b. 17/06/1888 Winnipeg, Canada. d. 30/08/1961 Blaby, Leicestershire..
Robert Edward Cruickshank (1888-1961) was the first of five children and was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, on 17th June 1888. His Scottish forebears came from Sutherland and his father also called Robert was from Aberdeen. His two brothers and two sisters were all born in England. His youngest brother, John, died at the age of 10 in 1913, tripping as he alighted from a moving tram and fracturing his skull. He had been out shopping with a friend to buy a Scout’s cape. His middle brother, Percy, also volunteered for the Army, and was killed while serving in the Royal Fusiliers on the Western Front in 1917, aged 19. He is buried in France.
When Robert was three, his family left Canada for England and he was educated at Central Foundation School, Cowper Street, London. He later attended Bancroft’s School, Woodford Green, Essex. After leaving school, he worked as a travelling salesman, joining first Lipton, then the Lever Company. He was very interested in military matters and joined the City of London Yeomanry (The Rough Riders), a volunteer unit from 1908–1911.
At some stage his family moved to Harringay, North London, and he became involved in the Scouting movement shortly after it was established. He became an Assistant Scoutmaster. He was also involved in local politics and was noted as a good speaker. He supported Percy Alden MP in several election campaigns.
Robert joined the services on 9th November 1915 and began with the Royal Flying Corps before transferring at his own request to the 2/14th London Scottish (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment, in France, for the second half of 1916. He took part at the Battle of the Somme and was wounded at Leuze Wood on 10th September. After being invalided back to England, he recovered and went back to the 3rd Battalion before joining the 2nd Battalion in Salonika in February 1917. He became part of what became known as “G.N. Smith’s Draft” when the battalion was based at Katerini. The battalion consisted of 200 men, many of whom were former 1st Battalion men who had served in France, including probably Corporal Charles Train, the battalion’s first VC. Cruickshank would then serve for the remainder of the war in Egypt and Palestine.
On 1st May 1918, north of Shunet Nimrin, to the east of the River Jordan, the platoon to which Private Cruickshank belonged came under very heavy rifle and machine-gun fire at short range and was led down a steep bank into a wadi, most of the men being hit before they reached the bottom. Immediately after reaching the bottom of the wadi the officer in command was shot dead, and the sergeant who then took over command sent a runner back to Company Headquarters asking for support, but was mortally wounded almost immediately after; the corporal having in the meantime been killed, the only remaining N.C.O. (a lance-corporal), believing the first messenger to have been killed, called for a volunteer to take a second message back. Private Cruickshank immediately responded and rushed up the slope, but was hit and rolled back into the wadi bottom. He again rose and rushed up the slope, but, being again wounded, rolled back into the wadi. After his wounds had been dressed he rushed a third time up the slope and again fell badly wounded. Being now unable to stand he rolled himself back amid a hail of bullets. His wounds were now of such a nature as to preclude him making any further attempt and he lay all day in a dangerous position, being sniped at and again wounded here he lay. he displayed the utmost valour and endurance, and was cheerful and uncomplaining throughout.
He was gazetted for the VC on 21st June 1918, and was presented with the medal by King George V in the ballroom of Buckingham Palace on 24th October 1918. Shortly afterwards following the end of the war, Lieutenant-General Sir Robert Baden-Powell was present at a fete in Wood Green, Tottenham, at which Private Cruickshank was presented with a gold watch by Messrs Lipton, his former employers. The fete was held in aid of a fund and he was presented with a £200 War Bond and a cheque for £50. He was given a £100 War Bond by Lord Leverhulme on behalf of his other employers Lever Brothers Ltd.
Cruickshank was discharged on 5th February 1919 and a few weeks later married Gwendoline May Mansell of Bush Hill Park, London on 22nd March. In the following year, he attended the Buckingham Palace VC Garden Party and the Cenotaph and Westminster Abbey services on 11th November. He also attended the 1929 House of Lords VC Dinner, the June 1946 VE Parade and dinner, and the 1956 VC Centenary Celebrations at Hyde Park. He also attended the first two dinners of the VC/GC Association.
He worked as an agent for Lever Brothers of Port Sunlight and in the late 1920s probably lived in the south. During the Second World War he became a member of 5th Leicestershire Home Guard, attaining the rank of Major and Company Commander until they were disbanded. He was Chairman of the Essex County Committee of the British Legion. He retired from work after 39 years on 17th June 1953. He was a regular attendant of 2nd Battalion regimental reunions and other functions at HQ.
He was also involved in local politics and was Chairman of the parish council in Glen Parva for 13 years and a member of the Leicester Association of Parish Councils. He also held positions on the Leicester Playing Fields Association, the Leicester and Rutland Rural Industries Committee and Chairman of the Local National Savings Committee.
Cruickshank had suffered a stroke on 17th August 1961 at home, which deprived him of movement on his left side, and, although he partially recovered, he died a few days later on the 30th at 13 Cork Lane, Glen Hills, Glen Parva, Leicester. His funeral took place at the Gilroes Crematorium in Leicester, and his ashes were laid to rest in the Garden of Remembrance on the north side of the nearby All Saints Churchyard, Blaby. He had no children, and his wife lived to the age of 103.
After his death, his miniature medals were passed to his niece and they included the VC, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. His decorations were presented to his widow to the London Scottish on 1st October 1962 and they can be seen by appointment at the Regimental Museum in Horseferry Road, London, together with those of Charles Train.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LONDON SCOTTISH REGIMENT MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: GILROES CREMATORIUM, LEICESTER. ASHES THEN SCATTERED ON NORTH SIDE OF ALL SAINTS CHURCH, BLABY, LEICESTERSHIRE.
Kevin Brazier – Cruickshank’s Medal Group at the London Scottish Museum, London
Brian Drummond – Images of the Freemason’s Memorial in London, and Cruickshank VC’s duplicate stone in Glen Parva Park, Leicester.