Thomas Joseph Crean VC, DSO
b. 19/04/1873 Dublin, Ireland. d. 25/03/1923 Mayfair, London.
Thomas Joseph Crean (1873-1923) was born in Morrison’s Hotel, Dawson Street, Dublin on the 19th April 1873. He was the fifth child of Michael Theobald Crean, a barrister who worked for the Irish Land Commission, and his wife Emma. His maternal grandparents, John and Maryanne Dunn, were the owners of the hotel where he was born. He was educated at Belvedere College, Dublin and finished his secondary education at another Jesuit College, Clongowes Wood College, Co Kildare where he spent his last three years as a border from 1889 to 1891. Tom was a fine athlete at school and excelled at both the quarter and half mile events. He was also a very strong swimmer and in September of 1891 when swimming with a group of fellow students he and another saved an Art’s student, Wm Ahern from drowning off Blackrock, Co Dublin. So at the age of 18 he won the first of his medals for bravery when he was awarded the Royal Humane Society’s medal for saving a life at sea.
In October of 1891 he commenced his medical studies at the Royal College of Surgeons in St Stephens Green Dublin and graduated as a Doctor in 1896 becoming a Licentiate of both the Royal College of Surgeons and The Royal College of Physicians.
While at school Tom played his rugby at Half-back and on joining Wanderers in 1891 he played in the same position for the third XV. He started to play as a forward in the 1892-3 season and was quickly promoted to the senior side. He represented Leinster against both Ulster & Munster in 1894,’95 &’96 and won his nine Irish caps, during this same period.
His international debut was against England at Blackheath on the 3.2.1894 and he played an important part in Ireland ’s historic first Championship & Triple Crown win that year. The following year Ireland won the “wooden spoon” however. in the last match of 1895, Tom showed his strength and drive when he scored Ireland ’s only points by catching a long line-out throw and dived across the line with a number of Welshmen hanging out of him. In 1896 Ireland were deprived of a second Triple Crown when Scotland came to Lansdowne Road and managed a scoreless draw. Once again Tom saved his best for the Championship decider against Wales, when he scored his second try for his Country in an 8 pts to 4 pts win.
The strength of Irish rugby at this time was reflected in the Anglo – Irish team that was selected to tour South Africa in 1896. He played in all four tests and scored a try in the second. The tour Captain, Johnny Hammond only played in seven of the twenty-one games and it was said that the real Captain was Tom Crean. A big man for the time, he was 6ft 1.5 ins tall and weighed 14 St 7 Lb.
When the tour finished he stayed on in SA and worked in the Johannesburg Hospital and played for the Johannesburg Wanderers Club. At the start of the Boer War Tom enlisted in the Imperial Light Horse as a trooper and in 1901 he became the Brigade’s Medical Officer. During the action with De Wet at Tygerskloof on the 18th December 1901, Crean continued to attend to the wounded in the firing line under a heavy fire at only 150 yards range, after he himself had been wounded, and only desisted when he was hit a second time, and as it was first thought, mortally wounded.
He was wounded in the stomach and arm during these encounters and was invalided back to England where he made a full recovery. On the 13th March 1902 he was presented with his VC by King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace and he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland in the same year. Tom continued to serve with the RMAC until 1906 when he returned to private practice in Harley Street.
In 1905 he married a Spanish woman and had a son and a daughter. At the outbreak of WWI, Tom re-joined the RAMC and served with the 1st Cavalry Brigade. Wounded several times and “mentioned in despatches”. He was awarded a DSO in June 1915. In Feb. 1916 he was promoted “Major” and commanded the 44th Field Ambulance, British Expeditionary Force, in France.
After the war, in London, hampered by ill health from the stress of his war service, Tom struggled to carry on his private practice and he died from diabetes on the 25th March 1923 aged 49. He is buried in St Mary’s RC Cemetery, Kensal Green, London. His VC can be seen at the Museum of Military Medicine, Keogh Barracks, Aldershot.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: MUSEUM OF MILITARY MEDICINE, KEOGH BARRACKS, ALDERSHOT.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARY’S R.C. CHURCHYARD, KENSAL GREEN, LONDON.