Jack Crouch in the racing colours of King George V.
Jack Crouch was born in Greenwich district (probably Deptford, where the family then lived) in 1915, the son of Walter Thomas Crouch (1877- 1959) and his wife Blanche (nee Phillips, 1880-1922), who were married in 1899. Walter, known as Wally, had various occupations over the years and there is a story that he eventually became a greengrocer who kept ponies, but this may be apocryphal. What is undisputed is that the young Jack had a way with horses and whilst in his teens he was apprenticed to the trainer Stanley Wootton at Treadwell House, Epsom Downs.
Stanley Wootton. Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
Treadwell House Stables. Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum
In 1933 Jack won the Salisbury City Bowl on Cotoneaster. In 1936, having just finished his apprenticeship, he rode 31 winners and in that autumn he was retained as a jockey to King George V. During the winter of 1936/7 he rode in Madras (now Chennai) and at one meeting there recorded three wins and one place out of six mounts. His overall record in Madras, from 98 rides, totalled 25 wins and 33 places. Later in 1937 he rode the King's first winner of the English flat season, Jubilee, in the Molyneux Stakes at Liverpool.
By 1939 things were looking rosy for Jack: he was living at 13 Beech Way, Epsom (just off Burgh Heath Road) and had become engaged to local girl Barbara Hives, daughter of the head lad at Walter Nightingall's stable. They were due to be married on 1 July and the wedding invitations had been sent out.
On Tuesday 20 June 1939 Jack boarded a de Havilland Dragon Rapide of British-American Air Services Ltd at Heston Aerodrome in West London, bound for Newcastle to ride for the King in the Northumberland Plate. The pilot, just 20 years old, was Ferruccio Sylvani Appi and the wireless operator was James Elmslie, who was also about to be married. The plane was last heard from at York and then disappeared. An RAF search was interrupted by bad weather.
A de Havilland Dragon Rapide. Photographed by Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons.
On Wednesday 21 June the burnt-out wreckage of the plane was spotted near the summit of Dora's Seat on Ettersgill Fell, Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham; all three occupants had perished. The inquest recorded a verdict of misadventure. No blame was attached to the pilot, who had hundreds of hours' flying experience despite his youth, but it was said he had lost his bearings and flown into the side of the hill. A few more feet to one side and he would have cleared it.
Jack's funeral took place on Monday 26 June 1939 at St Martin's, Epsom; the service was conducted by the Reverend Hugh Compton Warner, who was to have officiated at the wedding on the following Saturday, (this would have been Barbara's birthday). There were wreaths from the King and many famous racing figures, including Gordon Richards, Steve Donoghue, Charlie Smirke and Frank Butters. Jack was interred in Epsom cemetery (grave K36 B.G.S.). A minute's silence had been observed before the racing at Newcastle on 22 June and a newspaper described Jack as 'one of the nicest little fellows who ever wore the King's livery.'
Barbara married in 1945.
The Teesdale Mercury of 1 October 2010 reported that Jack had tossed a coin in order to decide whether to travel to Newcastle by air or road.