Yesterday we remembered Threekingham man 2nd Lieutenant John Francis Cragg who was killed in action on this day 1st July 1916 on the first day of the Battle of the Somme near Fricourt, serving with the 8th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment.
John Francis, also known as Francis, was born on the 21st of June 1888 in Threekingham to Captain William Alfred Cragg OL JP, 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, and his wife Adelaide Alexandra Cragg (nee Gilliat) of the Hall, Folkingham Road, Threekingham, Lincolnshire.
William Cragg was born in 1st November 1859 in Spanby, Lincolnshire and Adelaide was born on 4th June 1864 in either Adelaide or Sydney, Australia. The couple were married in the Battle district of Kent in 1882.
The couple travelled around before settling in Threekingham Lincolnshire as can be seen in the places of birth of their 6 children:
• William Gilliat Cragg, 1883, Moretonhampstead (DSO, Major, 6th Bn Loyal North Lancs)
• John Richard Cragg, 1884, Newton Abbot
• Edward Cragg, 1886, Folkingham (Captain, 23rd Royal Fusiliers, Spotsman’s Battalion)
• John Francis Cragg, 1888, Threekingham (2/Lieut 8th Lincs)
• Mary Adelaide Cragg, 1889, Folkingham
• Noel Henry Cragg, 1892, Threekingham (Royal Navy)
In 1891 The family were living at Loudon House in Threekingham, although on census night only the children were at home being cared for by the servants. Captain William Cragg was visiting Theophiopolus Willing the rector of North Hill, Cornwall. Mother Adelaide has not been found on census night.
John Francis Cragg attended Lancing College near Shoreham, Sussex, from May 1900 in the Seconds House.
Moving on to the census of 1901 and once again on census night Captain William Cragg JP was not home and was a visitor of the Half Moon Hotel in Sheepwash, Devon. Adelaide and the rest of the family are in Threekingham although the address is now given as ‘The Hall’. This included John who we assume was home from school at this time.
John continued at Lancing until July 1906 and was a member of the Officer Training Corps and in his final year was a member of the Shooting VIII. On leaving school Francis became a motor engineer.
In 1911 once again father William Cragg is missing from home, Adelaide is in Churchgate Spalding, a visitor in house of Catherine Hilliam a widow and her 2 daughters. Catherine was living on own means and one daughter was an artist.
By the outbreak of war John was working as Works Manager for The Lincoln Printing Works and was living at 8 North Parade.
We have not been able to research John Francis Cragg through his Service Records as being an officer the collection of records are held at the National Archives which is currently closed due to Coronavirus. These records have never been digitised and therefore are currently unavailable, WO 339/5166.
The following has been pieced together for available records, Battalion Diaries and other sources to best tell the story of John Cragg’s war and some of the dates and locations may not be exact.
John enlisted at Lincoln and was placed into the 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment on 29th June 1914, receiving the regimental Number of 2184. He was promoted to Corporal on the 29th August 1914 and as a member of the Territorial Force he had to sign a document to agree to overseas service, which he did on the 29th August.
On the 26th December 1914 John received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant and was posted to the 8th Battalion on the 30th December, going on to serve as a Machine Gun Officer.
The 8th Battalion had been formed in September 1914 and concentrated around Halton Park near Tring. For the winter of 1914 they moved into billets in Leighton Buzzard and more arduous training began.
During the spring of 1915 the Battalion moved to Halton Park Camp, Wendover, and miniature rifle practice. With the completion of the firing of the Musketry Course and a review by Lord Kitchener, the Battalion moved with the division by road to Witley Camp. This move occurred in August 1915 in sweltering heat and gave the Battalion an indication of the strenuous days ahead.
En route to Whitley Camp, Surrey, the Battalion had the honour of marching past His Majesty the King and Lord Kitchener. Final training was completed at Whitley Camp.
The Battalion Diary gives us the story of the Battalion heading abroad and their first overseas action.
10th September 1915 – Whitley Camp
7.10pm. Battalion under the command of Lieu Col H E Walter, left camp at 6pm and entrained at Milford Station, journeyed via Folkestone to Boulogne; in rest camp for 1 day. 28 Officers + 2 Personnel, 993 other ranks.
11th September 1915 – Boulogne
7pm. Entrained at Pont des Briques St, for Watten; Billetsat Bayenghem Les Eperlecques
13th September 1915 – Bayenghem
Captains Preston, Harrison and Lieutenants Parker, Brown and Rowcroft spent 24 hours in the trenches of the 2nd Corps. The first two machine gun sections under Lieutenant R G Cordiner were attached to 63rd Brigade Headquarters Machine Gun Detachment.
14th September 1915
2nd Lieutenant Cragg and Sergeants Cumminns and Wood attended a four day course of instruction at Machine Gun School at Wisques.
During the stay at Bayenghem, the Battalion participated in Brigade and Divisional exercises and were also practiced in bombing and in the use of the new pattern respirator.
20th September 1915 – Racquinghem
7pm Battalion left Bayenghem and bivouacked one night at Racquinghem.
This would be the day that Francis’ brother Noel Cragg lost his life serving with HMS Victory (Naval Siege Guns) at Nieuport, although this information would not reach the family for a few days.
21st September 1915 – Norrent
8.45pm Battalion left Racquinghem and billeted at Norrent.
22nd September 1915 – Cauchy-a-la-Tour
6.30pm Battalion left Norrent and billeted at Cauchy-a-la-Tour. Battalion addressed by Brigadier general A Nickalls commanding 63rd Infantry Brigade.
24th September 1915 – Fours-a-Chaux
7.30pm Battalion left Cauchy-a-la-Tour and bivouacked at Fours-a-Chaux, 1 1/2 miles from Noeux-Les-Mines.
25th September 1915
10.30am Battalion with the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry was warned for the firing line.
2.30pm Vermelles reached; under artillery fire:
7.10pm Battalion m oved into position forming part of the relieving force to the 15th Div: 24th Division was on our left and the 8th Somerset Light Infantry on our right.
On the night of the 25th September our Battalion left the road leading to Loos and formed lines of platoons in fours. After a short advance we halted for three hours. We then advanced in Echelon formation over the trenches. After advancing for about three hours in short stages we halted for a short time and then moved in the direction of Hill 70.
We dug ourselves in during the night, it was now daybreak.
Major Storer came to us and said “All is well” the advance will commence at 11am. In the meantime we were under heavy shell and rifle fire. We then advanced meeting great numbers of the enemy a short retirement took place the Battalion making a newline of men composed of various units, about 400 in rear of our first position.
We again advanced under the command of the nearest officer. By this time a great number of our officers had become casualties.
The men continued to fight with the units to which they had become attached.
On the 27th the Regiment was relieved by a units of Guards.
28th September 1915- Vermelles
Owing to casualties in officers Captain H Pattinson became acting Commander for the Battalion; acting 2nd in Command Captain J T Preston; acting Adjutant Lieutenant F Brown.
Battalion left Vermelles and proceeded by road and rail to Linghem.
29th September 1915 – Linghem
Strength, 6 officers + 2 Personnel, Other Ranks 522.
John Cragg wrote of it after the battle:-
“As we got to the crest line, now free from obstruction, we could see the countryside slightly, and what a sight met our eyes! Right ahead of us was Loos in flames, this was the glare that puzzled us; the twin towers of the big mine standing out like great oil towers on a burning oil field. To the right and left were the horrors of war. Close by a German, badly wounded, called for “wasser”. I stopped and gave him some, but it would not be long before he joined his comrades. In the communication trench on our left more dead by the score….
The following day, the 26th of September, the battalion was engaged in heavy fighting at Hill 70 some of which was hand to hand. During the fighting they lost their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harold Ernest Walter, an event witnessed by Cragg:-
“He stood not knowing what fear was in the midst of a hot fire at close range, forty yards off, calling on us to charge. Just as he led us he fell.”
John Cragg was wounded in the left leg by shrapnel from a high explosive shell later in the fighting. The 8th Lincolns had suffered casualties of 22 officers and 471 other ranks killed wounded or missing.
John would have been treated at an aid post and then taken back to a dressing station or Casualty Clearing Station and from there, back to a Base Hospital. On the 1st of October 1915 he was evacuated from Calais on board a ship of the Brighton Steamship Company and landed at Dover later the same day. He was transferred to 2A Military hospital in Millbank and would stay there for 15 days.
His parents received the following telegram dated the 2nd of October 1915:-
“2nd Lt J.F. Cragg Lincolnshire Regt. was wounded Sept 25/27. Further news will be telegraphed when received”.
They received a further telegram dated the 8th of October 1915:-
“Lieut. J.F. Cragg Lincoln Regt admitted Lady Evelyn Mason’s Hospital 16 Bruton Street W. Oct 1st suffering from gunshot wound left leg”.
On the 13th of October 1915 a Medical Board was convened at Caxton Hall in London where he was granted six weeks sick leave.
Grantham Journal Saturday 16th October 1915
LETTER FROM THE KING – It having come to the knowledge of the King that Captain W. A. Cragg, of Threekingham House, had four sons serving their country, his Majesty caused the following letter to be sent conveying his appreciation:- “Privy Purse Office, Buckingham Palace, S.W., 2nd October, 1915.
Sir,- I am commanded by the King to convey to you an expression of his Majesty’s appreciation of the patriotic spirit which has prompted your four sons to give their service to the Army and Navy. The King was much gratified to hear of the manner in which they have so readily responded to the call of their Sovereign and their country, and I am to express to you and to them his Majesty’s congratulations on having contributed in so full a measure to the great cause for which all people of the British Empire are so bravely fighting. I have the honour to be, sir, your obedient servant, F. M. POMSONBY, keeper of the , Privy Purse.” It is only a week or two since the sad news arrived that one of these sons – Lieut. Noel H. Cragg, R.N. had been killed in action, while another Lieut. J. F. Cragg, of the 8th Lincolns, has been wounded while taking park in the recent advance on the Western front, and is now in a London hospital. Now comes the news that a third son, Capt. W. G. Cragg (Loyal Lancashire Fusiliers), has been accidentally wounded at the Dardanelles
Grantham Journal Saturday 23rd October 1915
LIEUT. J. F. CRAGG, 8th Lincolns, who was wounded in the leg in the recent fighting in France, has been home this week, after being in hospital in London. He brought news of several Billingborough boys who are in his regiment, and reported them to be all right when he left.
Later that month John Cragg applied for a transfer to the newly formed Machine Gun Corps citing his service as Battalion Machine Gun Officer and asking the reader to note that he possessed a 1st Class Certificate in the use of the Vickers Light Automatic Machine Gun from Hythe. He went on :-
” Also I am thoroughly conversant with the Lewis Gun, going through private instruction at Hythe, a course at Longmoor and Wisques and having these guns under my chaps in the Lincolns. I have also lectured on both these guns to senior officers. I am also acquainted with the Rexa having had instruction on this gun at Hythe.”
On the 30th of November 1915 a Medical Board sat at the 4th Northern General Hospital which noted that:- “wound healed–can walk with help and quite slowly—still loss of superficial sensation in foot”. He was granted a further two months sick leave.
On the 4th of January 1916 a Medical Board sat at the 4th Northern General Hospital which noted that “power of left ankle is fully restored as is sensation in sole of foot” and concluded that John Cragg was “fit for general war service”. The following day he reported for duty with the 9th (Reserve) Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment at Brocton Camp near Cannock Chase in Staffordshire.
John was sent back out to France to join the 8th Battalion who were fighting around Armentiers. On the 13th April they became the support Battalion moving to Houplines and relieved the 15th Durhams. It was noted in the Battalion Diary that on this day 2nd Lieutenants Cragg and Rowcroft rejoined the Battalion.
At 3am on the 20th of February the battalion relieved the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry in the trenches at the Epinette Road. On the 23rd of February 1916 the enemy began a heavy and prolonged bombardment of the Lincolnshire positions which killed two men and wounded seven others. During that night and into the next day the British artillery retaliated and, later that day, John Cragg was evacuated by a Field Ambulance suffering the Battalion Diary describing him as sick although a local newspaper report states that he was blown out of a trench.
Captain and Mrs Cragg received the following telegram date the 2nd of March 1916:-
“2/Lt J.F. Cragg 8th Lincolns admitted 7 Stationary Hospital Boulogne 1st March sick case not then diagnosed but condition satisfactory. Will send any further reports”.
They received a further telegram dated the 26th of March 1916:-
“2/Lt. J.F. Cragg 8th Lincolnshire Regt. transferred to convalescence home after treatment for shell shock”.
They received a further telegram dated the 20th of April 1916:-
“2/Lt J.F. Cragg Lincolnshire Regt. now reported discharged to duty April 7”.
On the Battalion strength report of 16th April, 2nd Lt J F Cragg is listed a Platoon Commander and also Company Machine Gun Officer.
On the 14th April the 8th battalion moved to support positions about Becordel-Becourt village where, till the 22nd, much work was done on the forward trenches. The 1st Battalion relieved the 8th on the 22nd of May in the right sector opposite Fricourt. The 8th Battalion then moved to La Neuville, opposite Corbie, on the Ancre river.
The attack for the first battle of the Somme could be seen to have started on the 24th June 1916 when one thousand five hundred and thirteen artillery guns opened on the enemy trenches. Day after day the guns continued to pour thousands of shells into the enemy trenches until they resembled a rubbish heap; but below ground, the enemy troops sheltered in deep dugouts, were safe from even the enormous shells of our “heavies”. In no less than 40 places gas was discharged and every enemy observation balloon was destroyed. The enemy replied fitfully to the shelling as they only had two hundred and forty guns on the Somme front at this stage.
At the end of June, the 8th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment was detailed to support the 8th Somersets in the attack on the German positions planned for the 1st of July (the first day of the first battle of the Somme) and on the 30th of June moved to assembly trenches near Becordel-Becourt village.
The plan for the 8th Battalion Lincolnshire was to be the second wave of the attack with the York and Lancasters on their right and to filter through the new line once the Middlesex and Somersets had taken the first objective. Then one company of the 8th Battalion Lincolnshires was to advance immediately with the Somersets to clear the enemy front line trenches and fall in behind the remainder of the battalion as it advanced.
Throughout the night the guns bombarded the enemy lines in front of the zero time of 7.30am on the 1st ofJuly
At 7.25am the leading platoons of the advanced battalions carried out their plan and attempted to crawl towards their objective.
The Guns lifted at 7.30am and the enemy left their deep dugouts and placed machine guns to meet the advance with destructive force tearing gaps in the advancing battalions. The Middlesex and Somersets lost fifty percent of their men in the advance yet survivors reached the enemy trenches.
The 8th battalion Lincolnshires attacked with B and C companies; supported by A company with D company in the rear as a carrying party with picks and shovels, trench stores, ammunition and bombs. The leading platoons lost half of their number but the survivors reached the enemy front line and after being checked by machine gun fire the bombers got to work and knocked out the defenses.
The survivors joined by successive platoons swarmed over the battered front line and crossing Empress trench and Empress Support reached the Sunken Road. The numbers of officers and men that got thus far we small in numbers because an enemy barrage was falling on no mans land and the supporting platoons suffered heavily.
The battalions bombed their way down the enemy communications trenches, Dart Lane, Brandy Trench and finally Lozenge Alley was reached. En-route every dug-out was bombed and the trenches themselves were battered beyond recognition being just a mass of craters.
One stokes gun remained with the Lincolnshires and gave valuable assistance until the officer in charge and his team were knocked out. A Lewis gun team arrived and gave great assistance to the advance.
Only two parties of the 8th battalion reached Lozenge Alley numbering about one hundred men and started the act of consolidation. Between 4 and 5pm orders arrived from Divisional HQ to consolidate the positions they held with the Lincolnshires holding part of the system from Dart Alley to and including Lozenge Alley. Throughout the night the 8th Lincolnshire successfully repulsed a bombing attack from the direction of Fricourt.
The right flank of the Lincolnshire area was attacked from Fricourt up Lonely Trench. Men were posted at the junction of Lonely Trench and Lozenge Alley and the enemy only once got in thanks to their rifle grenades but were soon turned out at a loss to the Lincolnshires of some men of Lozenge Alley and at least 20 in Lonely Trench. Two enemy drums were captured here and sent to the depot at Lincoln.
When Darkness fell on the night of the 1st July, although initial success had not been maintained, progress had been made at many points. Although Fricourt had not been taken it was now pressed on three sides with the 21st division holding the north which included the 1st and 8th Battalions of the Lincolnshire Regiment.
During the night the 8th Battalion had worked hard consolidating their positions from Dart Alley to Lozenge Wood and were protected from a counter attack by an artillery barrage.
4 officers killed, 1 missing and seven wounded. Other ranks 30 killed, 34 missing and 171 wounded.
2nd Lieutenant John Francis Cragg was killed in action on the 1st July 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme in the action previously described.
His parents received the following telegram dated the 9th of July 1916:-
“Deeply regret to inform you that 2nd Lieut. J.F. Cragg 8 Lincoln Regt. was killed in action 2 July (sic). The Army Council express their sympathy”.
His Commanding Officer, Colonel Johnson wrote:-
“His Company was the first to go over, and the leading one of this Battalion, and all the officers were hit. He was very keen, and I much regret his loss.”
His Major wrote:-
“I am sure no braver fellow ever stepped in this battalion.”
Grantham Journal Saturday 22nd July 1916
CAPTAIN AND MRS. W. A. CRAGG, of Threekingham House, have suffered another heavy blow by the death of their third son, Lieut. John Francis Cragg, of the Lincolns, and the deepest sympathy is extended to them. The following letter has been received from the Officer Commanding:- “Dear Captain Cragg, – I am very sorry to inform you that your son went into action with us on July 1st and was killed. His Company was the leading one of his Battalion to go over, and all his officers were hit. He was very keen, and I much regret his loss. Lieut. Cragg was wounded in the leg in the Battle of Loos, on September 25th, 1915, but he made a good recovery, and afterwards came home on leave. In January, he was blown out of a trench, and suffered from shell shock. Captain and Mrs. Cragg had four officer sons in the Army, and this is the second to fall, the other being Lieut. Noel Henry Cragg, killed in action at Nieuport on September 15th, 1915. This gallant young officer was mentioned in a despatch from Field Marshal Sir John French for gallantry and distinguished service in the field, and Captain Cragg subsequently received a communication in which the following passage occurred: “I beg to express to you the King’s high appreciation of your son’s services, and to add that his Majesty trusts their public acknowledgment may be some consolation in your bereavement.”
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Second Lieutenant John Francis Cragg, 8th Bn., Lincolnshire Regiment who died on 1 July 1916 Age 28. Son of Capt. and Mrs. W. A. Cragg, of Threekingham, Lincs. Previously wounded Sept., 1915. Remembered with honour, Thiepval Memorial.
John Cragg is also remembered, along with his brother Noel, on the Roll of Honour in St Peter’s Church, Threekingham, Lincolnshire.