Fred Crawford UVF Gunrunner

By his son Malcom

My grandfather , James. W. Crawford, by modern standards would be considered a millionaire because he owned the only starch factory in Ulster and therefore had a virtual monopoly of that process but he also possessed extensive land in the Malone area, some of which extended from the Stranmillis Road to the River Lagan. On this property he and others built many houses.

In addition my grandfather loved flowers ,  he caused a nursery of some three acres to be made in which about a quarter was under steam heated glass houses, he was probably the first man to grow tomatoes in Ulster.

On his death all this property was divided between his two sons, my father and my uncle Alex, who had gone to Australia. My uncle accepted his share in cash, my father which I have described.

My father was educated at the London University College School For Boys. As a boy and as a man he was never very intelligent. The only success he had at the school was being able to throw the cricket ball further than others.

I must explain at this stage that it was I that wrote “Guns for Ulster”, because a feeble attempt on his part to do so had failed but I considered it was wise to publish this little book as my father being the author.

My grandfather recognising his sons limited I.Q wisely sent him to Harland & Wolff’s ship building yard as a Premium Apprentice. Viscount Pirrie was the head of the company. On termination of his apprenticeship my father was given many shipping assignments in many parts of the world, one to Hong Kong where I now am.

One assignment was to salvage a cargo vessel which on its way to Argentina had run aground. Mt father saw at once that a heavy carriage on the foredeck of the vessel was preventing the cargo vessel being hauled free where up he ordered the carriage to be thrown overboard. Thus lightened, the vessel was hauled free.

When my father told Pirrie how he had saved the cargo vessel, Lord Pirrie was furious because the carriage for the Argentine Railways had been lost.  So ended my  father’s  association with Harland & Wolff.

It was about this time my father became involved in politics and later to become a political catspaw, to be used, cheated and under Lord Brookeborough, finally to be abandoned and dismissed by him from the humble job he had.

When on a political lecture tour in England he met my mother, Nellie Wilson of Gener  House,  Normandy-le-Wold. Lincolnshire and later married her. They had an elaborate honeymoon going to the Holy land and to Egypt, all at my grandfather’s expense.

Whether my father joined the Donegall Artillery before or after because of the South African War I do not know but with the rank of Major he, and his brother officers taking with them their full dress uniforms and muzzle loading guns off to war they went.

On arrival he caused a stone walled fort to be built and mounted the muzzle loading cannons in the four directions of the compass – and waited for the Boers to come and attack. The Boers were not bloody fools. On their horses they kept out of range thereby permitting my father and his brother officers to dine peacefully night after night clad in their mess kit uniforms. On one occasion he left his fort in order to escort a shipload of Boer prisoners to St. Helena, I never heard him speak of a shot being fired.

On return home instead of attending to the affairs of estate property and discover that an unscrupulous Estate Agent had been systematically “milking” the revenue it to find that the starch factory, because of an almost senile old manager was operating like a museum piece without any attempt to modernise it or to find that the magnificent nursery, created by his father was now barely paying its way because the manager, a former head gardener, was also “milking” the revenue. Instead he increasingly became a political ‘catspaw’ doing what others did not dare to do. And so he became the gun-runner.

When the First World War ended and Northern Ireland was established, everybody jumped on the band wagon for rewards. Sir James Craig became Lord Craigavon, an astute little lawyer became Sir Dawson Bates, others were equally honoured but my father was fobbed of with a C.B.E. He should have refused to accept it.

When I was in Malaya, having joined the Straits Settlements Police, he wrote to tell me that the Starch Factory had to close down but I had little sympathy for him because I knew from the past that he gave it little or no attention. Similarly never scrutinizing the books of the nursery when he would have seen immediately that he was being cheated, the nursery simply folded up.

This left him and my mother with only one source of income, if my father had only had sufficient intelligence to examine the accounts and books of the estate he would have seen at once that he was systematically and year by year, was being cheated.

Worse was to come. The U.V.F rifles. I think about 15.000 were stored and kept in good condition in a shed in the grounds of Harland & Wolf where I once saw them. For legal reasons they were in my father’s name.

After the retreat from Dunkirk Britain was desperately short of arms and wanted to purchase the U.V.F rifles. As you are now aware my father was not a very intelligent person and a hopeless business man. My father’s chartered accountant sent word to him to say that Sir Dawson Bates wanted to meet him about something important. Accordingly my father went to the accountant’s office where his old friend Sir Dawson Bates was waiting for him, “Ah Fred, so glad you’ve come”. The three, my Father, the accountant and Sir Dawson Bates sat down at a table. 

There Sir Dawson carefully explained the desperate need Britain had for arms and asked my father, for patriotic reasons, to release the rifles – it would only be a simple matter of signing a prepared document.

My father, in the presence of the Accountant and Sir Dawson Bates, for patriotic reasons, signed the document without reading it. It conveyed ownership of the rifles from my father to Sir Dawson Bates who sold them to the British Government for I believe £2 a barrel. !

But there was something equally disgusting to discover; during the Second World War because of a failed eye operation my father became blind whereupon I was appointed his Attorney and in that capacity I had to take over his financial affairs. I was horrified that his bank was about to foreclose which would have meant that he would have been declared a bankrupt.

An unholy Trio had been cheating him for years ; his Estate Agent who collected all revenues due to my father was keeping most of it. His Chartered Accountant was presenting false figures for income tax purposes and all this skulduggery was made legal by the co-operation of his trusted friend, his solicitor!.

As one example, At the end of the Boer War my father cancelled a Life Insurance Policy which he had taken out. When I became my fathers attorney I discovered that his Estate Agent was still deducting the insurance premium with the knowledge of, and convenience of the Chartered Accountant and his trusted friend, the Solicitor!

I immediately changed the Solicitor, sold all his property, which meant there was now no need for an Estate Agent, paid off the bank and invested the balance in Blue Chips.

There was no need to change the Chartered Accountant because he not only had the fright of his life when the Arms sale became public knowledge but he knew I had discovered his collusion with the other two thieves, furthermore the dividends of the Blue Chips could not be manipulated. Instead of the fortune which my father had inherited there was only £30,000 left on his death.

So ends this sordid saga of a man who did more for Ulster, one might even say that because he did what he did there might be no Northern Ireland today, who was cheated by men he thought were his friends even in his old age somebody has stolen his C.B.E.!

I had to sell “Cloreen” with its garden and three acre paddock, it was bought by Queens University. I understand they have built on that ground a building to house the faculties of Science and Engineering.


What sort of man was my Father .?

He was an unconscious bully and for that reason unloved by his children. Each in turn left the home as soon as we became adults and were able to do so.

My eldest sister to Kenya,

My brother a Major in the Army to India,

My second sister when married to the U.S.A

My third sister to England

And I  to Singapore.

After five years service in the Singapore Police, two of which were spent in China, in 1932 I returned to join the R.U.C.

He was not refined and in that sense could not be termed a ‘gentleman’, hypocrisy was his worse feature, Bible thumping and at the same time doing things which at one time caused my mother to threaten him with divorce.

These are harsh words but I do not believe in hiding the truth.


For much more on this hidden history contact Joe Graham