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Allan Crane (1899 – 1918)

Allan was born in York in May 1899 and was killed in combat in France on 8 October 1918, at the age of 19. Some accounts (eg the officla Army records) wrongly spell his name Allen). I am not, literally, a descendant: I think of him as my step-uncle and of course I never met him – though his younger sister Dorothy, born in Rotherham on  12 October 1900, played a big part in my life.

Allan's parents

His father was John Crane and his mother (= my grandmother on my mother’s side), was Annie Crane, née Hall. They married on 28 December 1897 at the Primitive Methodist Chapel in Masbrough: both parties declared their ages as 29.

The Crane family had come originally from Ireland in search of work, but Allan was born, along with numerous brothers and sisters, in a village north of York where there was work as agricultural labourers.

Annie Hall had been born in Rotherham on 9 April 1868. She was the daughter of Samuel Hall and Emma Hall formerly White, who got married in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, on 17 April 1854. By the time of the 1871 census, the family was established in Rotherham. Her father worked in the coalmines which provided expanding employment opportunities in South Yorkshire then.

Like most children in poor families, Annie’s full-time education would have finished by round the age of 12 and children were often sent out to work in their teens. We have little  detail about that stage of her life, but the 1891 Census shows her employed in a schoolmaster’s household as a domestic servant in a village north of York: surprising because that’s quite a long way from Rotherham. It seems likely that it was there, in the country villages around York, that she met her future husband, John. As noted above, they were married on 28 December 1897 in Rotherham. She and John were presumably living in Rotherham but their son, Allan, was born in York, for reasons unknown. (He seems to have used his mother's maiden name, Hall, as his middle name on some occasions.) Their second child, Dorothy Ann, whom I remember very well, was born in 1900.

Settled back in Rotherham, John had a job working in a coal mine. Tragically however, on 25 November 1900, just a month after Dorothy’s birth, John Crane was killed in a mining accident, leaving his widow Annie in very poor circumstances and responsible for two small children. Her son Allan was nearly 2 years old, and Dorothy was still a baby. Annie herself was 32. She moved back to her parents’ house in a different suburb of Rotherham.

The war arrives

As we know, the First World War began in 1914. Initially the army was made up of men who had volunteered to serve, but as the terrible casualties increased over the years, and a with a decline in voluntary recruiting, the government decided to introduce conscription – a law that compelled men of a certain age to join the army (with a few special exceptions).

The first Military Service Act in January 1916 made all single men and childless widowers between the ages of 18 and 41 liable to conscription. The Military Service (No 2) Act then extended conscription to all men between these ages in June 1916.

We don’t know whether Allan was officially called up under these laws, or whether he volunteered, perhaps even concealing his true date of birth. He was recruited to the Northumberland Fusiliers.

We also don’t know exactly when he left home to join the army – maybe in 1917. We do know however that he was killed in northern France on 8 October 1918  -  in the last few weeks of the war, in fighting around the city of Cambrai, which in the previous year (1917) had seen a dramatic (but ultimately futile) battle, involving first-ever mass use of massed tanks by the British Army. Allan’s grave is in a small war cemetery in the town of Naves in northern France.

Over 880,000 British soldiers lost their lives in World War I. The heaviest loss of life for a single day occurred on July 1, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, when the British Army suffered 57,470 casualties – of course, well before Allan was called up to join the army. The tragic loss for his family was experienced by thousands of families across the country, and of course in France, Germany, Russia and many other countries.  

The rest of the family

A decade after the loss of her husband in the 1900, Annie remarried in Rotherham on 30 January 1910. Her second husband was Charles Williams, who worked on the railway. So she became Annie Williams. My mother, Hilda Mary Williams, was the only child born of this marriage, in 1910. She grew up alongside her older step-sister Dorothy, my auntie. The family, like so many others at that tragic time, suffered another loss when Allan was reported killed in 1918.

In, I think, 1978/79 I took my mother and father to see Allan’s grave in France. My mother was very moved. She remembered Allan of course as her big brother who had gone off to war and never came home. She had been seven or eight years old when Allan left for France.

My grandmother Annie Williams, née Hall, earlier Annie Crane, had a very hard and at times tragic life but later became a respected member of her local community, serving as a school governor and a local councillor. She died at home (20 Whitehill Road, Brinsworth) on 15 June 1957 at the proud age of 89. An obituary in the Rotherham newspaper, The Advertiser, in 1957 reported that

“Mrs Williams was very well known, being the first woman councillor in Brinsworth. She was elected in 1919 and in 1934 she was elected as Rural Council representative for Brinsworth and served until 1946. She was one of the founders and pioneer workers of the Whiston & Canklow Clinic. She was also a member of the Local Education Committee and a governor of Woodhouse Grammar school. Active in the trade union movement, she was a founder member of the ASLEF Women’s Section and was always involved in the relief of distress during various labour strikes. Her younger brother was Dr Sam Hall OBE JP who was himself a very keen member of the local Labour group.”

Her first daughter, my auntie Dorothy (then aged 32,) married Frederick Moysey (34) in Rotherham Parish Church on 26 August 1933. They had no children and Fred (by then aged 54) was killed in a tragic traffic accident on 21 November 1951. So she was a widow for much of her life but perhaps looked on me as the son she never had. She kept Allan’s memory alive and the commemorative brass medallion awarded to all the families who had suffered the loss of a son or brother during the war was always on display and kept well-polished. Dorothy died on 9 January 1986.

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