Last week someone was kind enough to leave a comment on this site about William Guy Cronk, one of the early casualties of the war from Sevenoaks. William’s medals, along with his memorial plaque and a letter addressed to him, had just been sold at an auction in Hampshire. Listed in the catalogue with a guide price of a couple of hundred pounds, the plaque and trio eventually sold for £1650 after some determined telephone bidding. Initially I was annoyed that I hadn’t seen the medals were up for sale but was consoled by the fact that they were sold for a price way above my medal purchasing budget.
As William is listed on the Sevenoaks War Memorial he is mentioned in my book. He was born on 26th April 1893 and was the only child of William Henry Cronk (1848-1921), a land agent, and his wife Winifred Ruth nee Kidd (1872-1956). The 1901 census shows the family living on Sevenoaks High Street but by 1911 they have moved to Northamptonshire, living with five servants, from parlour maid to coachman and groom. In his obituary the family home is given as Suffolk Place, Sevenoaks.
William was educated privately in Westgate on Sea, before going to Eton and then to the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. According to the Bond of Sacrifice, he enjoyed hunting, polo, cricket and tennis. After graduation he choose to enlist with the East Kent Regiment, The Buffs, and was attached to the King’s Royal Rifles. He was commissioned as Second Lieutenant in March 1914 and left immediately for the Front after completing his training on the last day of that September.
William was killed in action 2 miles east of Zonnebeke near Ypres, on 26 October 1914 whilst leading his platoon in an attack on the German trenches. He was on attachment to 1 Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps at the time.
According to the War Diary
“2/Lt Cronk (Buff S.R Attached) was killed on the right. – apparently he was under the impression that the Germans were retiring out of their trenches and rushed forward with part of his platoon. The Germans allowed them to get well out onto the open and then opened a very heavy fire. Almost all of this party were either killed or wounded.”
The battalion suffered 13 killed and 34 wounded – most from D Company (Cronk was D Coy). He was the only officer killed. Two others were wounded.
William was the first fatality to be featured in detail by the Sevenoaks Chronicle, with a photo included in the obituary. The paper recorded that his friend, the Rev. Herbert Fleming, whom he had first met at the Military Academy where Fleming was then Chaplain, wrote to his parents:
“He has died leading his men like the gallant lad he was, without fear and pain”.
He wrote that he had quickly gained the trust and affection of his men, being always thoughtful of them and the best young officer they had.
“This was said before they knew I was his friend. I cannot grieve for him, as no one could desire a greater death or a better epitaph, but for you I do grieve and pray to God to comfort you. I expect to march again tomorrow, and may not be able to kneel by his grave, as he is in another brigade, but I will do if I can”.
William Cronk is remembered on the Menin Gate and in his former parish church of St Nicholas, with a memorial plaque. When his father died in 1921, he was buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas and William was also remembered on the gravestone.
Memorials to William Cronk inside St Nicholas as well on the family grave in the churchyard
I would be very pleased to hear from any family members – the Cronks had a long history in Seal and Sevenoaks and other family members are also buried at St Nicholas – and from the person who bought the medals!
UPDATE: Paul, the bidder who bought the medals successfully has got in touch and kindly shared a photograph of them.