THE OGMORE VALLEY

LOCAL HISTORY & HERITAGE SOCIETY

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Colliery Boy to Colonel

OVLHS_Journal_2011_(William_James_Cranston_DSO_OBE)_Page_1_Image_0001

There is no doubt that the ultimate act of bravery is to lay down your life in defence of your comrades or your beliefs, and perhaps never more so than in the cauldron of war. What is also no doubt true is that many men and women have not only made the supreme sacrifice and not been recognised, but there are also many, many occasions when undoutbed acts of bravery are not rewarded as they should be, for many and varied reasons, but frequently overlooked in the cauldron and chaos of battles and wars on foriegn shores where communication may not be all that it should be.

Occasionally, acts of great heroism are indeed correctly rewarded, such as the Victoria Cross awarded to James Llewellyn Davies in 1917 and the awards to the 52 men awarded medals or promotions for their bravery from the Ogmore Valley. There are amongst that brave band, 6 men that have recieved more than one bravery awards and out of those 6, just one man alone who recieved more than two bravery awards.

That man is William James Cranston, DSO, OBE who remarkably received eleven bravery awards during his 38 years colour service in the Boer and First World Wars.

Not that there was any hint of this amazing achievement when William James Cranston first came to the attention of the Society, which as with many other stories, started with a small article in the Glamorgan Gazette. In this case it was in the edition of 25 February 1916 spotted by the author whilst researching the Military Deaths from the valley for another Journal. At that point all of the then known officers serving in World War One from the valley were teachers from local schools, so it seemed perfectly reasonable that W. J. Cranston was also a member of the teaching staff at one of the local schools and interest in him was then picqued for several other members who were, at that time, also searching the Glamorgan Gazette for their article “Schoolmasters at War”, which would Glamorgan Gazette later appear in Journal 2001.

Glamorgan Gazette 25 February 1916

 

As you will see from the actual Gazette snippet reproduced overleaf, it merely mentions that “Capt. W. J. Cranston had returned home for a visit and had already returned to the Western Front”. (Later investigation would prove that this visit coincided with sick leave that Capt. Cranston was on from October 1915 after being invalided back to England). He was at this time attached to the West Yorks Regiment who were part of the 62nd Division located on Salisbury Plain and Captain Cranston`s role was to prepare the Regiment for service on the Western Front.

There is little doubt that these visits “home” were also part of the Army`s recruitment drive as the decimation of the British Expeditionary Force and the increasing losses being suffered in France and Flanders meant that Herbert Asquith`s goverment introduced the `Military Service Act` on Thursday 6 January 1916, which introduced compulsory conscription for all single men and childless widowers aged between 18 and 41 unless they could claim exemption. Conscription started on the 2 March 1916 and was extended to married men on the 25 May 1916 with the age later being raised to 51, with conscription finally ending in 1919.


Glamorgan Gazette 28 June 1918

It soon became clear that William James Cranston was not a member of the teaching staff as a further news clipping from the Glamorgan Gazette in 1918 mentioned that William was employed in the Ocean Western Colliery as a “Door-boy” and then a “Haulier”.

It was at this point that the trail of William James was to prove exceedingly difficult to track down, particularly through the 1881 and 1891 census, though after several years of trawling the London Gazette, the Times On-line and with the assistance of the Secretary of the Regimental Museum of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers & Greys), a large proportion of William James` remarkable military career was beginning to unfold.

The final piecing together of William James`s story was finally able to be told thanks to thanks to the desecendants of William James, both indirectly and directly. Indirectly and with thanks also to the National Library of Wales, whose membership allowed access to some of Oxford University`s materials on line, where the author was amazed to find in the “First World War Poetry Archive” (www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/gwa/) not only supporting data for information already pieced togetherand which would prove invaluable in locating William James in the census but also many images of William James throughout his Military career.

An excellent find in itself, but surpassing that was the fact that the donors of the information to the website were the direct descendants of William James, namely his Granddaughter Fiona and her husband, Dr. Peter Shipley. The webmaster kindly passed on my details and I was surprised and delighted to receive an E-mail from Dr. Shipley and from that moment onwards the family have been hugely supportive and have supplied huge amounts of additional data and images on William James Cranston which have finally allowed me to tell the story of his remarkable life; from a

young lad working as a colliery door boy to a military career spanning 19 years in the ranks and a further 19 years as an officer, receiving eleven gallantry awards or promotions and in 1960 finally and deserverdly, William James Cranston, DSO was apppointed as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his unstinting service to the “Not Forgotten Association”.

The Cranstons, as the name suggests originated from Scotland, from the Peebles area and had moved to South Wales via London in the nineteenth century and thanks to the information from the family of where William was born on 2 March 1879, I was finally able to find him in 1881 Census and the reason why he remained “unfound” for so long: they were listed under “Straton”, not “Cranston”!

1881 Census; RG11/5327/186 – 29 Rook Steet, Maesteg

  • William STRATON, Head, 22, Married, Labourer, Born, Newport, Monmouthshire
  • Mary A. STRATON, Wife, 23, Married, Born, Aberavon, Glamorgan
  • Cornelius STRATON, Son, 3, Born, Maesteg, Glamorgan
  • William STRATON, Son, 2, Born, Maesteg, Glamorgan
  • Margaret STRATON, Dau, 2 Weeks, (twin), Born, Maesteg, Glamorgan
  • Partrick STRATON, Son, 2 Weeks, (twin), Born, Maesteg, Glamorgan

 

1881 Census Extract

It was also because of the information supplied that I finally, after many years of trying, located him on the 1891 census, though I am begining to think that the census takers were deliberately making it hard for me to find William as both he and his brother were listed with the wrong age and scribbled in tiny writing right at the bottom of the page!

1891 Census; RG12/4451/6 – 5 Blaenogwr Houses, Nantymoel

  • William SHEAN, Head, 25, Colliery Haulier, Born, Aberavon, Glamorgan
  • David SHEAN, Brother, 23, Colliery Labourer, Born, Douglas
  • Bridget SHEAN, Mother, 60, Widow, Born, Ireland
  • William J. CRANSTON, 25, Collier, Born, Maesteg, Glamorgan
  • Michael CRANSTON, 23, Collier, Born, Maesteg, Glamorgan

1891 Census Extract

We know that William was employed as “door boy” in the Ocean Western Colliery, Nantymoel and it is more than likely that Michael also started work as a “door boy”as he was only 11 years old in 1879. The working life of a door boy was spent in total darkness for 10 hours a day save for when other colliers passed through their door. Their job was to operate the door when the miners, horses and drams needed to pass through either to take full drams up to the shaft or returning empties to the coal face. The doors being put there to circulate air to the face of all workings and there was air pressure against the door at all times. The huge wooden doors were in the main roadway and the door boy had to be on the alert for miners coming and hauliers and horses with drams of coal.

We have evidence from the 1905 Ocean Western Colliery Contract Book that both Michael Cranston and William Shean were still working as colliers at the Ocean Western Colliery, though Michael would soon emigrate to Canada, where his descendants still live. It is not surprising that anyone would want to escape this dark, depressing daily work routine, William James Cranston lied about his age, adding a year to his age in order to enlist into the Royal Welsh Fusiliers at Wrexham on the 10 August 1896 serving with them at Shorncliffe and Plymouth before transferring to the 2nd Dragoons (Royal Scots Greys) at Edinburgh on the 18 February 1898. This “error” remained constant in all subsequent Army records concerning William James and would continue to be a nagging doubt with the author until clarified by William`s descendants.

In 1899, the regiment’s years of peace ended with the start of the Second Anglo-Boer War. That year the Scots Greys, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Hon. W. P. Alexander, were ordered to Cape Town to join the Cavalry Division being formed. In the years since Balaclava, much had changed about warfare. Gone were the red coats and bearskin shakos. The Scots Greys would now fight wearing khaki. In fact, with the popularity of wearing khaki that accompanied the start of the Boer War, the Scots Greys went so far as to dye their grey mounts khaki to help them blend in with the veldt.

1905 Ocean Colliery Contract Book entries for Michael Cranston and William Shean

The regiment arrived in the Cape Colony in December 1899 and was put to work guarding the British lines of communication between the Orange and Modder rivers. When Lord Roberts was prepared to begin his advance, the Scots Greys were attached to the 1st Cavalry Brigade under Brigadier General Porter. While serving under Porter, the Scots Greys were reinforced with two squadrons of Australian horsemen.

Once Roberts’ offensive began, the Scots Greys took part in the relief of Kimberley. With Kimberley relieved, the Scots Greys were engaged in the fighting during the advance to Bloemfontein and later Pretoria, including the Battle of Diamond Hill.

Following the capture of Pretoria, the Scots Greys were sent to liberate British prisoners. The POW’s were held at a race course, the same one where those captured in the Jameson Raid had been held. As the Scots Greys approached, prisoner lookouts at the racecourse spotted the dragoons. As word spread through the camp, the British prisoners overpowered the guards, mostly men either too old or too young to be out on commando, pushed their way out of confinement to meet with the Scots Greys. Although the camp guards were easily overcome, and most likely unknown to the British forces and prisoners, Koos de la Rey and his men were positioned to try and prevent the rescue of the British prisoners. De la Rey ordered warning shells to be fired, trying to keep the prisoners in their makeshift prison camp. Faced with the approaching Scots Greys and the prisoners, De la Rey opted to order a retreat rather than fight a battle over the prison camp. The Scots Greys finished the liberation without further incident.


William James Cranston (2nd left) during Boer War

The fall of Pretoria was also the end of the second phase of the war. With the end of formal fighting, and the start of third phase of the Boer War, the guerrilla campaign by the Boers, the Scots Greys were on the move constantly. The Scots Greys initially operated west of Pretoria, but soon detachments were being sent out to garrison important points. This included detachments sent to guard the passes in the Magaliesberg

Among the detachments was a squadron left at Uitval (also known as Silkaatsnek) under the command of Major H. J. Scobell. There they were eventually joined by five companies from the 2nd battalion, the Lincolnshire Regiment, with a section of guns from O Battery, RHA. While Scobell had kept a strong picket line out to watch for Boer commandos, this changed when he was superseded as the commander of the garrison. With the Scots Greys came under the command of an infantry colonel, the picket outposts were decreased. The outpost was attacked by a force of Boer commandos on 10 July 1900. Most of the squadron was captured during the disaster which ensued. The defeat allowed the Boers to hold Silkaatsnek.

Following the disaster at Silkaatsnek, the Scots Greys were concentrated and returned to operating with the 1st Cavalry Brigade. From February to April 1901, the Scots Greys and 6th Dragoon Guards were sent on a sweep from Pretoria to east of Transvaal. In the process, they captured or destroyed large amounts of Boer war stocks, including nearly all of the remaining artillery. Following that success, the Scots Greys and 6th Dragoon Guards were sent to sweep the guerrillas from the valley of the Vaal and into the Western Transvaal. There, they received word of the defeat of Benson’s column at Battle of Bakenlaagte on 30 October 1901. Reinforced by the 18th Hussars, 19th Hussars, and a detachment of mounted Australians, the reinforced brigade chased after the Boers, killing a number of those who had participated in the fighting at Bakenlaagte.

The Scots Greys would continue fighting to suppress the guerrilla campaign. The most notable capture made by the regiment was that of Commandant Danie Malan. Eventually, the last of the “bitter enders” in the Boer camp, agreed to peace, with the formal end of the conflict happening on 31 May 1902. The Scots Greys remained for three more years, helping to garrison the colony, operating out of Stellenbosch, before returning home to Britain in 1905.

William James Cranston`s Boer War service was summarised by Captain W. J. Reeves, DCM in 1948 when Colonel Cranston took over as Chairman of the London Branch of the Greys Association, which is reproduced in part below;

“Cranston joined the Greys at Edinburgh in February 1898, fifty years ago. A smart, well-built lad of 18 years, he early showed promise of the fine soldier he was to become. He gained promotion early and in 1899, when the Regiment embarked for the Boer War, he was a Corporal. He made his mark early and was engaged in most of the actions in which the Greys took part.

“His conduct was particularly meritorious in the action which took place at Nigel, Transvaal, where his Squadron, “A”, commanded by Major Feilden, was engaged in a hand-to-hand combat with some 700 Boers. In this action our casualties were heavy. Three Officers were killed and one was captured. Cranston was the senior N.C.O. left and as a result was sent on the following day to pick up the wounded left in the Boer lines. Under a white flag and with an ambulance he spent the day in this depressing task and found Major Feilden dying, shielded from the rays of the sun by a blanket .supported at each corner by a sword. Major Feilden asked Cranston to convey his thanks to the survivors of the Squadron for the good show they had put up. The bodies of Captain Usher, Lieut. Rhodes and of several others were brought back to the Regiment.

“There were many, other gallant acts to Cranston’s credit. He was the first to enter Bloemfontein the night before the British Army, he was also considered one of the finest marksmen in the whole of the Northern Command. Space does not permit the telling of many other incidents”.

William James Cranston was awarded the following bars to the Queen`s South Africa Medal;

  • Relief of Kimberley (15 February 1900)
  • Paardeberg (18-27 February 1900)
  • Dreifontein (10 March 1900),
  • Johanesberg (29 May 1900)
  • Diamond Hill (11-12 June 1900)
  • Belfast (21-27 August 1900).

He was also awarded the following bars to the King`s South Africa Medal;

  • SOUTH AFRICA 1901 – Awarded for service during 1901 towards the required service of 18 months.
  • SOUTH AFRICA 1902 – Awarded to those who served during 1902
  • The 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys) were awarded the following Battle Honours for the 2nd Anglo-Boer War;
  • Relief of Kimberley; Paardeberg; South Africa 1899 – 1902

William James Cranston was promoted to Sergeant whilst in South Africa and was selected to return home to represent the 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys) at the coronation of Edward VII. On the Regiment’s return to England he qualified as a 1st Class Physical Training Instructor and he was about the best athlete in the Regiment. In the Royal Tournament (Olympia) he won first prizes for Sword v. Sword, Sword v. Lance, Epee, Foil and Sabre and he was a pillar of strength in the Rugby team, which he captained. He was also heavy weight boxing champion and Ju-Jitsu Champion of the Scottish Command, 1907. He also won Bronze medals for the championship of the North of England and Scotland in Sword v Sword, Sword v Lance, and Sword v Sabre.

During the inter-war years, the Scots Greys were re-equipped and reorganized based on the experience of Boer War. Lee Enfield rifles and new swords were introduced as the British Army debated what the role of cavalry would be in the coming war. In 1914, the Scots Greys were organized as a regiment of three squadrons. Each squadron was made up of 4 troops with 33 men each. When war did come, in August 1914, the Scots Greys were assigned to the 5th Cavalry Brigade commanded by Brigadier P. W. Chetwode. The Scots Greys would remain attached to the 5th Cavalry Brigade for the rest of the war.

Initially the 5th Cavalry Brigade operated as an independent unit under control of the B.E.F. However, it was soon assigned to Brigadier-General Gough`s command on 6 September 1914. When Gough`s independent command was expanded to a division, the formation was redesignated as the 2nd Cavalry Division. The Scots Greys and the other cavalry regiments of the 5th Brigade would remain with the 2nd Cavalry Division for the rest of the war.

1914: Mons, the Retreat, the Marne, the Aisne

Sergeant Cranston along with the regiment landed in France on 17 August 1914. Soon after arriving in France, staff of the British Expeditionary Force issued a directive ordering the Scots Greys to dye their horses. The reason was partly because the grey mounts made conspicuous targets, but was also partly based on the fact that the all grey mounts made the regiment distinctive and therefore easier to identify. For the rest of the war, the grey horses of the regiment would be dyed a dark chestnut.

First contact with the German army came on 22 August 1914 near Mons. The Scots Greys, fighting dismounted, drove off a detachment from the German 13th Division. During the retreat from Mons Sergeant Cranston brought down a German horseman at 1,000 yards, a feat upon which he was complimented by his commanding officer.The German infantry reported that they fell back because they had encountered a brigade.

It was during this retreat from Mons that on 26 August 1914 Sergeant Cranston took part in what was to become the last hand-to-hand combat for the 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys) on European soil and his own account of that action is reproduced below:

“On 23 August, 1914, the 5th Cavalry Brigade – Commander, Brigadier-General Sir Phillip Chetwode, Bart. – comprising the Scots Greys, 12th Royal Lancers, 20th Hussars and “J” Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, took up position facing N. Binche on the right and in touch with British troops on the left extending to Mons.

News was received that the Germans had entered Brussels and were marching South. Contact was gained and a withdrawal took place before overwhelming enemy forces. The severely wounded (including Lord Leven and Melville, A Squadron) were left behind. This withdrawal continued until the end of the month.

“About mid-day on 26 August Brigade Headquarters were aware that, there were at least two enemy Cavalry Divisions about a mile and a half away, entering a small wood. The Greys and 12th Lancers were ordered to advance and drive back the detachment of German Cavalry who were visible – probably the German advance guard”.

“The Brigade Commander ordered the Gunners who were in action to lift and direct their fire on the edge of the wood in which the chief body of German Cavalry were. Firing off the map, they finally placed their shells at the very edge of the wood, which delayed the main body considerably. This was fortunate, since, as is described later, our Cavalry were so excited after their charge that they quite forgot about rallying, and if the main body of the Germans had advanced they might well have been taken at a disadvantage.

“A and B Squadrons (Commanders, Major A. Lawson and Captain W. M. Duguid McCombie) were halted in a hollow, whilst C Squadron (Major Swetenham) was in dismounted action on the flank of the Brigade.

The country was similar to Salisbury Plain and was, therefore, not unfamiliar to those Greys who were stationed on the Plain a few years before, i.e., undulating downs, spinneys, clumps of trees, woods, etc. Concealment for large forces was provided by low ridges. The halted troops were keenly alert as bullets, passing over the dismounted Squadron in action, found a mark in a few of the men of A and B Squadrons. About this time we heard that Major Swetenham, a gallant Officer, was killed.

“Orders were received by A and B Squadrons to mount. A little later we were ordered to draw swords and form line. This, as all old Cavalrymen would know, was sufficient to cause horses to become excited. Both Squadrons were ordered to advance in line and on debouching from the hollow we had a clear view of the German Cavalry directly ahead. As Troop Commander, 1st Troop, B Squadron, advancing on the right of the line, I found myself up against the same difficulties as hundreds of Troop Commanders before me, namely, trying to maintain a straight line whilst horses and men were striving to get ahead. About this time I passed the Brigade Commander sitting his horse on a small hill with a clear view of the ground ahead. He was quite cool and unperturbed, a first-class example to those who were now, to say the least, somewhat excited. We were now set and all ranks keen to contact the enemy who, with their 14ft. lances and black and white pennants, made a conspicuous target. The Lieutenant Colonel W. J. Cranston in the uniform of the Machine Gun Corps.

men were thoroughly keyed up and full of confidence. Each man seemed most anxious to plunge his sword into at least one of the enemy. No one cared for the fact that we were greatly outnumbered, our only thought was to get at the enemy.

“We were almost in contact, a few horse lengths away, when we were greatly chagrined to find the first line of Uhlans throw themselves off their horses and deprive us of at least trying to emulate our predecessors of a hundred years earlier at Waterloo and carry out the shock tactics for which we considered ourselves well trained and capable. We now attacked our enemy when and where seen, also thrusting our swords into the corn stooks where they had taken refuge.

“My horse knocked one stook over, upon which an officer emerged and fired his revolver almost in my face. I was about to pierce him with my sword when Colonel Bulkeley Johnston shouted “Don’t”. I later saw this officer riding back on one of J Battery’s limbers.

“Sergeant Simpson, A Squadron (later Lieut. Simpson, King’s Regiment), thrust his sword into a corn stook and a German debouched swearing. He rushed at Simpson in a boxing attitude. The latter immediately dropped his sword, put his hands up and took the German on. The action continued in this way for some little time. Troops seemed completely oblivious of the fact that after a charge and break-up they should form into two ranks as quickly as possible. However, the “Rally” eventually sounded which brought us to our senses and the action was broken off and the withdrawal continued.”

(recounted by Colonel William James Cranston, DSO in 1948)

 

As it became apparent that the B.E.F. could not hold the position against the German onslaught, the Scots Greys became part of the rear guard, protecting the retreating 1 Corps. In the aftermath of the Battle of Le Cateau, the Scots Greys, with the rest of the 5th Cavalry Brigade, helped to temporarily check the German pursuit at Cerizy, on 28 August 1914.

Once the B.E.F. was able to reorganize and take part in the Battle of the Marne, in September 1914, the Scots Greys shifted from covering the retreat to screening the advance. Eventually, the advance of the B.E.F. halted at the Battle of Aisne, where British and German forces fought to standstill just short of the Chemin des Dames. A reconnaissance report made by Sergeant Cranston during the Battle of the Marne enabled the 5th Cavalry Brigade to capture 500 prisoners, and for this he was warmly commended by Major-General Sir Phillip Chetwode, promoted in the field to Squadron Sergeant Major and was Mentioned in Despatches (8 October 1914) by Field Marshall Sir John Denton Pinkstone French, GCB GCVO KC MG.

1914: Race to the sea and First Ypres After being pulled from the trenches at the Aisne, the Scots Greys were sent north to Belgium as part of the lead elements as the British and Germans raced towards the sea, each trying to outflank the other. With the cavalry reinforced to Corps strength, the Scots Greys and the rest of the 5th Cavalry Brigade were transferred to the newly formed 2nd Cavalry Division.

As the front became more static, and the need for riflemen on the front line more pressing, the Scots Greys found themselves being used almost exclusively as infantry through the Battles of Messines and Ypres. The regiment was almost continuously engaged from the start of the First Battle of Ypres until its end.

The Scots Greys rotated back into the trenches in 1915. Due to the shortage of infantry, the regiment continued to fill the gaps in the line, fighting in a dismounted role. The regiment remained on line for all but seven days of the Second Battle of Ypres. The losses in that battle would force the Scots Greys into reserve for the rest of the year. In January 1915 The Cross of St. George was conferred on Sergeant Major Cranston by Tsar Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia and the Honorary Colonel of the 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys), one of just a handful of soldiers to receive the award in the Regiment.

On 25 July 1915, Cranston was commissioned in the field to 2nd Lieutenant and transferred to the 1st Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers after serving 18 years and 349 days in the ranks. He was promoted to Captain on 19 September 1915 and on the 25 September 1915 took part in the Loos Offensive which is again retold from captain Cranston`s diary;

“The great Loos attack was launched on 25 September, 1915. At Sanctuary Wood, Ypres, the 3rd Infantry Division started a containing attack one hour earlier than the zero hour at Loos. My command was two Companies of 16 Officers and 300 men and my task to enter the enemy trenches and hold the right flank which was exposed. The initial phase was successful and we took about 160 prisoners. The enemy shellfire was terrific. After a few hours the enemy concentrated his heavier guns on our area. The trees were blown about as if a typhoon had struck the wood, our position was simply devastated and those who could fell back on to our former position. On relief that evening we mustered one Officer (Captain Cranston) and 15 men”.

On 30 June 1916 he was transferred to the 5th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment. 1 October 1916 Captain Cranston was promoted to temporary Major and transferred to the 13th (Service) Battalion, The Kings Liverpool Regiment and was twice Mentioned in Despatches (9 April 1917 & 7 November 1917) by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig KT GCB GCVO KCIE ADC. He was promoted to acting Lieutenant Colonel on 2 December 1917 and transferred again with promotion to temporary Lieutenant Colonel on 23 December 1917 to the North Staffordshire Regiment. On 24 December 1917, he was awarded a Brevet (Field) promotion to Major and attached to the 3rd Battalion Machine Gun Corps on 27 December 1917 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In honour of his service with the Machine Gun Corps, his fellow officers presented him with a fine silver model of a machine gun, which is still held by the family His medals were donated to the Royal Scots Greys Regimental Museum in Edinburgh Castle.

Lieutenant Colonel Cranston was again Mentioned in Despatches, on 7 April 1918 and finally also on 16 March 1919, by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig KT GCB GCVO KCIE ADC, making five “Mention in Despatches ” in total. He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Order on the 3 June 1919 for his distinguished war service.

On the conclusion of hostilities Lieut.-Colonel Cranston was rated in a regular commission as follows:-

Lieutenant, 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, 29 Dec. 1916; Captain, North Staffordshire Regt., 23 Dec.

1917, Brevet-Major, 24 Dec. 1917, Brevet Lieut.-Colonel 3 June 1919.

He served on the staff of the British Army of Occupation on the Rhine from 1 April 1921, to 11 July 1923.

On promotion to Major on 2 May 1923, he was transferred to the East Lancashire Regt. 2nd Battalion, and was posted to command the Depot on 11 November 1924. This he vacated on selection to command the 1st Battalion on 2 June 1927. Col. Cranston joined the Battalion on 4 June 1927. In 1929 he published a “Pictorial Souvenir and History of the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment, Poona, India, 1929” (ISBN: 0 948494 91 3). He was also selected and performed the duties of Commander, Poona (1) Brigade Area, from 2 April to 30 Dec. 1930. Lieut.-Colonel Cranston relinquished command of the 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment on 13 April 1931 and returned home to the UK on board the H.M.T. Neuralia, where on 21 November 1931 he took over as Brigade Commander, 137th (Staffordshire) Infantry Brigade until his retirement as a substantive full Colonel on the 10 February 1934.

After his retirement he became Director of the Officers’ Employment Bureau. He was also Chairman for many years of the London Branch of the Royal Scots Greys Association and also organised many reunions for the Machine Gun Corps Association.

Colonel Cranston DSO, also become heavily involved in the “Not Forgotten” Association, an armed forces charity formed on 12 August 1920 by Miss Marta Cunningham and it was for his tireless work for the association that he was appointed as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the January 1960 Queen`s New Year`s Honours list.

One of the five mention-in-despatches awarded to W.J. Cranston

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William James Cranston married Isabella Duffy in 1908 in Edinburgh and they had five children, two sons, one of whom died as an infant, William Partrick who became a senior diplomat and died unmarried (see below for Biography), and three daughters, Isabella, Agnes and Patricia. Isabella died at Wimbledon, London on 3 June 1941 and William James Cranston DSO, OBE passed away on 18 July 1960 aged 81.

Whilst we have many men that have left the coal mines of the Ogmore Valley and carved a career in the military or have even made a permanent name for themselves in the annals of heroic deeds, there is absolutely no doubt that none will have trodden the path carved by William James Cranston. Born in Wales of Scottish and Irish stock, he had the hardest of starts in the deep, dark, lonely depths of the Ocean Colliery. From spending many dangerous hours as a door boy to a military career that just by itself would be remarkable, though perhaps in parts equally or more dangerous.

His rapid promotion whilst serving as an “ordinary” soldier as part of Scotland`s premier cavalry regiment, not only surviving the 2nd Boer War but distinguishing himself throughout.

Through to the “Great War” and his elevation to the ranks of the officers due to his heroic deeds on the bloody fields of France, which for most men would be the sum total of their achievements, but not so for William James Cranston. His rise through the officer ranks was even more meteoric than whilst in the ranks. Not many Sandhurst trained “career” officers rise to the rank of full Colonel as William James did, and he could have even made Brigadier General, but chose to turn it down.

There is no doubting that we could have written an article about William`s sporting prowess not just at Wrestling or on the Rugby field but also his superb horsemanship and his skills with the sword and épée, as well as the relatively then unknown sport of Ju-Jitsu, but there is absolutely no doubt what, on top of all the previous attributes make William James Cranston stand out from anyone else I have had the pleasure to write about and that is his undoubted and repeated courage in the face of the enemy through two major conflicts totalling more than six years. It was surely a testament to the man that his heroism was rewarded not just once, but eleven times by various senior officers over the space of that time.

Truly a unique man from the Ogmore Valley.

CRANSTON, William Patrick

CMG 1964

Born 5 Oct. 1913; son of Col W. J. Cranston, DSO, OBE; died 12 Nov. 1967

Counsellor, British Embassy, Jedda, since 1966

Education: Stonyhurst Coll.; RMC, Sandhurst

Career: Commissioned in Indian Army, 1933; transf. to Indian Political Service, 1938; returned to IA, Sept. 1939, but recalled to IPS, Aug. 1941. Served in Office of UK High Comr, Delhi, 1947; transf. to CRO, Dec. 1947; transf. to Admin. of African Territories Dept, Foreign Office, 1949; Asst Political Sec., HQ Secretariat, Mogadishu, 1949–50; apptd a Mem. Foreign Service, Oct. 1950; First Sec. and Consul, Damascus, 1952; NATO Defence Coll., Paris, 1957; Foreign Office, 1957; Kuwait, 1960; in charge of British Property in Egypt Section, Foreign Office, 1964; Appointed Ambassador to Rwanda Burundi but died before taking up the post.

In completing this article I would very much like to record my thanks to the following, without whom this remarkable story could not have been accurately told:

Mrs Fiona Shipley, Dr Peter Shipley, The Oxford University First World War Poetry Digital Archive, Alun Edwards. The Great War Archive, University of Oxford, Roger E. J. Turp (Friends of the Museum of the Queens Lancashire Regiment), Jim Murray, The Regimental Secretary of the 2nd Dragoons (Scots Greys) Regimental Museum, Edinburgh Castle.

1908 Marriage of William James

Cranston and Isabella Duffy

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