Like most Australians to this day, many of the ANZAC’s were either descended from immigrants, or even immigrants themselves. Corporal John Craig was born in Glasgow in Scotland. Before leaving for Australia he attended public school in Glasgow, and was apprenticed to an ironmonger for two years. It appears that the whole family emigrated to Australia around 1913, as when he enlisted on 18 June 1915 his next of kin were his parents, Andrew and Margaret Craig, who lived at Killingworth, New South Wales. It is also known that Craig had been in Australia for around 2 years before he enlisted.
When he enlisted Craig was 18 years and 10 months old. He was 5 foot and 8 3/4 inches tall, and weighed 140lbs. He had a fresh complexion, with hazel eyes, brown hair, and not unusually for his scottish ancestry, was a Presbyterian. He was a natural born British subject, and worked as a lamplighter prior to enlisting. He had served for 2 years with the Citizen forces, and before that for 6 months in the senior cadets. On enlistment he was drafted to the 17th Battalion of the Australian Infantry, a New South Wales recruited unit in the 5th Australian Infantry Brigade.
On 9 August 1915 Craig left Australia, onboard the trooship HMAT Runic (A54), from Sydney. After arriving at the AIF’s base in Egypt, and a period of training, on 4 October 1915 he joined up with the 17th Battalion at Gallipoli. Like many of his comrades at Gallipoli, Craig was soon struck down with an unpleasant illness – Dysentery. On 1 December 1915 he was admitted to the Hospital Ship Dongola from ANZAC Beach. From there he was transported to the Greek Hospital in Alexandria. He was eventually discharged on 19 January 1916.
After a short period back with his Battalion at Ters-el-Kebir, on 17 March 1916 Craig embarked at Alexandria to join the British Expeditionary Force in France, disembarking at Marseilles on 23 March. On 30 January 1917, Craig was promoted to Lance Corporal. Not long after this, however, he was admitted to hospital on 14 March 1917 with Trench Foot. He rejoined his Battalion two weeks later on 28 March, before being quickly promoted to full Corporal on a Temporary basis on 19 April 1917.
After Eighteen months on the Western Front, on 1 September 1917 Craig was posted to England, for a well-earned ‘rest’ at the 5th Australian Traning Battalion in England. The 5th Battalion were based at Longbridge Deverill, on Salisbury Plain. Later in the war ANZAC recruits were trained in England prior to going over the Channel, with the ANZAC depot being based on Weymouth. After 6 months in England, during which Craig also attended a Gas Instructors course, he returned to his Battalion in France on 8 March 1918. He was not there long before being struck down with Trench Foot again. On 8 April he was admitted to the 20th Casualty Clearing Station, and from there to the 11th Stationary Hospital in Rouen. His case was obviously serious, for on 18 March he was shipped back to England, and admitted to the 2/1st Southern General Hospital in Dudley Road, Birmingham.
Craig was not fully fit for another 4 months, when on 2 July 1918 he was discharged from a convalescence depot to a training brigade, in order to prepare him for his return to the front line. A month later on 3 August he went to France, via Folkestone, before finally rejoining his Battalion on 10 August 1918.
Although the war only had several months left to run, there was still much serious fighting taking place in 1918. After the Germans last desparate attempt to break through had stalled, the Allies in turn began to push the Germans back towards their own borders. The ANZACS were obviously in the thick of this, for on 5 October 1918 Corporal Craig was seriously wounded. He was admitted to the 58th Casualty Clearing Station with Gunshot Wounds in his left thigh, left chest, left arm and left hand. From there he was taken to the 47th General Hospital at Le Treport, before going back to England on 26 October. On 28 October he was admitted to the 5th Southern General Hospital in Portsmouth, at Fawcett Road.
Sadly his wounds were serious, and his condition did not improve. Corporal Craig died at 4.15am on 17 November, in Portsmouth. The cause of death was given as a shrapnel round in his right thigh, and a compound fracture of the femur – wounds that differed somewhat from those described when he was first wounded. The First World War had ended six days earlier.
The actual report of Craig’s death is given below, verbatim:
Compound fracture left femur. Large wound outside left thigh just above knee fragments of femur can be seen. Another wk in hospital space healthy. Also wnd in upper and outer part of left upper arm no injury to deep structure. Same day haemorrhage occurred on the night of 15/11/1918 was plugged. Ch3 was given and wound opened up considerable amounts of haemorrhaging from which he did not recover and he died 4.15am 17/11/1918 as result of secondary haemorrhage.
Craig was buried in Milton Cemetery on 21 November 1918, in a full military funeral with a firing party, bugler, band and pallbearers, officiated by Reverend Gilmour Neil. The undertaker was Mr A.G. Stapleford, of Craswell Street in Portsmouth. Although there were no friends or family present, AIF HQ in London was represented.
His personal effects were received by his family in Australia in 1919 – 1 Jack Knife, 4 discs, 1 note book, 1 wrist watch, 1 photo case, 1 pipe, 1 fountain pen, 1 corkscrew, badges, 1 wallet, photos, postcards, letters, 1 L1/2d stamp, 2 prs sock, 1 coin, 1 purse. Also in 1919 a Miss P. Ward, from Rozelle in New South Wales, wrote to the Australian Army, asking for Craig’s relatives address, as he had been very kind to her eldest brother when he was killed, and had written to her describing how he was killed – a very touching personal story amongst the administrative details of a service record.
In 1920 Craig, along with the other Australians buried in Milton Cemetery, was exhumed and re-interred, in order to lie next to his countrymen. In a strange quirk of fate a very brave and very distinguished soldier found himself buried in the country that he had left seven years before, after sailing to the other side of the world to start a new life.
If anybody has any information about Corporal John Craig, or any of the other Australian soldiers buried in Portsmouth, please feel free to contact me.
- Austrlian war dead buried in Portsmouth (dalyhistory.wordpress.com)
- ANZAC #1 – Private Andrew Boyd (dalyhistory.wordpress.com)