Family in lost First World War medals appeal

William Crowder
William Crowder

With the anniversary of the First World War fast approaching, a Horncastle family is appealing for the return of medals which were stolen over 30 years ago.

William Harrison Crowder was awarded the Distinguished Service Order after being captured by German troops in 1917.

William returned home in 1918 and became the fifth generation to run the family firm of nurserymen and seed merchants, which is still open today in Lincoln Road, Horncastle.

Shortly after his death in 1979 his house was burgled and his medals, including the DSO, were stolen along with a number of low value items of antique brass.

The oldest of William’s 12 grandchildren Robert Holland said: “Someone somewhere knows where these medals are.

“After all, his name may be engraved on the suspension bar.

“We are not interested in retribution. We’d simply like to see the medals back where they belong, in the family archive.

“It would be absolutely marvellous if they somehow turned up after all this time.”

The items were taken from Thimbleby Hall.

The medal was issued without the name of the recipient being engraved on it, but some medals do bear the name of a recipient engraved on the reverse of the suspension bar.

The Crowder family’s wartime story is being told in ‘Tell Them of Us’, a film to be produced by WAG Screen, the Lincoln heritage filmmakers.

Having embarked for France on the same day in November 1917 that his brother Robert Ashley Crowder was killed in action at Passchendaele, 2Lt William Crowder 256th Brigade RFA, attached to the 51st Highland Division, found himself in the front line by March 1918.

He was put in command of a forward observation post in No Man’s Land after making a request for leave.

Rather than going through his battery commander, he went straight to his Colonel with his request.

William’s command started on March 20, just a few hours before the Germans launched what is known as the Spring Offensive.

The Offensive lasted for four months and saw the loss of more than 1.5 million lives. Wilfred Owen also wrote a poem about it.

Although there was a thick mist, he made every effort to observe the movement and advance of the German army, following their artillery bombardment that began at 5am.

By 9.53am he was able to advise HQ by field telephone that the enemy were all around the observation post and were throwing bombs into it.

His last words to HQ at 10am were: “They’re coming over in thousands.” At that point he asked the young subaltern, who spoke a little German, to shout up to the advancing Germans that they were surrendering and they were taken into captivity.

His capture was mentioned in the April 13, 1918 edition of the Horncastle News, which was published on a Saturday.

“On Wednesday Mr and Mrs W A Crowder, Thimbleby Hall, Horncastle were informed by wire that their son Lieut Wm Harrison Crowder RFA was wounded and a prisoner in German hands.”

William eventually got home just in time for Christmas 1918.

Two years later, in 1920, he was at Buckingham Palace to receive his DSO from King George V for his gallantry on that day in the spring of 1918.

The DSO was originally instituted in 1886 for officers of the British Army and Commonwealth Forces, usually at the rank of Major.

It was, however, also awarded to officers at a rank above or below Major and could be awarded for an act of meritorious or distinguished service in wartime and usually when under fire or in the presence of the enemy.

William is remembered with his brother as part of the Robert Ashley Crowder Memorial Window at Thimbleby’s St Margaret’s Church.

Robert and William are depicted as red-headed brothers in arms, as they were in life.