b. 02/04/1854 St Peters Port, Guernsey. d. 16/07/1894 Cape Colony, South Africa
John Frederick McCrea (1854-1894) was born in St Peter Port, Guernsey on 2nd April 1854, the son of Captain Herbert Taylor McCrea and his wife, Elizabeth Dobree Carey. Following his parents’ deaths in 1855, he was then brought up by his aunt Charlotte, and educated at Elizabeth College. He then studied medicine at Guy's Hospital, qualifying in 1878 as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England and Edinburgh.
In 1879 he went to South Africa, where he did duty at the Military Hospital in Cape Town as Civilian Surgeon to Her Majesty's Forces. A year later he moved to Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape to settle, but decided instead to join the 1st Regiment, Cape Mounted Yeomanry as a surgeon. He marched with the Regiment to Basutoland in August 1880. He was one of the very few to escape when the Basuto Cavalry launched an unexpected attack on the regiment whilst they were going to relieve Colonel Carrington, who with 200 Cape Mounted Riflemen, had been besieged for over 6 weeks at Mafeteng.
On 14th January 1881, Colonel Carrington was again heavily engaged with the Basutos at Tweefontein, and there were numerous casualties. Surgeon McCrea was the only doctor present and he went out with Captain Buxton to rescue a burgher called Aircamp and took him to cover. At this point, McCrea went back to get a stretcher for the wounded man, and received his own wound to the breast bone, which he plugged himself with lint, and he took the wounded man to shelter, and throughout the rest of the day he dressed all the men who required attention. He was recommended for, and awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry (London Gazette, 28th June 1881), and promoted to Surgeon-Major, and transferred into the Cape Mounted Rifles.
He was presented with his Victoria Cross by Brigadier-General Charles M Clarke at King Williams Town, Natal on 25th October 1881. McCrea was probably unique in that his VC was the only decoration he ever wore, as the Basuto War Medal was not issued until 1901, twenty years after the end of the War, and sadly McCrea was not alive to receive it. McCrea died suddenly from heart failure whilst serving at Kokstad, East Griqualand, South Africa. He was buried in Kokstad Cemetery. His Victoria Cross is held by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: KOKSTAD CEMETERY, KWAZULU-NATAL, SOUTH AFRICA.
John McCrea's VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London