Sergeant Clarence Kenneth Crockett, DCM
Ken Crockett was born on Hallowe’en Night, 31 October 1919. He married in early 1941, at about the same time that he received his induction notice for military service. He eventually became an instructor, and at the end of 1943 volunteered for overseas service. Instead, he was assigned to a Battle Drill School at Vernon, BC; the school was under the command of J. Fred Scott. In late May 1944, Crockett declined an officer’s commission in order to stay with a group of his trainees who were being sent to England. Crockett joined the Calgary Highlanders in mid July 1944, going to “C” Company. Major “Sandy” Pearson described him as “one of those ideal wartime NCOs…bright, very strong physically and aggressive.”
Crockett’s first action was at Tilly, where, according to the Regimental history, he “spent most of the predawn hours going from shell hole to shell hole trying to locate the rest of his men. He was one of those who managed to break into the town. As his group vaulted a fence, they spotted five German tanks, which swung around and moved toward them to cut off their escape route. One tank opened fire. Crockett and about ten men tried to run for it. “There was one guy in front of me that went down and one guy beside me that went down. We got to the other side and tried to give covering fire. What can you do with a tank?” Crockett fired away and suddenly realized he was alone, so he decided he’d better make his way back to the rest of the company, which was starting to withdraw.”
In September, Crockett led a fighting patrol across the Albert Canal. Suffering from dysentery and not feeling well, Crockett assembled eight men and armed them with automatic weapons; two had Bren guns and the remainder carried Stens. They also carried a full complement of platoon equipment; a PIAT, a 2 inch mortar, and a 38 radio set. They wore canvas shoes instead of combat boots (Canadian combat boots had steel hobnails, toe and heel plates) and took as much ammunition as they could carry. Crockett was going to rely on silence to get them across a damaged lock gate before the Germans could discover them. Crockett briefed his men, telling them that “…if the flare goes up, no matter where we are at, you get as low as you can and don’t move….nobody fires until I tell you. There is a possibility that we are going to get caught on the lock gates.”
At 0130 on 22 September, Crockett left his company commander at the edge of the canal and moved off. Crockett crossed halfway on his own, reaching a small island in the middle of the canal, then came back to lead the rest of the patrol. The Canal was ninety feet wide. Corporal R.A. Harold followed behind, and the patrol made it to a partially damaged stretch of lock gate; for the last eight feet, only a single six inch pipe was available to cross on. Crockett left the patrol, and edged across the wet pipe, slinging his weapon on his back and using a thin wire that the Germans had erected as a handrail. Reaching the north bank and finding a barrier of barbed wire, he returned to the patrol and brought them over.
Harold and Crocket eased the barrier aside; the rest of “C” Company could only wait in silence and wonder what was happening. Crockett had decided not to radio word of his success so far, for fear the Germans would hear his voice. Nonetheless, a flare suddenly went up, and Crockett heard a challenge in German. Some men were still on the pipe; German machine guns opened up and one was hit. The rest scurried onto the north bank, the two NCOs directing them into tall grass. Then Crockett yelled, in pure Western Canadian, “Give them shit!” and opened fire with his Sten, killing a sentry. He charged a German machinegun position and silenced it, then moved up with Private I.P. MacDonald, who fired two PIAT rounds at a German MG position inside a house. Crockett then directed the fire of the 2 inch mortar until a third German MG was knocked out.
Harold gave first aid to the wounded Highlander as this was going on, and tended to three other men who had also been hit. He and Private Myers led them back over the canal. This left Crockett with only three other men on the north bank, and they were running out of ammunition. Crockett ordered the radio man to send a request for assistance, but the radio man told him he had lost the aerial. Crockett shook the radio operator, impressed on him the importance of finding it, and then crawled on hands and knees with him, under German fire, until they found it in the grass.
The remainder of Crockett’s platoon, followed by the rest of “C” Company, then followed over the lock gate and established a bridgehead. By 0420, 5th Brigade headquarters could be informed that an entire company had crossed the Albert Canal.
The brigadier of the 5th Brigade recommend Crockett for a Victoria Cross; the recommendation was downgraded to a Distinguished Conduct Medal instead.
Crockett’s war ended on 23 October 1944, during the fighting west of Hoogerheide.
I was going to this dyke on the left flank and I was worried about (a German) machine gun position. If they were going to cross over and get on this dyke we would be in a crossfire. I was up against this dyke. A sniper was firing from this position and every time he put his head up I would fire. I got pretty close. I went on doing this until my rifle went empty and then I went up against the dyke to reload the rifle and that was when he hit me. I was hit in the knee.
Crockett passed away in Crossfield in November 2002 at the age of 83.