The Canadian Corps, alongside the Australian and New Zealand contingents serving in the British Army, were subject to certain stereotypes associated with “colonials”. The picture of a wild, unrestrained soldier was manifest in Private John Croak, who served with both the 55th and 13th Battalions during the First World War.
Coming from a coal mining background, Croak enlisted on August 7th, 1915. A month of basic training at home was followed by further training in England. After arriving early in November, Pvt. Croak spent only a few days out of trouble before being arrested and detained for drunkenness by military authorities – a trend that would continue, as Croak was detained 5 times in his 5 months on English soil. However, his behaviour seemed to change with a transfer to the 13th Battalion in April 1917.
Almost immediately after arriving in France, Pvt. Croak found himself fighting with the 13th at Vimy Ridge. Their victory was followed up with successful campaigns at Hill 70 and Passchendaele, lending further credibility to the Canadian reputation as elite soldiers. While Croak endured 1917, he and the 13th suffered heavy casualties.
Infamy followed Pvt. Croak at the front lines. Regarded as a soldier’s soldier by his mates, Croak would earn the utmost respect of his country for his efforts in action at Hangard Wood, on the opening day of the Battle of Amiens – August 8th, 1918. Machine gun nests blocked the path of the 13th Battalion, pinning them down and inflicting heavy losses. Croak assaulted the first, taking five prisoners and a wound to the arm. Upon his return, Croak captured a second nest – saving his platoon, but giving his life.
Croak was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions. He holds the distinct honour of being the first Newfoundland-born winner of the V.C, and the last Nova Scotian to have it awarded during the First World War. Croak is buried in the Hangard Wood Cemetery in France. As we approach the centennial days of the Hundred Day’s Campaign, No Stone Left Alone hopes to honour the memory of all Canadian war dead.