Date of Death:23/09/1916
Cemetery:Dar es Salaam War Cemetery
photo courtesy of researchers Harry Fecitt, David Hill,Desmond Brice-Bennett,Scott Hahn & all at the South Africa War Graves Project
Alfred Crossland was born in Darwen on December 4th 1875, his parents being Joseph and Mary Ann. Joseph Crossland, an Iron Grinder, was originally from Birkenshaw in Yorkshire and Mary Ann had been born in Blackburn. Alfred was the third of six children, his siblings being Betsy, Hannah, Thomas, Margaret and Herbert. By the time Alfred was two or three years of age the family had moved to Oldham and at the time of the 1881 census were living at 41 Tilton Street there. Later that decade the Crosslands moved to Royton and in 1891 could be found at 1 Ethel Street. At that time 15 year old Alfred had followed his father into the same industry and was working as an iron glazier.
Sadly after the 1891 census Alfred there are no definite sightings of him in the historical record for a full 24 years until he surfaces again having enlisted in the 2nd Battalion Rhodesia Regiment in 1915. An Alfred Crossland was the best man at a wedding at St.Paul's in Royton in 1899 (Hugh Turner married Mary Bodell) and it's probable that that was him.He obviously emigrated to Rhodesia at some point after that - it would seem before the 1901 census was taken, or at least he had left England by then.Once in Rhodesia it's not know what he did for a living or whether he was married and had children. Also no record can be found of him having served in the pre war Army but that cannot be discounted. His parents remained behind in Royton and it was there that his father Joseph died in 1904 aged 63.
At the outbreak of war many white Rhodesians rushed to answer the mother country's call and despite never having conscription contributed a greater percentage of it's manpower than any other country of the Empire, Britain included. Alfred Crossland joined the ranks of the 2nd Battalion Rhodesia Regiment, which had been raised in November 1914, on January 15th 1915.
The Battalion left Rhodesia in March of that year for service in East Africa against the Germans there and arrived at Mombasa aboard the SS Umzumbi on the 9th of that month. There followed much skirmishing against Germans and African troops under their command, all the while the numbers of the Battalion were lessening due to disease. It was proving impossible for little Rhodesia to supply enough recruits to make up the losses and a draft of South Africans was required but this too was not enough.
On February 12th 1916 the Battalion was involved in the Battle of Salaita Hill which resulted in a British defeat. They were not part of the assaulting force but were noted for holding their line whilst under fire as beaten units streamed past them in disorder. The following month at Latema-Nek the Rhodesians distinguished themselves with two groups of men reaching the summit of the hill they were attacking but were then cut off from support, they valiantly held out however until the next morning. More losses were suffered in this action but combat deaths were always outnumbered by the sheer amount of men dropping from illness and disease, the Battalion was constantly shrinking in size. The unit was sent to the Nairobi area for a rest and reached there on March 29th some 333 strong, down from a full complement of 800.
On May 15th when they were sent back towards the front their numbers had risen to 495 but many of these men were racked with fever or weak from dysentery. By May 30th upon their next skirmish with the enemy they were already down to 300 men. The staggering losses through disease continued and as part of the force following up behind the retreating Germans they numbered on June 18th, only 170 men. There were further actions with the enemy to come in July and August but by then the Battalion numbered probably 120 men fit enough to fight.
Alfred Crossland died on September 23rd 1916 in Karonque. It is highly likely that this was through one of the many diseases that had destroyed the 2nd Battalion Rhodesia Regiment rather than through wounds received in action. The Battalion returned home in early 1917, a battalion in name only, and was disbanded later that year due to the lack of available manpower to replenish it's ranks.
Alfred received no mention in the pages of the Oldham Chronicle after his death but his family had his name put on the Royton War Memorial. His mother Mary Ann died in 1921 aged 75 and is buried in Royton Cemetery along with Alfred's father Joseph, brother Thomas and sister Hannah.
If you can add any detail to the missing years in Alfred's story please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org