Bedales 1905.2 - 1913.2

Alan was the second son of Ernest Crundwell and his wife Norah née Beale.  On both sides of the family he was descended from farmers.  The Crundwells hailed from the area around Tonbridge where Alan’s paternal grandfather William Thomas (born 1810) was described as a Tanner in the 1841 census.  Ten years later he was still a Tanner but also a Currier and a Farmer and by 1861 his occupation was simply “Farmer”.  The two sons of his first marriage followed in his footsteps, the younger Arthur being by far the more successful.  Alan’s father was the only child of the second marriage and took a different path.  I haven’t found out about his earlier education but by 1881 he was a Solicitor’s Clerk, living in Clapham.

Alan’s maternal great-grandfather, Richard Beale, was a Miller and Farmer in the Frensham area.  By 1871 his son Benjamin was farming 300 acres, aided by 13 men and 6 boys; ten years later the farm had lost 40 acres and employed slightly fewer men.  In 1886, when his daughter Norah married Ernest Crundwell, Benjamin declared himself to be a Yeoman; he was still claiming that ancient status at the time of his death in 1892. 

By the time their first child, Nora Mary, was baptised in October 1888 the Crundwells were settled in Farnham: (I have been unable to find out more about her).  Eldest son, Ernest Frederick, was baptised there in December 1888.  Young Ernest was the first of the Crundwells to come to Bedales, entering the school in January 1900 two terms before it moved to Steep.  After Easter 1905 he was joined by his ten year old brother Alan, but I think he would have started in the new Junior School, Dunhurst.  Ernest left in the summer of 1906: I don’t know where he pursued his education but by 1911 he was a Solicitor’s clerk, articled to his father. By the Summer term of 1907 Alan was one of the youngest boys in the Senior School.

Throughout his School career Alan featured in the newly established Bedales Chronicle.  In his first year he was reported as playing a piano duet in the Junior Concert and winning a prize for an essay entitled “The Cape to Cairo”.  The following year he was again playing in a concert, taking part in a Junior Debate and helping deliver a lecture about electro-magnets to the Junior Scientific Society.  Ten-year-old Kathleen joined her brother –initially at Dunhurst – in the autumn of 1909.  By 1911, Alan was having success in athletics, running “resplendent in light blue” and in the Sports Competitions in May helped his team (the Blues) to victory by “scoring 70 points by his own endeavours”.  Later that year he was a Squad Commander in the elite group: the Fire Brigade.

In his final year (1912 – 1913) the range of Alan’s activities was demonstrated.  A member of the Library Committee, he represented it on the Finance Committee, was Captain of Football and a School Prefect.  He was still taking part in debates and playing the piano, performing two pieces by Greig in the Senior Concert.  He was one of the best tennis players, active in swimming, had passed the School Certificate examinations and won a prize for his experiments in producing dyestuffs from coal tar derivatives, described as “a careful and patient task”.  Alan capped his school career by being Head Boy throughout his final year.

In the summer of 1913 Alan left Bedales for a course in chemistry at the University of Freiberg in Baden.  His destination in the autumn of 1914 was to be Caius College, Cambridge but he was yet another Bedalian whose plans were shattered by the outbreak of war in August.  He had enrolled at Caius but his application for a commission says it had been submitted initially on 11th August.  In fact a dreadfully tattered form of application for a Short Service Commission (3 years with the Colours) dated 15th September 1914 is in his file at Kew.  He declared himself to be 19 years 1 month old and an “undergrad”.  He had already undergone a medical examination on 4th September where he was described as 5 feet 9¾ inches tall, weighing 11 stone 7lbs with a dark complexion, light grey eyes and brown hair.  He was declared fit for service and enlisted as Gunner (service number 5832) in the 18th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.  By November, however, when he visited Bedales, he was serving as a Temporary Lieutenant with the 11th Battalion of the Liverpool Regiment at Aldershot.  His brother Ernest, who also had enlisted on 11th August, “having signed the Foreign Service form” was reported in the same 15th November edition of The Bedales Chronicle as being en route for India.

There is considerable correspondence between Alan’s CO and the War Office about the fact that he had applied for a commission in September which the War Office denied; “there is no trace in the Department of any previous application on the prescribed form”.  This is possibly a reflection of the pressure on the War Office by the mass of applications in the first months of the war.  Finally, supported by his CO, on 25th December (!) he was “Nominated for Appointment to a Temporary Commission in the Regular Army for the Period of the War”, medically examined at Aldershot on December 28th and declared fit for service.  On 19th May 1915 he embarked at Folkestone for France and The Chronicle of 14th July reported “Crundwell is now at Ypres”.

In October 1915 Kathleen Crundwell became a member of The Bedales Chronicle committee so I presume she supplied information about her brothers’ progress.  Ernest Crundwell senior received telegrams despatched on 8th and 9th November, informing him that Alan had been accidentally wounded “with slight gunshot wound forearm”.  There is some confusion about the date of the accident (4th or 5th November) and its cause.  On 9th November he left Boulogne for England and initially was in No 14 General Hospital.  By 11th November it was notified that in fact he was suffering from “Grenade wounds right arm” and was in Hospital 10 at 7 Mandeville Place.  A Medical Board at Caxton Hall on 18th November reported that a fragment of the bomb had entered the arterial muscles his right forearm “traversed the arterial muscles injuring the bones” but there was “no evidence of marked injury to any important nerves.  The entrance wound is still septic” but the injury was “severe not permanent”.  Consequently, he was declared unfit for General Service for two months.

A Medical Board at Aldershot on 11th January reported, “his wounds are now healed and all movements of forearm and hand are complete but the strength of the hand is still a bit impaired” so he was still unfit for General Service and sent to Prees Heath camp in Shropshire to join his regiment.  A month later he was declared fully fit and by the end of February was back in France.  At the same time, Ernest had been sent from India to Mesopotamia where, in September it was reported he had been promoted to Corporal.  Alan became a temporary Captain in October and must then have had some home leave for, in early November from his nearby home at Farnham, he visited Bedales, presumably chiefly to see his sister. 

In March 1917 it was in Alan’s Mess that he and four other Bedalians, Kennard, Winser, Whyte and Murray met and sent back news of their reunion to The Chronicle.  It was seven months before The Chronicle reported any more news of him: in October 1917 it was announced he had become a permanent Captain.  (They didn’t know that in March 1917 Ernest had been commissioned 2nd Lieutenant in the Queen’s Regiment, Royal West Surreys: he was a full Lieutenant on 27th June.)  However, Mr. Badley had some more information about Alan, recounted in his “In Memoriam” tribute in The Bedales Record in September 1918.  “In March of this year”, he wrote, “he was made temporary Area Commandant of a district and also one of the two lecture officers for the division.  Not being attached to any company, he had orders when the retreat began, to retire to Divisional Headquarters; but finding his old battalion hard pressed and short of officers, he took over half a company and went into action with them.”

Alan was the second Bedalian casualty of the German offensive.  A telegram, despatched to his father on 4th April, reported that his son was wounded and missing on 23rd March.  In response to Ernest’s request for further information the War Office despatched a pamphlet describing “the steps taken by the War Office to trace missing Officers”, decidedly faster and more thorough than the check on missing private soldiers.  He was advised if Alan had been taken prisoner he would be able to send news to his father via the Geneva Red Cross”.

From the beginning of May to early June there is a record in Alan’s file (WO339/31257) of correspondence about the report of Private Coxhead.  In his first report he said that “Captain Crundwell was hit by a bullet through the head and killed instantaneously – six of the battalion were with him & his body was left in the German lines – it was during the retirement.  Captain Crundwell had only been up to take over the command half an hour as Captain Bennett had been killed.”  Another piece of evidence was provided by Private McKenzie of A company.  “I was near to him, a yard or two away and saw him hit in the head and fall; he did not speak and I am quite sure he was dead.  This was out in the open during our retirement and the Germans held that ground about 5 minutes later.”

The Adjutant wrote to Mr. Crundwell that “they were retiring in very close touch with the enemy and putting up a most magnificent fight, almost the last to leave the position, … the enemy attack passed on over him.”  His Colonel also wrote to the family saying, “What he did was the act of a very brave man, but absolutely typical of Alan.”  On 25th July the War Office announced, “In view of this evidence (from Pte. Coxhead) and the lapse of time since he was reported Wounded and Missing, the death of …the officer has now been accepted for official purposes as having occurred on the 2nd March 1918.”

His effects, listed below, were eventually returned to his father.

“Cigarette holder in case, broken; Letters (1 packet); Cards: Cheque Book; Cheque Book counterfoils: Prayer Book: Diaries: Book (Watchwords): Despatch case (locked).”

Alan Crundwell is commemorated on Panel 21 to 23 of the Pozieres Memorial, on the memorial in the churchyard of St. Thomas on the Bourne, Farnham and in Bay 3 in The Bedales Memorial Library.

Fortunately for the Crundwell family, eldest son Ernest survived the war, serving first as a private, then corporal and finally being commissioned in the Queen’s Regiment (the West Surreys).  He returned to Farnham to live out his life as a Solicitor there.

Sources:  The Bedales Archives: TNA @ Kew: Genealogical sites: Military websites.