This week on the Secret Library, we hear from Library Officer Karen Downham, on a fascinating piece of Leeds social history – with an intriguing connection to a Second World War hero…
For the last couple of months I have been tackling a project on the Scrapbook of Harry Croft, Secretary of Leeds St Mark’s Harriers, which we hold in our Strong Room. The scrapbook consists of a collection on newspaper cuttings relating to St Mark’s Harriers, and other sporting events that interested him. The cuttings are fairly fragile, so the idea was to reproduce and index them to make them more accessible.
There were several challenges involved in doing this, the first being that not all the material was relevant to Leeds, or to St Mark’s Harriers, so this resulted in a selection of 47 items out of an original 94 items. The next issue was that the cuttings were not dated, or pasted in chronological order, so a good deal or research was needed on our partial newspaper index, and on the British Newspaper Archive to find out dates. Other dates have been worked out by researching birth & death dates of some of the individuals and comparing these with the information mentioned in the cuttings. There are still many cuttings that I have been unable to date, but all the 47 have now been copied and collated into a printed document, with each item indexed on our newspaper database.
Working through all this information has given a fascinating insight into the lives of some of the individuals mentioned, especially Harry Croft himself, long time club member Joseph Fozard, and the rather remarkable Aaron family. A few details on each are included below.
Harry Croft (1910 – 1992)
Harry Ripley Croft was born in Leeds in 1910, and was the Secretary of Leeds St Mark’s Harriers for some 30 years from the mid-1920s, to the mid-1950s when the club amalgamated with the former Leeds Athletic Club and Harehills Liberal Club Harriers to form the current Leeds city Athletic Club around 1956.
He can be seen below with his parents Arthur and Edith in 1911 at Claro Avenue, Leeds:
Harry married May Pickard in 1935, and they can be seen in the 1939 Register below living at Argie Road, Burley, where they remained for many years.
They had a son, Douglas, in 1949.
Harry ran for St Mark’s Harriers, and is pictured at the end of the bottom row in the photograph below, although it is not clear whether he is at the left or the right end!
He also officiated at races as a timekeeper, as shown in the cutting below, taken from his scrapbook:
Harry is listed as secretary in this programme above, for The Arthur Louis Aaron Memorial Shield Race in 1949, and is still living at Argie Road.
Harry was elected president of Yorkshire Cross Country Association in 1957, as detailed in the cutting below:
Harry’s death at the age of 81 was reported in the Yorkshire Post on 24th January 1992:
Joseph Fozard (1867 – 1940)
Joseph Fozard was vice president of Leeds St Mark’s Harriers up to his death in 1940 at age 72, and was a member for over 50 years. He was a champion runner in his youth, and is often referred to in reports on the club as being the oldest member, and appears in several team photographs.
He was born in Leeds in 1867, and married wife Amy Race in 1890:
They can be seen here in the 1911 Census, living at Woodhouse Street, with their five surviving children and Joseph’s parents:
On the above census form, he is listed as a House Painter, but for 20 years, up to his retirement, he was caretaker at St Mark’s School, Woodhouse, and in the 1939 register below he is listed as School Caretaker (retired). The family are living a 34 Sugarwell Mount, and daughter Bertha, age 37, is still living with them.
The photograph below is believed to show Joseph Fozard, as the notes read “Frank Aaron with the oldest member”, viewing a championship trophy:
Joseph’s death in 1940 was reported in local papers, with the cutting below:
Benjamin Aaron (1891 – 1982)
Benjamin Aaron was active in St Mark’s Harriers for over 35 years, running with the club from about 1914, becoming president around 1949. He can be seen in the undated photo below, second row down, and second from the right.
Benjamin was born on 29th June 1891 in Hunslet to George and Emily Aaron
The 1901 Census below shows Benjamin living with his parents at Victoria Cottage, Methley. His father is listed as being of independent means, and they have a servant, a groom.
In the 1911 Census he is listed with his mother living at 23 Crossfield Street, Raglan Road, Woodhouse:
Benjamin served in the Royal Garrison Artillery during the First World War, and the extract below from his service record, dated 1915, gives his address as 23 Crossfield Street, Woodhouse. His Regimental Number was 66940.
On returning from military service, Benjamin married Roaslie Marie Marny at Addingham on 8th February 1919. The details on the marriage certificate show that he was now living at Brickfields, Gildersome, but was still working as a clerk. His father George is listed as a Gentleman, that is, having an independent income, as he also was in the 1901 Census. Rosalie’s father, Augustin, is listed as an Agriculturalist.
Benjamin and Rosalie had two children, Frank, born in 1920, and Arthur, born in 1922. Both became well known for their endeavours, as will be described a little later. It would appear that they moved to Cheshire at some point, as their deaths were recorded there – Rosalie in 1980, aged 88, and Benjamin in 1982, aged 91.
Frank Aaron (1920 – 1988)
Frank Emile Aaron, born on 30th March 1920, was the oldest son of Benjamin Aaron and Rosalie Marny.
The image below is the entry in the 1939 England & Wales Register. The family were living at 6 Thorn Lane, Leeds. Benjamin is listed as head of an insurance department, and Frank is listed as a medical student. The record below, which is closed, is likely to be his brother Arthur Aaron, who was in the Royal Air Force, and will be covered in more detail later.
With his father being so active in St Mark’s Harriers, it was probably inevitable that Frank would become a runner, and he was running from age 11 at Roundhay School, winning cross-country races and the Leeds Youth Championship at age 15, 16, and 17. He was the first runner from Leeds to win the Northern Youth title. He won the York Harriers 6-mile Handicap in 1936 and 1939, and was a running champion at university.
In 1939, when he was a medical student, he travelled just prior to the outbreak of war, to France, where he won the Paris Junior International Championship. It would appear that he was also a fluent French speaker, as there are accounts of him acting as interpreter for the English runners.
In the Second World War Frank served as captain of a paratrooper division of the Royal Army Medical Corps. He married Dorothy Craven at York in 1947; they appear to have had no children.
In 1948 he is listed in the Electoral Register as living at 29, Smith House Lane, Brighouse, near to where he was working, as an assistant pathologist at Halifax Royal Infirmary.
At age 28 he was racing again, and in 1949 won the National Cross Country Senior Championship, over 10 miles, at Birmingham.
In May 1954, Dr Frank Aaron was chosen to open the new athletics training track at Temple Newsam, off Templenewsam Road.
Frank Aaron died in Cockermouth, Cumbria in September 1988, at the age of 68.
Arthur Louis Aaron VC, DFM (1922 – 1943)
The story of Arthur Louis Aaron and his bravery in World War II is quite well known in the history of Leeds, but perhaps less well known are his connections to St Mark’s Harriers.
Arthur Louis was born on 5th March 1922 to Benjamin and Rosalie Aaron, and like his brother Frank, attended Roundhay School. He then went on to Leeds School of Architecture.
At the start of the Second World War in 1939 he joined the Air Training Corps Squadron at Leeds University, and the following year trained as a pilot in the United States. Returning to England in 194, he joined No.218 “Gold Coast” Squadron, flying Stirling bomber aircraft. On one sortie, his plane was badly damaged, but he completed his bombing mission and returned to England, receiving the Distinguished Flying Medal for his actions.
Art age 21, in 1943, flying on his 20th sortie, his aircraft was hit by machine gun fire, and he was severely wounded. His navigator was killed and other crew members were also wounded. In great pain, and unable to speak, he wrote directions with his uninjured left hand, to enable the crew to fly the damaged aircraft to make for an Allied base in Bone, Tunisia, and land the plane. Arthur died nine hours later, on 13th August, and was buried with full military honours in Bone Military Cemetery.
In November 1943, the London Gazette published the official citation for awarding a posthumous Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in British and Commonwealth forces, and in 1944 his parents received his medal from King George VI at Buckingham Palace. In 1946, his parent’s home was burgled and his medals stolen, although they were later returned anonymously in the post after a Police appeal. In 1953, Benjamin Aaron presented Arthur’s medals to Leeds City Museum, where they remain. He was the only Leeds native to be awarded the VC during World War II. There is a plaque in the main hall at Roundhay School in his memory, and a memorial scholarship in architecture in his honour, still awarded in the 21st century. In 2001, a five-metre bronze sculpture by Graham Ibbeson was installed on the roundabout at the bottom of Eastgate, in the city centre. It depicts Aaron standing next to a tree, at the top of which a girl is releasing a dove of peace, and was unveiled by Malcolm Mitchem, the last survivor of Aaron’s aircraft.
The two scrapbook cuttings below are from reporting at the time:
From 1943, Leeds St Mark’s Harriers held the annual A.L. Aaron Memorial Shield Race at Beckett Park, Headingley, in his honour, and the picture below shows the shield, with a picture of Arthur in the centre. There are very little details of the race in the scrapbook unfortunately, so we cannot be sure of the race length, nor of any winners. It is possible that the pictures or racing at Beckett’s Park are of the Memorial Shield race, but it is difficult to be certain.
To find out more about this scrapbook, or other related items, please contact the Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library on 0113 37 86982 or via email@example.com
2 Comments Add yours
When I saw the name Harry Croft, it rang a bell, so I read further with great interest. In the mid 1950s, as a teenager I was a member of Harehills Harriers and reading this article brought back some happy memories and a few names; Eric (I think) Smith who ran in the Czech Lidice memorial marathons, Arthur Cockroft, the club Captain as I remember and the Pawson brothers, the younger of whom I was at school with, which is how I joined Harehills Harriers in the first place.
Frank Aaron was a well-known name to me and the Temple Newsam track was where I used to go training soon after it opened. John Dodd, former British pole vault champion and lecturer at Carnegie College, who gave up his Sunday mornings to train youngsters like me also gave me my first pair of tracksuit bottoms, as a family things we just couldn’t afford; such acts of kindness one never forgets. Somewhere, I have my photo when I took part in the national cross country championships (youths age group) at Parliament Hill Fields in London in 1957, I seem to remember that I finished around the middle of the 700 odd runners – ‘not winning, but taking part’!
Thank you for the article!
I’m Douglas Croft son of Harry and May Croft I will happily try and fill in some of you blanks but we need to do this soon before others with long memories are no longer with us