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Oswin Edmund Craster

Male 1916 - 2006  (89 years)

  • Name Oswin Edmund Craster  [1, 2, 3
    Known as "Os" 
    Birth 28 Jun 1916  Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location   [2, 3, 4
    Education abt 1929 - 1934  Stowe School Find all individuals with events at this location   [4
    Education abt 1934 - 1937  New College, Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location   [4
    Occupation 1938 - 1939  Inspector, Ancient Monuments Inspectorate  [4
    Military Service 1939 - 1943  Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry  [4
    • in UK
    Military Service 1943 - 1944  France Find all individuals with events at this location ; Special Operations Executive  [4
    Military Service 1945  Burma Find all individuals with events at this location ; Special Operations Executive  [4
    Occupation 1946 - 1976  Inspector, Ancient Monuments Inspectorate  [4
    Residence 1947  211a Gloucester Terrace, Paddington Find all individuals with events at this location   [5
    Residence abt 1950 - 1958  The Mirador, Horsell Park, Woking Find all individuals with events at this location   [5
    Residence abt 1958 - 1963  6 The Avenue, Llandaff Find all individuals with events at this location   [5
    Residence 1967  Craster Tower, Craster Find all individuals with events at this location   [5
    Residence 1984 - 2006  Craster West House, Craster Find all individuals with events at this location   [5
    Death 29 Jan 2006  Northumberland North Find all individuals with events at this location   [3, 4
    • Oswin Edmund Craster, ancient buildings inspector and SOE operative, born June 28 1916; died January 29 2006
      The lifelong dedication of Oswin "Os" Craster, who has died aged 89, to his country's and his family's heritage was interrupted by distinguished wartime service with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) behind enemy lines in France and Burma.
      Craster was born in Oxford, the son of the Bodleian librarian Sir Edmund, but the Crasters were of Northumberland stock and Oswin spent much of his later life in the fishing village of Craster. This was once mostly owned by his family and Craster Tower remains a landmark on the Northumberland coast.
      Educated at Stowe school and New College, Oxford, Craster joined the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate (AMI) in 1938 after a stay in Switzerland, where he learned French. In the same year he enlisted in a territorial battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire light infantry and was called up on the outbreak of war in 1939. He became a subaltern in 1940 but his unit remained in Britain. Frustrated by inactivity, Craster volunteered when he read a mysterious circular late in 1943, asking for Francophone volunteers for special service. "Particular danger" was promised.
      The appeal came from the SOE, set up by Winston Churchill in 1940 to "set Europe ablaze" by clandestine operations, arming and working with resistance groups in occupied Europe and later the far east. France was the focus of efforts, especially when preparations began for the Normandy invasion in 1944.
      General Sir Colin Gubbins of SOE set up three-man teams to be dropped into France. Craster led team "Stanley", assigned to set up drop zones for airborne supplies in the Haute-Marne region. He was to work with resistance units in preventing the destruction of engineering plants by retreating Germans, while guiding allied troops as they advanced.
      D-day came and went on June 6, leaving a fuming Stanley team in a London hotel wondering if they would ever go into action. The call came at last on August 31. They were briefed en route to Tempsford airfield in Bedfordshire and took off in a Stirling bomber in the late evening, to arrive over their drop zone just before midnight.
      The pilot flew too high, and so the team and their weapons canisters were scattered over a wide area. Two days later they had all linked up with local French forces. For two weeks the Stanley team supplied information on German dispositions, too late to prevent demolition of the plant they were meant to save. They were involved in several skirmishes, advancing to meet and guide two advancing American armies.
      In his report, Craster concluded that his team had been dispatched at least a month too late and complained that many of its messages and requests, including one for an undamaged radio, had been ignored. But he received a mention in dispatches and was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
      He volunteered for more SOE work and on April 1 1945 was dropped into Burma with group "Zebra". Frustrated at a lack of cooperation by the local resistance, Craster's group marched 100 miles to the west to join another group in operations against the Japanese. He won a second "mention" for this.
      After the war Craster, known for his dry wit and keen on forestry and gardening as well as his family's heritage, returned to the AMI. He worked mostly in southern England until he was made chief inspector for Wales; he retired as chief inspector for England in 1976.
      The head of the family, Sir John Craster, who died that year, had sold the bulk of the estate in 1965. The residue was left to Oswin; but he and two other cousins combined in 1966 to buy back the 14th-century tower, which they divided into three dwellings. Oswin moved in permanently on retirement.
      In 1944 he married Mary Molony, then serving in the Wrens. She survives him, as do their two daughters and one son.
      [Dan van der Vat, The Guardian, 2 May 2006]
    • Oswin Craster. June 28, 1916 - January 29, 2006.
      Leader of SOE teams that harried German and Japanese troops in France and Burma in 1944 and 1945.
      Os Craster, as he was more usually known, had what he liked to describe as "a varied war". It certainly went from low to high points of activity, the latter a distinct contrast with his work for the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate, which he had begun on leaving university.
      He learnt his French in Lausanne before the war, and spoke it with a style that made him a natural recruit for the Special Operations Executive (SOE), which he joined in January 1944.
      Oswin Edmund Craster was educated at Stowe and New College, Oxford, where he was a member of the horsed cavalry section of the Officers' Training Corps. When war threatened in 1938 he enlisted in the 5th (Territorial Army) Battalion of The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was called up on the outbreak of war.
      Commissioned in 1940, he served with the same battalion during the invasion scare after Dunkirk, but in 1943, with no active service in prospect, he put his name forward in response to a letter circulated to units stationed in England calling for French speakers willing to undertake "tasks of particular danger".
      The demand was for about 100 volunteers to form the British element of three-man teams to be dropped by parachute into occupied France on, or soon after, the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
      Their principal purpose was to establish contact with the local French Resistance groups, where necessary arrange for weapons to be dropped to them and, above all, to ensure that acts of sabotage that the Resistance undertook helped rather than hindered the Allied operational plans following the breakout from the Normandy beachhead.
      The three-man teams usually comprised one British and one American or French officer and an experienced sergeant radio operator. The teams were called "Jedburghs", which according to some accounts was the next code-name to be taken from the pad.
      Captain Craster dropped into the Haute-Marne département on September 1, 1944, in charge of the Jedburgh team "Stanley". The other two members were Lieutenant Robert Cantais, of France, and Sergeant Jack Grinham, a former Coventry Police constable, of the Royal Armoured Corps.
      The parachute descent on to the Plâteau de Langres was made from above the usual height, but all members of the team landed safely. Contact was quickly established with the local Forces Français de l'Intérieur, the element of the Resistance aligning themselves with General de Gaulle, but the FFI commander suggested Craster should take his team 15 miles north to the area of Bussières, where a group of the maquis was believed to be in need of weapons and operational guidance.
      Craster found about 400 men, some from the "Premier Régiment de France", which had been kept in being after the 1940 armistice, a group of gendarmes from Langres and 45 enthusiastic railway workers. He radioed to SOE headquarters requesting a weapons drop on a drop zone (DZ) of his selection, only to be told one would be made at another location which was close to a German garrison.
      Thanks to a clever diversionary tactic of lighting fires near the first DZ, the maquis were able to collect the arms and other supplies from the designated alternative and begin a campaign of harassment of German troops already in the area and others passing through.
      Before being recalled to England via Paris, which had been liberated by the Allies on August 25, Craster and his team organised a spectacularly successful air strike by four US Air Force fighters on a German battalion stubbornly resisting the maquis group in the villages of Belmont, Grenant and Saulles. Troops from the French 7th Army advancing from the south arrived soon afterwards, so he left the maquis to mop up the German survivors in the three villages. He was mentioned in dispatches for his services and awarded the French Croix de Guerre.
      On return to England, he was posted to the 2nd (glider-borne) Battalion of his regiment, which had acquitted itself so well in the D-Day landings.
      But he volunteered for further service with SOE, this time in the Far East, and sailed for India in February 1945. Little time was allowed for acclimatisation and he was dropped into Burma on All Fools' Day.
      The SOE had been operating against the Japanese occupation forces in the Far East since 1942, from March 1944 under the title of Force 136. Former Jedburghs redeployed from northwest Europe played a significant part in Force 136's "Operation Nation". Their instructions were to harass the Japanese, wherever found, working with the local anti- fascist organisation (AFO) Burmese guerrillas and the Burmese National Army, under General Aung San (father of the leader of the human rights and democratic movement in Burma and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi). This had originally been formed under Japanese auspices but had switched to the Allied cause in early 1945.
      Craster's group, code-named "Zebra", dropped into central Burma, but found working with the head of the local AFO, Than Tun, extremely difficult. The group therefore made a 95-mile march westwards across the Pegu Yomas to Tharrawaddy, itself a considerable feat of endurance and determination.
      Operations against Japanese forces in the area, who were waiting their chance to fight their way eastwards across the Sittang river in an attempt to escape into Thailand, began at the end of April. Together with another Force 136 team, "Jackal", the group Craster was with had accounted for 800 of the enemy by the end of May. He was mentioned in dispatches for a second time.
      After what he regarded as a relatively slow start to his wartime experiences, Craster could reasonably claim that he had finished on a high note, although he would be the last person to do so. On demobilisation he returned to his work with the Ancient Monuments Inspectorate and was Principal Inspector for England on his retirement in 1976.
      In 1944 he married Mary, née Molony, whom he met in Dover when she was serving with the WRNS. She survives him, with one son and two daughters.
      Oswin Craster, officer of the wartime Special Operations Executive and Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments for England, was born on June 28, 1916. He died on January 29, 2006, aged 89.
      [The Times, 3 Feb 2006]
    • A community pays tribute to a hero. A packed village church saw a community join together to give thanks for the life of a local war hero. Hundreds of people filled the pews at Holy Trinity Church in Embleton on Saturday to pay tribute to Oswin Craster, who died on January 29 aged 89. A selection of Oswin's favourite hymns were performed and readings were given by his granddaugher Kerry Herd and Edmund and Michael Craster. Lifelong friend Sir Laurence Pumphrey also wrote an address, which was read by his son Matthew. [continues] Northumberland Gazette, 27 Apr 2006]
    Person ID I3315  Tatham | Meaburn branch | Spouse
    Last Modified 25 May 2011 

    Father Herbert Henry Edmund Craster,   b. 05 Nov 1879, Beadnell Hall, Beadnell Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 21 Mar 1959, Longwall Cottage, Longwall St, Oxford Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 79 years) 
    Mother Alice Ida Baker Cresswell,   b. 08 Mar 1880, Scotland Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. abt May 1979, North Cotswolds Find all individuals with events at this location  (Age 99 years) 
    Marriage 25 Apr 1912  Alnwick Find all individuals with events at this location   [6, 7
    Family ID F0910  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

    Family Living 
     1. Living
    +2. Living
    +3. Living
    Last Modified 26 Sep 2012 
    Family ID F0909  Family Group Sheet  |  Family Chart

  • Sources 
    1. [S02] BMD Index, marriage reg Worksop, 1Q1944.

    2. [S02] BMD Index, birth reg Oxford, 3Q1916.

    3. [S02] BMD Index, death reg Northumberland North 2nd, Jan 2006.
      b 28 Jun 1916

    4. [S11] Newspaper, The Guardian, obituary, 02 May 2006.

    5. [S17] Telephone Directories.

    6. [S21] Dictionary of National Biography.

    7. [S02] BMD Index, marriage reg Alnwick, 2Q1912.