Name: John Asheton Critchley
DoB: November 4 1892, Canada.
Regt: Lieut. Lord Strathcona’s Horse (wounded); Capt., 1915; Military Cross, 1916.
DoD: April 5 1917
Academic Career: CGS 1905-06
John Asheton Critchley was the son of Oswald Asheton Critchley (1864-1934) According to his oldest son, Oswald was “ tall, lean; a great horseman, a first-class shot and a tremendously keen fisherman.” He had come to Canada at the age 18. His family was from Salwick Hall, Preston.
John was the elder son of his father’s second wife Mary Winifred Holt. His father had been married before and had had two sons with his first wife Maria Cecil Newbold (1865-1891): Alfred Cecil and Walter Ramsay. Maria died in childbirth. In 1905 his twin brothers Gerald Holt and Richard Oswald were born. The family lived at the Stapleton Ranch. Which was six miles west of Calgary: “it was all most picturesque: some of the mountain peaks carried white caps of snow all the year round” and his half-brother Alfred recalled: “Walter, Jack…and I were growing up without the slightest benefit of education. We could hardly write and could only just read. On the other hand, we could saddle ponies, ride for miles across the ranges, find our way in the dark without compasses, make our own camp, hit a polo ball, and ride herd.”
The family moved to England in 1899 for the boys’ education. They were sent first to The Meads, a prep school in Eastbourne. Father then moved the family to Cumberland to be near his relatives at Stapleton Tower, Annan, Dumfriesshire. Alfred was sent to St Bees School for three years from the age of 12 (1902?).
The 1901 Census shows John attending “Glengorse” School in Eastbourne Sussex. John attended Carlisle grammar school between 1904-6. In 1911 he was a boarder at St Bees.
John joined the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force on October 16 1914. His Attestation papers reveal he was 6’2” with blue eyes and fair hair. Having transferred to England, Lord Strathcona’s later moved into France in 1915. Jack, and his brother Alfred, went into the line near Festubert. The following account is taken from Alfred’s autobiography: “The Germans promptly attacked. They seemed to have a disconcerting amount of information about what was going on. Their attack was really quite exciting to us, but discipline was good, and we had no trouble in holding the Germans off. In fact, my brother Jack was so annoyed at being attacked before he got settled in that he took his troop over the top and chased the Germans all the way back to their own lines. This so surprised them that Jack emerged with practically no losses at all, and actually picked up a Military Cross within a matter of hours of his first spell in the trenches.”
“In 1917 my brother Jack died of wounds at the age of twenty- four. He was in temporary command of Strathcona’s Horse, and was hit by shrapnel in the last attack made on trenches by cavalry. Writing from hospital the day before he died, he said he was very tired but hoped to return soon. It was a great blow for my stepmother and father. Jack had twice been asked to take a staff appointment, but he liked the men, he liked his horses and he felt that perhaps too many of us were going to staff appointments. So he stayed on with the regiment.”
His death in action is reported in General Seely’s book Adventure:
…The attack was an overwhelming success. All three regiments galloped forward to their pre-ordained positions with great speed and with surprisingly little loss.
Strathcona’s captured Equancourt, and all the Germans who were not killed or captured fled in confusion.
While the officers were going back with the messages, I went round the captured positions. Major Critchley…went round with me in the fading light. He seemed curiously sad and tired, in contrast to all his men who were elated by victory. I asked him to sit down and rest whilst his officers took me round, but he insisted on coming as far as the most important point.
He explained the position to me lucidly and very slowly. And then sat down. I turned to the Sergeant-Major, who said, ‘He’s been shot through the chest, sir, but he made me promise not to tell until he had finished his work.’
Will it be believed that this gallant soul had been shot at close range through the lung, and still would not give in until his task was done.
We managed to get him to an Advance Dressing Station that evening, and to a Casualty Clearing Station next morning. He lingered on for two days, but then, alas, he died to the great grief of every man in Strathcona’s and the Brigade.”
He was reported as being “severely wounded in the back on March 26th 1917 and died later at No.5 Casualty Clearing Station”. He is buried at Bray Military Cemetery in France. A telegram(?) to his father reads “Previously reported Dangerously ill now Died of Wounds”. Date of Death was given as April 5 1917.
Alfred joined Lord Strathcona Horse first: “Later in 1911 my younger half-brother jack joined us. He stood 6ft.4in. and was one of the finest horsemen I have ever known….There are few more pleasant lives than that of a subaltern in a cavalry, if you like horses, but it was fairly strenuous; up at 5a.m. in the summer for stables and 6a.m. in the winter, and then you were kept hard at it till lunch. In the afternoon there were drills and sport, followed by evening stables.”
Jack, along with Alfred, was on the polo team for Strathcona’s.
On a two day training exercise in Canada, Alfred, Jack and some others took a short cut by swimming across the river with their horses. They dared not risk government horses (as the river was used to float logs down) so used their polo ponies and horses they owned personally to get across and attacked the “enemy” from the other side of the bridge they were defending.
In October 1914 33,000 men and 7 000 horses sailed to England. In May they went to France. They went as infantry and were asked to volunteer as they were cavalry trained: “there was not a single man who did not volunteer”. (Always a Strathcona) On May 22nd, the Regiment was moving up near Festubert when they met up with Captain Walter Critchley of 10th Canadian Battalion who was to escort them. WB Fraser reports: “The situation was rather unique. Captain Critchley’s father Lieutenant A.O. Critchley, was machine gun officer with Lord Strathcona’s Horse; a brother, Capatain A.C. Critchley, was Regimental Adjutant; while another brother, Lieutenant J.A. Critchley, was senior subaltern. Briefly the father and three sons were brought together on the battlefield. All were to survive the war except J.A., who died of wounds received while leading his squadron in a mounted action at Villers Fauchon on March 24 (sic), 1917.” Captain Alfred Critchley was wounded in the Battle of Festubert which followed.
In 1917 a German withdrawal: “did briefly introduce a war of movement on the Western Front and provide the cavalry an opportunity to show its stuff. As mounted troops the Strathconas made their first contact with the enemy on March 26 when they cleared a wood and captured the village of Equancourt. Casualties were light: one officer (Major J.A. Critchley), and four other ranks were wounded…” (Fraser)
Alfred’s Autobiography is full of amusing anecdotes, some of which concern Jack. The pair took two weeks off to go duck shooting in the summer of 1914. Alfred’s first shot resulted in him upsetting the canoe and they had to swim to shore and return to the lodge for fresh rations and ammunition.
Lord Strathcona’s transferred to England upon outbreak of war – Salisbury Plain – it rained all winter apparently. One night Canadian troops were causing trouble in a local pub and Alfred, Jack and Douglas Cameron rode down to sort it out: “there was a sudden hush as we entered the crowded bar. All three of us stood well over six feet and none of us looked particularly weak.” They restored order!
Alfred trained Canadian troops during WWI , first in France and then in Britain, he then went on to train the RFC. After the war he tried several business ventures and eventually bought White City in London and turned it into a successful greyhound racing track. He was an MP for a short while and then went into training air crew during WWII. His son Johnnie was killed in December 1941 in the Western desert. During the war, Alfred met the King and Queen and Eisenhower. From 1943 he was in charge of BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) – when the industry was nationalised in 1946 he resigned.
Alfred died in 1963.
Probate was awarded to Oswald Critchley. John left over £750.
The Carlisle Grammar School Memorial Register.
The Carliol 1916
1911 Census: RG14; Piece: 31526;
Attestation Papers from the Canadian National Archive
Probate record from ancestry
Critch! The memoirs of Brigadier-General A C Critchley” 1961
“Always a Strathcona” WB Fraser 1976