How a pocket book saved the life of Private John Croft at Gallipoli

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John Croft 3

John Croft

ON the war memorial at Slacky Flat Park, among the names of brave soldiers from Woonona and Bulli who served in the Great War, is that of John Croft.

Jack Croft, at the age of 25, died on board the hospital ship, St George, on 27 July 1916, from wounds he received while fighting in France.

The son of John Croft, young Jack, worked at the Bulli Coke Works at Sandon Point, prior to signing-up to embark on an adventure of a lifetime.

The Woonona soldier became national news in 1915 after escaping death at Gallipoli on April 25 1915, when a Turkish bullet pierced his arm and lodged in a book sitting in a pocket over his heart. His story is best told in his own words, in a letter he wrote to Frank Catt of Bulli:

“Towards 12 noon on the day of the landing at the Dardanelles,” he writes, “the Turks were knocking us over pretty often, and I stopped a bullet in my pocket-book after it had been through my left forearm. It was a good thing for me that it turned against the bone, causing it to come out broadside on (as the doctor says), in which fashion it entered my pocket-book, going almost entirely through it. Had it done so there would have been no more Turks for me. I thought I was finished as it was, because the blow over the heart knocked me out. I will send you the pocket-book to keep for me as soon as I get to Cairo. It is no use to me now, but as it saved my life I would like to keep it as a curio.”

John Croft Bullet

The bullet which embedded itself in Croft’s book. – Daily Telegraph June 14, 1915

The war souvenir was sent by Jack to Frank Catt. It consisted of his pocket-book, in which was embedded a sharp-nose bullet. Along with the story of Jack’s remarkable dice with death, Bulli real estate agent, Henry Cotterell, sent the pocket-book to the Sydney Daily Telegraph to photograph, on behalf of Frank Catt. The story immediately gained national attention, and was widely reported at the time.

Jack’s luck though had run out, and he was killed in action 15 months later. Prior to his death a letter, published in the South Coast Times on April 7 1916, was received by the Woonona Red Cross Branch, from Private L. W. Wilson. The letter described how the “Woonona boys” were “quite well”:

“I received your note in the parcel, but have not had a great deal of time to write, but better late than never. I was very pleased with the parcel, and all the boys in our tent had a feed of good Australian biscuits, the first for four months. There is quite a crowd of Woonona boys here now, some of them were in the landing and are quite well. Harold Richardson, John Croft, Jim Downie, and Will Salisbury are in the same camp as I am. We had a good time when we were in Cairo; it is a remarkable place, and it opened my eyes to see what was going on. I will have a lot to tell you when I get back. I suppose most of the boys are leaving there now for the front. Can you give me your brother Fred’s address, because I would very much like to see him when he arrives here… How are things at Woonona now? I suppose everything is very dear, on account of the war. Well, I cannot tell you much on account of the censor, but I will save it till I arrive home. Remember me to all at home, and give my best wishes to all. Hoping you will thank the Glea Club and Red Cross on my behalf.

-Yours, etc., Pvte L. W. WILSON.”

The pocket-book and other items belonging to Private John Croft was later donated to the Australian War Memorial.


John Hector Croft

(Private, b.1891 – d.1916)

3rd Australian Infantry Battalion

Middle East: Ottoman Empire, Turkey, Dardanelles, Gallipoli

A number of items are in the Australian War Memorial archives collection relating to the First World War service of 2343 Private John Hector Croft (pictured), 3rd Battalion, Gallipoli.

The collection consists of a pocket book pierced by a Turkish bullet at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915.

The bullet penetrated Croft’s arm and lodged in the pocket book. Also included is a letter to Mr Frank Catt (a friend of Croft’s), dated 5 May 1915, who lived in Hopetoun Street, Woonona and describes the incident.

In the collection is also a pre-war civilian photograph of the young Bulli soldier.

Croft died aged 25 on board the hospital ship, St George on 27 July 1916 from wounds he received while fighting in France. He was the son of John Croft of Bulli.

– Images and information courtesy of the Australian War Memorial.

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