Wally Crouch was born Walter Thomas Crouch in Portsmouth in 1877, the son of a shipwright. After his father died his mother remarried and he took the name of Armstrong. By the time of his Peckham marriage on 10th June 1899 to Blanche Phillips he had reverted to the name Crouch and gave his occupation as a Public House Manager. Wally and Blanche moved to Deptford firstly at 6 Lucas Street, then 29 Charles Street, but subsequently settling at 66 Speedwell Street. Various jobs as a labourer and painter (for the London County Council) came and went, interspersed with periods of unemployment.
By 1911 Blanche had given birth to eight children, but two had since died. More children were born and in 1915 a son John Lionel Crouch was born. After John’s death The Times carried a story that Wally had been a greengrocer and that John had looked after his father’s ponies. Perhaps Wally’s fortunes improved after the 1st World War, perhaps the story was made up, but John had a talent with horses.
As a teenager John was apprenticed to Australian trainer Stanley Wootton at Epsom. In 1933 his name started to appear in the lists of runners and riders in the newspapers. In 1936 he rode 31 winners and in October it was announced that, at the age of 21, John was to be the King’s jockey. He was to receive a retainer so that he would always be available to ride the King's horses in preference to other owners. That winter John went to India to race in Madras.
Although Britain was preparing for war in the summer of 1939, things were looking good for John Crouch. He had bought and furnished a house in Epsom and was due to marry 19-year-old Barbara Hives (the daughter of the head stable lad to trainer Walter Nightingall) on 1st July.
On Monday 19th June John and Barbara posted the wedding invitations and the next morning John made his way to Heston Aerodrome to fly to Newcastle to ride that afternoon. The British American Air Services DH.89A Dragon Rapide John was flying in reported its position by radio when passing York at midday, but it never arrived in Newcastle. The weather in the northeast of England was poor that morning and the rain kept many race goers at home, but there was surprise when John Crouch failed to arrive.
That Tuesday evening the BBC broadcast appeals for news of the missing aeroplane. The following day the Royal Air Force searched for the plane but it was not until 5.00pm that Robert Redfearn, a postman, and his friend Richardson, a newsagent spotted the burned out wreckage near the summit of Dora’s Seat, Ettersgill Fell, County Durham, miles from the nearest habitation. The bodies of John Crouch, Glaswegian pilot F.S. Appi and wireless operator J. Elmslie were found close to the wreckage.
John Crouch’s funeral took place on Monday 26 June 1939 at Epsom Parish Church and he is buried in Epsom cemetery.
Barbara eventually married in the spring of 1945.
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