Private William Crooks


The background of this North Irish Horseman is not known for certain at present, other than that he was born in or around 1894 and that he was from Cookstown, County Tyrone.

He was, most likely, the William John Crooks born on 14 September 1893 at Mackenny, Cookstown, the seventh of eight children of farmer William John Crooks and his Canadian-born wife Mary Jane (nee Casey). Although he grew up at Mackenny, by the time of the 1911 Census he was living with three of his sisters at 64 Dundee Street, Belfast, and working as a cutter in a wareroom

(Another possibility is that he was the William Henry Crooks born on 23 October 1893 at Lismoney, Moneymore, son of flax dresser John Crooks and his wife Mary (nee Nelson)).

Crooks enlisted in the North Irish Horse between 13 January and 1 February 1913 (No.782). Around that time he was living at Millburn Street, Cookstown. On 20 August 1914 he embarked for France with C Squadron, seeing action on the retreat from Mons and advance to the Aisne.

Crooks was mentioned in an article published on 28 November 1914 by the Mid-Ulster Mail:

Driver W. J. Arbuthnott, of the North Irish Horse, son of Mr. W. J. Arbuthnott, Drumbanaway, writing to a friend says:--"I am quite well, but I do not know the minute I may be laid low. Still I keep a brave heart and take everything light-heartedly and gay, and as long as the Lord spares me I will do my duty as a soldier and a man. Taking God for my guide I fear no foe. I have come through a few battles safely. All the rest of the boys are well and doing good work at the front, especially the Cookstown chaps. We are very well looked after with food and clothes, and we never want for anything, and not one of the Cookstown party of the North Irish Horse has got a wound, though all have shown up bravely at the post of duty. Sergeant Ashcroft, John Maxwell, Samuel Espey, Willie Crooks, Willie Anderson, George Henry, and Albert James McKenna, are the Cookstown fellows in the same troop as me. The French people are very kind to us. Almost all the work on the farms is done by bullocks and the carting by dogs. It seems wonderful to us how bullocks and dogs could be trained for such work. The main crops are wheat and sugar beet, with lots of vineyards. I have seen the Indian troops in action. They are doing good work, but are very hard to keep back. They run up and down charging the enemy with bayonets.

... and in another article published on 12 December 1914:

Trooper Robert Averall, of the North Irish Horse, writing to Mr. John G. Gamble, of Magherafelt, in 2nd inst., says – "We are having a badly needed rest just now, as our horses were nearly played out. Cavalry is not much use in the trenches, but we hope to get plenty of work when the Germans get on the move again, and I hope the next halt will be in Berlin. It is hardly likely we will be home for Christmas, but I hope we will be there for the 'Twelfth!' Four Cookstown fellows are here in my troop – Sergeant Ashcroft, Corporal Espie, Lance-Corporal Henry, and Trooper Willie Crooks. We are visited by the enemy's aeroplanes almost every day. They fly over our lines and drop bombs all over the place but do not do much damage, and we usually manage to bring them down in the end. We were on guard during the King's visit, and were on the look out for spies. We succeeded in capturing two disguised as shepherds. They had some sheep and a dog. We are getting tired of mutton chops, so we will perhaps try dog-flesh for a change!! Remember me to all the comrades in the U.V.F., and tell them I am hoping to rejoin their ranks soon.

One document suggests that by April 1915 Crooks had joined the regiment's A Squadron, but this has not been confirmed.

In mid-1916 A Squadron joined with D and E Squadrons to form the 1st North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to VII then XIX Corps. C Squadron joined with F Squadron and the 6th (Inniskilling) Dragoons Service Squadron to form the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment, serving as corps cavalry to X Corps.

In September 1917 the 2nd North Irish Horse Regiment was disbanded and most of its men, together with some surplus to the needs of the 1st NIH Regiment, were transferred to the 9th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers – renamed the 9th (North Irish Horse) Battalion. Crooks, like most, was transferred on 20 September. He was issued a new regimental number – 41257. He probably saw action with the battalion at the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917.

On 28 December 1917 Crooks was one of twenty-four former North Irish Horsemen who transferred from the 9th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers, to the Tank Corps (No.304869). Following training at the Tank Corps Depot at Bovington near Wareham, Dorset, Crooks was posted to the 15th Battalion with the rank of gunner.

On 15 January 1919 Crooks was discharged and transferred to Class Z, Army Reserve.