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Alexander James Croll (1920–1999)

by Emily Hyles

This article was published online in 2023

Alexander James Croll (1920–1999), airman and soldier, was born on 9 December 1920 at Glasgow, Scotland, elder son of James Alexander Croll, furniture dealer, and his wife Margaret, née Crawford. In 1927 he migrated to Western Australia with his family, his father having accepted a position with the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. They settled in Perth, where Alexander was educated at Rivervale State School and Perth Boys’ School (1933–35). While working as a messenger, he took evening classes at Perth Technical School in 1938 and completed his Leaving certificate. The next year he began a science degree at the University of Western Australia, where he was active in fencing and rugby union.

On 31 March 1941 Croll enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) for service in World War II. He was recorded as being five feet eight inches (173 cm) tall, weighing 138 pounds (63 kg), and having a fair complexion and light brown hair. Following initial instruction as a wireless air gunner, on 30 March 1942 he sailed for England, where he undertook further training with the Royal Air Force (RAF) at No. 27 Operational Training Unit, on twin-engine Manchester and Wellington bombers, and at No. 1654 Heavy Conversion Unit, on four-engine heavy Lancaster bombers.

Croll was posted to No. 106 Squadron, RAAF, on 2 December. Three days later he was detained for the common assault of an aircraftwoman from the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She had rejected his advances, after which he punched her in the face and grabbed her throat. Court-martialled on 2 January 1943, he claimed to have been drunk but expressed remorse for his ‘unwarranted and brutal attack’ (NAA A471); he was sentenced to be severely reprimanded and to lose seniority.

On 5 January Croll was transferred to No. 467 Squadron, RAAF, at Bottsford. Promoted to temporary flight sergeant in July, he joined No. 97 Squadron, RAF, part of the elite Pathfinder Force. He flew seventy missions, all bar one in a Lancaster, as either a rear or an upper mid-gunner. Operations included mine laying as well as bombing runs over German-occupied Europe. In June 1944 he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal for ‘high skill, fortitude and devotion to duty’ (NAA A9301) during many operational sorties. The next month he was promoted to temporary warrant officer. On a day raid to Könisberg in August 1944, he was seriously wounded by flak over the target. Shrapnel pierced the mid-upper gun turret and entered the crown of his head. He remained conscious and did not inform the pilot of the wound until the Lancaster was on its way home. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the citation noting his ‘fine fighting spirit and his outstanding and unfailing devotion to duty’ (NAA A9301). In February 1945 he was posted as an instructor to No. 29 Operational Training Unit, RAF North Luffenham.

Repatriated in June, Croll arrived in Perth on VP Day, 15 August 1945, and was demobilised on 1 November. The next year he resumed studies at the University of Western Australia, transferring to medicine. On 2 January 1947 in Perth, a magistrate fined him £6 and ordered him to pay £24 restitution for wilfully smashing two plate-glass shop windows while intoxicated. He pleaded guilty but claimed to have no memory of his conduct. In 1948 he transferred his medical studies to the University of Melbourne, where he received a university blue for fencing but failed all subjects in 1948–49. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, he attempted again to enlist in the RAAF but was not accepted. He instead joined the army as a private on 7 August 1950, and trained at Puckapunyal with the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. Later he recalled his ‘perpetually nagging urge for more adventure’ (Nairn 1972, 24).

A month after landing in Korea, at the Battle of Chonju on 29 October 1950, Croll rushed to the aid of a wounded mate whose leg had been shattered. As he gave first aid a bullet struck his head in the same place as his previous war wound. The effects were severe and enduring; he was paralysed down his right side and his speech was greatly impaired. Admitted to the Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood, Perth, he began a long rehabilitation. He became an outpatient in March 1952, thereafter living with his father (d. 1955) and mother (d. 1980) at Rivervale. He joined an art therapy group for totally and permanently incapacitated veterans and took up drawing and painting, later embracing pottery and sculpture. In 1971 he won a Repatriation National Art Contest, and he often donated his artworks to charities associated with repatriation. In 1980 he was the Australian recipient of the Korean Gold Cross of Valour, an unofficial award established by a South Korean businessman and war veteran, for wounded soldiers of the Korean War who had shown great courage in rehabilitation. Survived by his brother, he died on 20 July 1999 at Rivervale and was cremated.

Research edited by Samuel Furphy

Select Bibliography

  • Bacon, Alwyn. ‘Rare Awards for Brave Soldier.’ Korean War Online. Accessed 28 June 2023. http://www.koreanwaronline.com/history/oz/snow/snow4.htm. Copy held on ADB file
  • Daily News (Perth). ‘Back to Earth, Ex-Flier Is Hit Second Time.’ 5 March 1951, 5
  • Daily News (Perth). ‘Veteran Airman Has One Regret.’ 23 August 1945, 3
  • Mirror (Perth). ‘2 WA Men Shot through Brain Convalescing.’ 20 October 1951, 1
  • Nairn, John. ‘Man Who Wouldn’t Die.’ Pix/People for Men (Sydney). 30 November 1972, 24
  • National Archives of Australia. A471, 87953
  • National Archives of Australia. A9301, 406774, Croll, Alexander James
  • O’Neill, Robert. Australia in the Korean War 1950–53. Vol 2, Combat Operations. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1985

Additional Resources

Citation details

Emily Hyles, 'Croll, Alexander James (1920–1999)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/croll-alexander-james-32458/text40260, published online 2023, accessed online 29 May 2024.

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Alexander Croll, 1945

Alexander Croll, 1945

Daily News (Perth), 23 August 1945, p 3

Life Summary [details]

Birth

9 December, 1920
Glasgow, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Death

20 July, 1999 (aged 78)
Riverdale, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Education
Occupation
Military Service
Awards