Battlefield Cross of Captain Lionel Crouch, 1/1st Bucks Battalion, July 1916

The original battlefield cross of Lionel Crouch is one of 18 remaining in the county, the other 17 all being exhibited in churches (of which one is for an unknown soldier).

Lionel Crouch was educated at Marlborough College and qualified as a solicitor in 1909, being employed by Messrs. Horwood & James of Temple Square, Aylesbury. He had joined the Aylesbury Company of the 1st Bucks Rifle Volunteers in 1907, being commissioned in 1908 and then succeeding to command of the company in what was now the Bucks Battalion of the Territorial Force 1909. He was promoted to Captain in June 1912 and became Deputy Clerk of the Peace in February 1913, his father William being Clerk of the Peace. A keen philatelist, he was Vice President of the Junior Philatelic Society. Upon mobilisation in August 1914 the battalion’s old eight-company structure was consolidated with the Aylesbury and Buckingham companies now forming the new ‘B’ Company with Crouch in command. Through the raising of a second battalion in September 1914, the original was now designated the 1/1st Battalion.

After training at Chelmsford, the 1/1st Bucks Battalion embarked for France in March 1915 as part of 145 Brigade of the 48th (South Midland) Division. From the relatively quiet sector around Hébuterne, the battalion moved to the Somme. On 21 July 1916 the battalion formed the brigade centre when it attacked around Ovillers and Pozières to secure the ridge on the Albert-Bapaume road in order to threaten German possession of Thiepval. The plan called for the Australian 1st Division to attack Pozières from the south, while north of the Albert-Bapaume road, the 48th Division would attack the German trenches some 800 yards west of the village. The Bucks Battalion would go forward in four waves on a two-company front led by ‘A’ Company on the left and ‘C’ Company on the right with Crouch’s ‘B’ Company in immediate support. The night was clear with bright moonlight. It was obvious from the number of flares being fired from the German trenches that the enemy were alert and expecting action. Their machine guns were sweeping the front before zero hour. A preparatory artillery barrage was opened by the British at 0245 but the Germans opposite were largely unaffected by the shelling. They were able to man their fire-steps as soon as the rolling barrage had passed and, as the British advanced, they were cut down by heavy rifle and machine-gun fire.

Crouch was hit by a machine gun bullet whereupon his batman, Private C. J. Wheeler began to try and drag him to a shell-hole. Wheeler was hit in the arm and Crouch was then hit by a second bullet through the stomach that killed him. In all, four officers and 49 other ranks were killed while five officers and 96 other ranks were wounded. A further attack was mounted on 23 July, the total Bucks’ casualties from 21 to 23 July being 242, of whom 69 were killed.

A series of Lionel Crouch’s wartime letters were published by his father in 1917 as Duty and Service: Letters from the Front with proceeds given to the fund for the Bucks Battalion wounded. It included a short story about the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 that Lionel had written in 1908. There was, too, a sketch of his original grave with the cross, which was recorded in the battalion casualty book as being in ‘Mash Valley’ to the south west of Pozières and 3½ miles north east of Albert. Lionel’s grave was subsequently interred in Pozières British Cemetery at Ovillers-La-Boiselle. Most surviving battlefield crosses were brought back and placed in churches after they were replaced by headstones. Some are cracked or wood-wormed, even caked with mud that was simply vanished on to them. Lionel’s cross, which was returned to the family, carries a metal tag for the GRU (Graves Registration Unit) and a Bucks Battalion cap badge.

Lionel’s brother, Guy Crouch MC, later Clerk of the Peace, also served with the 1/1st Bucks Battalion until appointed second in command of the 1/5th Gloucestershire Regiment in 1918. He commanded the Bucks Battalion from 1922 to 1926 and was honorary colonel of the successor unit, 645 LAA Regiment, from 1951 to 1960.  


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