the afternoon, Lieutenant Wade of the Royal Lancasters, was wounded. Private Croston, who was engaged sniping behind some rocks at the time, gallantly rushed out to save his officer, and he had carried him ten yards when Lieutenant Wade was struck in the head and instantly killed. Croston also received a wound on the right shoulder, and the bullet afterwards came out an inch from the back bone. He had previously received a slight wound in the leg. Croston lay helpless on the ground for nearly twelve hours, until he was picked up by the Boer ambulance, and taken to their camp, about a mile and a half away. Their tents, however, were overcrowded with their own wounded, and he was subsequently handed over to the English stretcher bearers, by whom he was carried two miles to a hospital. The Boers, however, then gave them two hours in which to remove the hospital, and Private Croston had to be carried to Frere, some 24 miles from Spion Kop. He was then put amongst the dying in the operation tent, as his attendants did not expect him to survive. General Buller visited the Hospital, and said he had accomplished his object by finding out the position and getting a convoy into Ladysmith, and he hoped to relieve the town within a week. After being at Frere Hospital for about eight days, Croston was removed to Mooi River, then to Pietersmaritsburg, and from there to Durban. He arrived in England on the 8th April and proceeded to Netley Hospital until he left for Fleetwood. He is now staying with his father and sister, Mrs. Fisher, at 30 Warren Street. Private Croston has brought home some interesting relics he secured from a Boer after bayoneting him, including some Boer Mauser bullets. He paid a high tribute to General Buller, whom he believed to be the best man in South Africa, and who if left alone, would go through the Transvaal himself. He opined that he war would not be over until next Christmas and declared “If I get a chance, I will go back and try my luck again. All the hard fighting is over, and I should like to have another smack.” Private Croston’s name was taken by one of the officers after his attempt to save Lieutenant Wade’s life, and no doubt he will be suitably rewarded for his courage. He has received two months’ furlough, and will return to Aldershot at the end of that period.
Fleetwood Chronicle’s report, Friday 27th April 1900
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