James Crichton: Permanent memorial to Carrick-born VC hero

James Crichton VC.
James Crichton VC.

A permanent tribute to a Carrickfergus-born Victoria Cross hero will be unveiled at the town’s War Memorial Gardens this Friday (September 28).

James Bell Crichton was bestowed the British Army’s most prestigious military accolade for his incredible courage during the Great War, including facing a barrage of enemy machine gun fire and snipers to remove explosives from a vital bridge, and swimming across a river while under attack to deliver key messages.

Earlier this year, councillors in Mid and East Antrim agreed to the permanent memorial to Private Crichton in recognition of his exemplary service and contribution to the war effort.

The ceremony, which is open to the public, will begin at 10.00am. Among the guests present will be relatives of Pte Crichton.

John Bell, whose grandfather was Pte Crichton’s cousin, said: “I am very honoured and proud to be related to such a brave and courageous man.”

The Mayor, Councillor Lindsay Millar, said: “James Crichton was born in Carrickfergus on 15 July 1879. The bravery and leadership he demonstrated during the First World War was phenomenal and his actions were key to the Hundred Days Offensive, which ultimately led to the cessation of the fighting.

“We are hugely proud of James Crichton, who was one of just eight Victoria Cross recipients from what is now Northern Ireland, during the Great War.

“The installation of a permanent memorial paving stone in memory and honour of James Crichton is a fitting tribute to this inspirational man and will further ensure his story is remembered and celebrated for generations to come.”

Council is also to mark the bravery of Lt Col Richard West VC, who served with the North Irish Horse and whose VC stone is due to be unveiled in Cheltenham. His parents were from Ulster, and the North Irish Horse were keen to mark his bravery in Carrickfergus. A plaque will be installed at the War Memorial Gardens on Friday too.

A lecture ‘Carrickfergus and the Victoria Cross’ will take place in the Town Hall at 7.30pm, Friday. For further information and to book a place for the lecture please contact Carrickfergus Museum on T: 028 9335 8241 or E: carrickfergusmuseums@midandeastantrim.gov.uk

Meanwhile, the Antrim Street museum is also hosting the Ulster Scots Agency’s exhibition, Ulster’s VC Heroes of the Great War until October 4.

Pte Crichton was born in Carrickfergus before the family moved to Scotland, where, in later life, Mr Crichton enlisted with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders at Edinburgh Castle and served in the Boer War.

He later emigrated to New Zealand and in August 1914 enlisted in the 1st Auckland Regiment, as a Corporal in the New Zealand Army Service Corps. Pte Crichton served in Gallipoli in 1915 and in France as a Company Quartermaster-Sergeant.

In April 1918, while serving as a Warrant Officer with the 1st NZ Field Bakery, he voluntarily relinquished his rank and transferred as a Private to the Auckland Infantry Regiment. James Crichton won his Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty near Crevecoeur, France, on September 30, 1918. The citation read: “Though suffering from a painful wound, he displayed the highest degree of valour and devotion to duty.”

He returned to New Zealand in June 1919 and was discharged in September of that year. In 1937 he attended the Coronation of King George VI as a Sergeant in the New Zealand Coronation Contingent. He died on September 27, 1961 and is buried in the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Waikumete, Auckland.