Permanent memorial will honour Mid and East Antrim VC hero James Crichton and North Irish Horse

James Crichton VC
James Crichton VC

A permanent memorial to a Carrickfergus-born Victoria Cross hero will be installed in the town this September in honour of his remarkable bravery during the Great War.

James Bell Crichton was bestowed the prestigious military accolade for his incredible courage during the conflict, including facing a barrage of enemy machinegun 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 agreed to the permanent memorial to Mr Crichton in recognition of his exemplary service and contribution to the war effort.

On Monday evening, it was confirmed that the VC commemorative stone to James Crichton will be unveiled on Friday 28 September in Carrickfergus’ War Memorial Gardens.

Mayor of Mid and East Antrim, 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 also agreed 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 in early September.

Col West’s parents were from Ulster, and the North Irish Horse were keen to mark his bravery in Carrickfergus.

Council has agreed to have a plaque recognising the North Irish Horse and the bravery of Col West, installed at the War Memorial gardens.

It is anticipated that both the stone and the plaque will be dedicated at the 28 September event. The public will be invited to attend and details will be circulated online.

Mr 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.

Mr 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 30 September 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 27 September 1961 and is buried in the Soldiers’ Cemetery at Waikumete, Auckland.

A Blue Plaque was unveiled at the Woodburn Road birthplace of Mr Crichton in 2006.

The North Irish Horse have strong links to Carrickfergus.

Established following the end of the Boer War, they have a strong and distinguished history, including during the First and Second World Wars.

The restored Churchill Tank on display at Carrickfergus War Memorial reflects the military vehicles built in Carrickfergus and used by the North Irish Horse during the Second World War.

In 2015 the North Irish Horse were granted the first Freedom of the new Mid and East Antrim Borough. The links to Carrickfergus are further remembered each year as the Battle of the Hitler Line Commemoration takes place in May.

James Crichton’s full Victoria Cross citation read: “Although wounded in the foot, he continued to advance with the troops, despite difficult canal and river obstacles. When his platoon was subsequently forced back by a counterattack, he succeeded in carrying a message. This involved his swimming a river and crossing an area swept by machine-gun fire before he subsequently rejoined his platoon. Later, he undertook on his own initiative to save a bridge which had been mined, and although under close fire of machine guns and snipers, he succeeded in removing the charges, returning with the fuses and detonators. Though suffering from a painful wound, he displayed the highest degree of valour and devotion to duty.”

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