by Edward Liddle
Between 1915 and 1919 Wisden published well over 1,000 obituaries of cricketers killed during the "War to End All Wars." Some of the fallen were, of course, well knownto the game's followers, the Australian fast bowler "Tibby" Cotter who haddestroyed the early Dublin University batting in College Park in 1905, breaking this writer's grandfather's nose in the process was one, the classic Kent and England slow-left-armer Colin Blythe another.
However the bulk of those featured had often done little more - sometimes less - than play for their public school 1st XI a few years - or in some cases months - before they met their fate. This produced some memorable notices, such as that of Sub-Lieutenant Rupert Brooke, featured for heading the Rugby School bowling averages in 1906 but who, the Almanack admitted "later won considerable fame as a poet."
Usually, however, the obituaries were brief in the extreme so that occasionally, less than full justice was done. Such was the case with William Crozier, killed with thousands of others on that terrible day 1 July 1916, when the Battle of the Somme began, but also a first class cricketer, a fact Wisden chose to ignore.
William was born in Dublin on 5 December 1873, the second of three sons of Francis Crozier, a solicitor, and Catherine Magee. Together with his 13 month older brother Thomas he was sent in September 1886 to Repton School in Derbyshire.
It already numbered among its old boys the Exham brothers, Arthur, a quality round armer, who played with distinction for Ireland, and Percy, who made a few first class appearances for Cambridge University but was best known for a 39 year stint on the staff of Repton, being there when the brothers arrived. A fine all round sportsman, Percy also played cricket for Derbyshire as well as football for Derby County. The school had, and still has, a strong cricket tradition, and produced, with Percy's help, some outstanding teams and players during the Croziers’ time there. A year before the Dublin boys arrived Repton had seen the advent of that great cricketer, but even greater egotist, Hitler admirer Charles Burgess Fry.
Fry captained a highly successful side, brimming over with future first class players in the 1890 and 1891 seasons, but by the time William made the XI, having already gained his football colours, in his last year, 1892, many of the great names had departed.
Repton played 10 matches that summer, losing six and winning only two. Played for his batting in the middle order, William hardly excelled, his figures reading 15- 0- 113 - 29 - 7.53. Lillywhite’s Cricketers' Annual commented that he "Played respectably once or twice, but, on the whole, was most disappointing." However, true as that probably was the report also damned with faint praise George Shepstone, the side's best cricketer, a fast bowler who later played two Tests for South Africa. One of William's "respectable" performances came in a home match against Uppingham School, who were unbeaten all season. Repton collapsed twice to lose by an innings but William, at No 6, made 26 in the second innings, helping to give some respectability to the total.
In November 1892 he entered Trinity College Dublin where Thomas was already making a name for himself as a footballer, though he had, unlike William, not been in the football XI at Repton. Academically, William was a notable success becoming a Scholar of the College - a highly prestigious achievement - in 1895. Graduating in 1897, he was called to the Bar shortly afterwards and became a successful barrister.
Alas, he did not meet with quite the same success on the cricket field. Only in his last, 1897, season did he establish himself in the 1st XI when, under Arthur Gwynn's captaincy, he scored 134 runs at 16.70 with a highest score of 62. He had however served on the club's committee in both that and the previous season, possibly owing this to having been a 2nd XI regular since 1894.
He played three matches against county opposition, failing against Gloucestershire in both 1894 and 1897, though the majority of his team-mates did likewise in matches best remembered for WG Grace's ill temper, derogatory remarks about umpires and, in the latter year, century.
In 1895, however, the University's four matches against similar opposition, were designated as first class. The last one or two places in the side seem to have been "up for grabs" with several players competing for them, including GEP Meldon, member of a famous cricket family, andGeorge Harman, destined to become Ireland's longest lived rugby international.
William, possibly because others were unavailable, was selected for the short English tour which included matches with Leicestershire and Cambridge University. William played in the former in which the visitors were eventually well beaten, despite a superb undefeated hundred by Lucius Gwynn, then at the high noon of his all too brief career. He and William put on 21 for the 9th wicket in the first innings before William was run out for 4. In the second, in which Gwynn and tall left hander Jack Brunskill were the only batsmen to impress, his contribution was 3 out LBW to the fast medium bowling of all-rounder George Hillyard.
Practising as a barrister in Dublin, William eventually lived in St Stephen's Green. He never married, indeed the 1901 Census finds him still living with his parents, while in 1911 he is shown as a visitor at Thomas' house in Stillorgan. Thomas, incidentally, had suffered a personal tragedy. By this time the father of three young children, he was already a widower.
The outbreak of war saw William speedily enlist. Already with basic military skills, through the Officers' Training Corps of both Repton and Dublin University, he was commissioned Acting 2nd Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, a large number of whose men had only recently been under arms as part of the Ulster Volunteer Force, formed to resist Home Rule.
The following summer saw William's commisssion confirmed and the 9th, now the 36th Ulster Division, sent to France. There on 1 July 1916, they were destroyed in an attack on Thiepval, which was a small French village, turned into a German stronghold. All along the front line, British and French artillery had bombarded the enemy positions for a week, the cacophony of shellfire so terrible that it was heard as the War Cabinet met in Downing Street. The allied generals believed that no one could have survived their attentions. The visible German defences, and other German positions, lay in ruins, a machine gun nest in the village clearly destroyed. However the Germans were well prepared, having constructed strongly built underground defences which had easily survived the bombardment. When the 9th, andthousands of others climbed out of their trenches, some believing that they would be able just to stroll across No Man's Land, all hell broke loose, as the German machine gunners emerged from their positions of safety and cut them down.
The British casualties, killed, wounded or missing that day were in excess of 58,000. Among the dead was Lieutenant William Magee Crozier. Almost 100 years later he is a name on a war memorial, one among many. His cricket career was scarcely distinguished but, as one who was indeed a first class cricketer, he deserves to be rescued from the comparative oblivion to which Wisden consigned him.