Taken in February 1920, a month before Tom Crean retired, this image, unseen by the current generation until I rediscovered it in a news clipping and included it in the book, shows Tom Crean at the beginning of an eventful two months that began with his admission to hospital just days after this image was taken.
In the photograph, Sir Ernest Shackleton sits left centre-stage flanked by 9 members of the crews of Endurance and Aurora (The Ross Sea party),, including Frank Worsley, Frank Wild and Leonard Hussey, seen here with the banjo.
Tom Crean stands second from the right side peering out and avoiding the spotlight as was his nature. Tom Crean’s Naval record revealed that he was admitted to the Royal Naval Hospital in Chatham on 24th February 1920. A month later, Crean was retired medically unfit due to defective vision and suffering from Retinitis.
His eyes had been subjected to the fierce blizzards and storms that existed in the harshest environment on our planet and more than once he had suffered from snow-blindness.
At the time of his retirement on 24th March 1920, he had reached the status of a Warrant Officer. It was the equivalent of a commissioned officer reaching the rank of Admiral.
Crean had served almost 27 years with the Navy and had partaken in three of the major expeditions to Antarctica. He returned to take on the role of a publican in his home village of Annascaul yet his homeland was in the midst of a War of Independence to break free from Crown rule. The conflict and the Civil war that followed would divide families and test their loyalties.
On 13th April, Tom Crean joined a number of ex-servicemen among huge crowds gathered in Tralee. They had gathered in protest at the maltreatment of 100 Irish Republican prisoners who’d gone on a hunger strike at Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison.
The crowds braved a deluge of downpours over the course of two days and the protest passed without incident. On the second day, the huge gathering learnt that they had won the release of the prisoners and the 5,000 people who had converged on the town celebrated.
Two weeks later, on 25th April 1920, Crean’s older brother, RIC Sergeant Cornelius Crean, was shot and killed in an IRA ambush near Upton in County Cork.
He was buried 3 days later with a large attendance at his funeral. Among the chief mourners was the recently retired Tom Crean, his brother Daniel, and his youngest sister, Catherine.
Cornie, as he was known, had become another victim of Ireland’s War Of Independence which would result in the loss of over 2000 lives.
To read Tom Crean’s full story the book can be purchased at the following link.
Biography of Tom Crean – Crean – The Extraordinary Life of an Irish Hero