Passendale - 90 years on

Penny W-T By Penny W-T, 6th May 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

John Crowley was not a prominent war time personality, but merely by serving in France at that time has made him an unexpected personality, and a well researched personality who played his part in the Great War.

Private John Nicholas Crowley, 2917, 34th Battalion AIF

Much of my work has taken the path of historical researcher, with a particular focus on the Great War. This was not a particular choice but rather an accident and one that has to a certain extent, taken over my working life.
Some time ago noted journalist Peter Rhodes at the Express and Star newspaper in our local area, commented in his column that one of the graves in the Commonwealth War Cemetery at Tyne Cot, Belgium, was that of a 52 year old Australian, and Peter wondered how a man of that age had managed to enlist in the Australian Army.
With the Queen having in recent times, attended the 90 year commemoration of Passendaele at the Tyne Cot cemetery, perhaps we can also expand on the story of John Crowley – the 52 year old Australian buried there 90+ years ago.
When this research began all the known data was taken from Peter’s column – name, age, date of death, location of grave, name of next of kin. My colleague, Australian researcher John Williams of Blyth, South Australia, has helped me to compile a fascinating jigsaw of John Crowley from material he sourced from internet links; documents supplied to me by the Australian National Archives in Canberra; and the library service in Temora, the town in NSW where John Crowley lived his life.

The Australian National Archive file contains 73 pages of data on the life of John Crowley, and the library files add further very pertinent facts to these records. All have been instrumental in researching this material. It has taken several months of correspondence to gain information, but the picture created is fascinating.

At first I thought as a widower he probably had no children, as it seemed illogical for a father to leave any children in the care of others to go to war. Then I found that on the army records he had given his profession as a journalist, so perhaps he had enlisted as a war correspondent was the next thought.

John Crowley had enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force on 16th November 1916, citing his age at that time as 44 years 4 months. This we know now was in order to comply with the Australian regulations that only men under the age of 45 years could enlist. He was in fact born in 1866 in the district of Wollongong in NSW, to parents Michael and Bridget Crowley, the second eldest of eight children.

John had married Elizabeth Roberts in 1893 and they had seven children, six sons and one daughter. Elizabeth died in 1910. So my thought that he probably had no children was proved incorrect at this point. Curiously, he gave his mother as his next of kin rather than his son, also John, who would have been 22 years old at the time his father enlisted. A copy of his will is included amongst the many documents so kindly collated and supplied by the Australian National Archives, in which he left his children into the care of his sister Bridget, dividing his estate between them and her.

The library service in Temora, his home town, has provided the personal face to the man that Army records cannot always do, and the librarian Eileen England and researcher Michael Collins have given invaluable assistance to this research. The Crowley family was obviously an extensive one in the area, John himself had seven siblings and then had seven children.
John’s brother Matthew had enlisted as a Private into the 13th Battalion, but had died at sea 6th May 1915 either en route to the Dardanelles or actually in the Mediterranean as part of the Gallipoli campaign. John’s son Reginald also enlisted into the 34th Battalion as a Private. He was also killed in action in April 1918 at the age of 18 years and is buried at Villers Bretoineux.

From the Army material it does not appear that John Crowley was working as a War Correspondent, at least not from their instruction, but in the Temora archives researcher Michael Collins discovered that John Crowley would have worked for either the West Wyalong Advocate or the West Wyalong Star, both papers being in print at that time, and sources at the Temora Rural Museum indicated that those newspapers probably have archives on microfilm, however, curiously, the army file states elsewhere that John was a ‘newspaper proprietor’ so perhaps he actually owned one of these journals. This is an ongoing piece of this jigsaw research, as more research might show whether any war reports ever reached them from John during his service. Sadly he was killed in action on 12 November 1917; his entire army service lasting just less than 11 months.
Hopefully John Crowley’s descendents still in the Temora region will be pleased to think that his personal sacrifice to the Great War is being recognised, acknowledged and highlighted ninety years later on the other side of the world.


Great War, Personal History, War Cemetaries, Western Front Battles

Meet the author

author avatar Penny W-T
Published articles on education themes, travel, history and writing techniques. Written a book on WW1 - Gallipoli, and travel books. Run a marketing network for small businesses.

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author avatar Sherryl Crowley
12th May 2013 (#)

Hi Penny,
If you would like more info on these Crowleys please contact me.

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author avatar Sherryl Crowley
14th May 2013 (#)

His other two sons, John and Oswald, also went to the Great War. John Jnr enlisted in England in 1st King Edward Horse Regiment. They both went to WWII also, with Oss being a "Rat" of Tobruk.

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