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The Fallen of Kirkby

John Victor Cranke

  • Youngest son of John and Margaret Cranke, of ‘Ellermire’, Grizebeck.
    Private, 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment (transferred from Royal Field Artillery).
  • Killed 20th April 1918 at Givenchy (Battle of the Lys), aged 30.
  • Commemorated on the Loos Memorial, Pas de Calais, France, Panel 92, and on the civic war memorial in Millom. Also named on his parents’ headstone in St Cuthbert’s churchyard.

John Cranke was born around 1888 in Drigg, near Holmrook, Cumberland to John and Margaret Cranke (probably née Kirkby, originally from Aldingham) who were farming at Mere Beck, Kirkby-in-Furness, by the census of 1891. John was their youngest child: his siblings were Bessie (10 years older), James (7 years older), George Kirkby, (3 years older) and Annie May (1 year older).

By 1901 the family had moved to Ellermire in Grizebeck, and they were still there in 1911 when John Victor was 23 and a farm worker. John Cranke senior became quite a prominent man in the early years of the century: he farmed at Ellermire and Coal Ash, was on the Parish Council and was one of the managers of Grizebeck Council School. He died in 1929 aged 77, according to the family gravestone in St Cuthbert’s churchyard, which also records the death of Margaret in 1913 at the age of 64, and commemorates the loss of their son, John Victor, who “fell in action at Givenchy in 1918, aged 30”.

At some point before October 2016, while Cranke was fighting in France, the family moved to Marsh Side, Millom, which is where he came on leave after a spell in hospital in Wales. He was there again early in 1917, recovering from being gassed; he returned to the Front for the third and last time in February.

John had enlisted as a Private in the Royal Field Artillery in Millom in May 1915 and had been given the service number 98991. At some point before going to the front in November 1915 he had been transferred to the 1st Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, with a new number, 19142. According to the regimental history, the 1st Battalion was in the Ypres Salient for four months after the end of 1917. In April 1918, with the great German offensive now threatening Amiens, the battalion was moved to Cuinchy, just south of La Bassée Canal, where they went into the front line on 4th. On 9th April, in what came to be known as ‘The Battle of the Lys’, the Germans launched an offensive against the Allied line, and fought their way into Givenchy, though they did not hold it. A few days later the Germans still held a piece of high ground north of the village, and the 1st Battalion was given the task of re-capturing the position. At 4.30am on 20th April, A and C Companies formed up and began the advance behind their artillery barrage. They passed through the battered remains of Givenchy and, in the face of heavy machine gun fire, captured the German trenches in twenty minutes. Reinforced by two platoons of B Company, A and C Companies succeeded in holding the position under heavy German bombardment. The Northamptonshire Regimental history describes the casualties as ‘not unduly heavy’. One lieutenant had been killed, another was missing, and two other lieutenants and a captain had been wounded and one lieutenant gassed; there were 96 casualties among the ranks. Two officers won the Military Cross for gallantry during the attack, and 15 other ranks received the Military Medal.

John Victor Cranke, then aged 30, was one of the casualties, having been first reported as ‘missing’. Since his body was never found, he is commemorated on Panel 92 of the Loos Memorial, behind Dud Corner Cemetery, on a busy road outside the northern French town of Loos, near Lille. The gardens are beautifully kept, and in June are full of roses; fields of corn and maize surround the spot.

Outside the Memorial, the inscription reads:

‘To the glory of God and in memory of 20,598 officers and men of the forces of the British Empire who fell in the battles of Loos and Bethune, and other actions in this neighbourhood, whose names are recorded, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death.’

News cuttings:

MILLOM.
HOME ON LEAVE.- Private J. Cranke, youngest son of Mr. J. Cranke, Marsh Side, Millom (formerly of Ellermire, Kirkby), is at home on sick leave. He enlisted in the R.F.A., but was transferred to the Northamptonshire Regiment, and was drafted out to the Front in November, 1915, where he saw heavy fighting. He has been in hospital in France and Wales for two months suffering from pleurisy, but now looks fit and well.
-: Barrow News, Saturday, October 21, 1916; page 13.

MISSING.
PTE. J. V. CRANKE, NORTHAMTONS.
Mr. J. Cranke, Marsh Side, Millom, and formerly of Kirkby, has received official news that his youngest son, Private J. V. Cranke, Northamptonshire Regiment, has been missing since April 20th, 1918. He joined up in May, 1915, and proceeded to France in the following November. He was gassed last August, and returned to France for the third time last February.
-: Millom Gazette, Friday, May 24, 1918; page 3.

ANOTHER KIRKBY SOLDIER MISSING.
Pte. J. V. Cranke, Northampton Regiment, has been officially reported missing since April 20th. He is the youngest son of Mr. J. Cranke, Marsh Side, Millom, and formerly of Ellermire, Kirkby. He enlisted in May, 1915, and went to France the following November. He was at home in February last after having been gassed on the Somme, where he saw some severe fighting. 
-: Barrow News, Saturday, June 1, 1918; page 3.

KILLED IN ACTION.
PTE. J. V. CRANKE.
The death in action is reported on April 20th of Private J. V. Cranke, aged 30 years, youngest son of Mr. J. Cranke, Marsh Side, Millom, or formerly of Ellermire, Kirkby. Pte. Cranke volunteered for service in November, 1915. He was twice wounded, returning to France, the last time in March of this year. He was first reported “ missing,” but two of his comrades now in hospital say when he was within 80 yards of the German trench at Givenchy he was calling to the others to “Come on !” when he was killed instantaneously by a shell.
-: Millom Gazette, Friday, October 11, 1918; page 3.

Kirkby War Memorial. (Photo: Julie Rushton).
Kirkby War Memorial. (Photo: Julie Rushton).

Note:
A mystery surrounds the inscription of John Cranke’s name on the Kirkby War Memorial. As will be seen in the photo, his name was apparently added after the others: according to the Furness Military Chronicle, it was on a separate stone as late as 1937.

Why John Cranke was not named on the memorial unveiled in 1920, and why he was then added, apparently after 1937, is not known.

It may be connected to the fact that his father, by now a widower, had moved to Millom by then, and John was named on the Millom War Memorial. John Cranke senior died in 1929 and was buried in St Cuthbert’s churchyard. The family headstone reads:

In loving memory of Margaret, wife of John Cranke of Ellermire who died 29th March 1913, aged 64 years.
Also of John Victor, their son, who fell in action at Givenchy April 20th 1918 aged 30 years.
Also of the above John Cranke, who died 18th Jan. 1929, aged 77 years.
“At Rest”

Present day local stonemason William Todd explains that the memorial is made of local limestone, and the names are done by cutting away the background stone. The mason had originally left a border around the names, which space was used some time after 1939 to add Cranke’s name. The names on the memorial are not in chronological order of the date of death, nor are they in alphabetical order; rather the stonemason seems to have made the length of each name determine its place in the list, so making a pleasing bowed shape with the lettering.

John Victor Cranke’s name on the Millom Civic War Memorial, which was erected in 1925, five years after the Kirkby Memorial at St Cuthbert’s.
John Victor Cranke’s name on the Millom Civic War Memorial, which was erected in 1925, five years after the Kirkby Memorial at St Cuthbert’s.
Millom’s Civic War Memorial, with J.V. Cranke’s name in its logical position. (Photos: Julie Rushton)
Millom’s Civic War Memorial, with J.V. Cranke’s name in its logical position. (Photos: Julie Rushton)

Millom’s Civic War Memorial, with J.V. Cranke’s name in its logical position. (Photos: Julie Rushton)

Dud Corner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial

Since John Cranke’s body was never found, he has no known grave but is commemorated on the Loos Memorial in northern France.

Loos Memorial in northern France
(Photo: Julie Rushton)

The pyramids seen here behind the Loos Memorial to the Missing are two of the five 146m high slag heaps (the highest in Europe), resulting from 130 years of coal mining here on the France – Belgium border.

On the far right in the photograph below you can see the panels bearing the names of the 20,500 dead having no known grave from the Battles of Loos and Bethune.

John Victor Cranke’s name is on Panel 92.

Loos Memorial in northern France
(Photo: Julie Rushton)
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