Newbiggin to Serbia and the First World War

Newbiggin Hall, in Cumbria, is more than 2,500km from Belgrade. But it has an important connection to the events that tipped Europe into the madness of the First World War.

This third post on the Crackanthorpe family of Newbiggin Hall, looks at that connection.

The Newbiggin Hall family

My post on Montague Crackanthorpe (né Cookson) concluded that he and his wife, Blanche Althea Elizabeth Holt had three children.

  • Hubert Montague Cookson b 12 May 1870.
  • Dayrell Eardley Montague Cookson b 9 Sept 1871
  • Oliver Montague Cookson b 22 April 1876. (d 11 Aug 1934).

Dayrell Crackanthorpe

Dayrell was the father of Lieut Commander Francis Crackanthorpe, of my first post.

Jutland, Gibraltar, and Newbiggin Hall

He also led a fascinating life: he was a diplomat – and as the British ambassador to Serbia in 1914, witnessed the events that led to the start of the First World War – playing an important role reporting back to London.

His wife Ida, née Sickles, died in the South of France in 1918, of consumption. A 1928 report on Remembrance commemorations says she was a volunteer nurse in France during the First World War.

Although the family name was originally Cookson, it was changed to Crackanthorpe when Montague inherited the Crackenthorpe family estate at Newbiggin, near Temple Sowerby.

A long diplomatic career

Dayrell Eardley Montague Crackanthorpe was born on September 9, 1871. In 1881, he was a boarder at Ringslow College, Margate. He is recorded as having been educated at St. Paul’s, then in France and Germany, before studying at Merton College, Oxford,

The London Gazette recorded that in November 1901, he was appointed by King Edward VII as a Second Secretary in His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service.

He had entered the Diplomatic Service in 1896, and served in Madrid (there till 1900), Washington (1900-02), then Brussels (where from time to time he acted as Chargé d’Affaires). He was in charge of His Majesty’s Legation at Bucharest for a few months in 1906, before being promoted to First Secretary at Vienna. He remained in the Austrian capital for four years, before going to Tokyo from 1910-1912, where he was granted a special allowance for his knowledge of Japanese.

His wife Ida Sickles was the daughter of General Daneiel Sickles, of New York – American Minister at Madrid. They married in 1898.

And then in 1912, he was appointed First Secretary of Legation to Serbia.  

The archduke’s assassination

It is ‘history 101’ that Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie were assassinated during a visit to Sarajevo (Bosnia) on June 28, 1914. And that the killings sparked a chain of events that led to the outbreak of the First World War, when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia exactly one month later.

(Britain entered the war on August 4, after Germany refused to remove troops from Belgium).

During that period, Dayrell Crackanthorpe was keeping the British government appraised of the reaction in Serbia (or ‘Servia’ as it appears in correspondence and news articles) to the archduke’s assassination.

He reported on the the Effect of the Assassination, the Servian attitude to it, the attitude of the Serbian Press, the Serbian attitude to Austria, an Austrian ‘note’ to Serbia, advice as to Serbian action, the Serbian reply to Austria, and all leading to… the declaration of war by Austria on July 28.

Flight to safety, after an important task

He was then among the thousands (including the Serbian court and parliament) who left Belgrade for Niš, ‘to escape from the Austrian guns’. Before leaving, Dayrell Crackanthorpe had to burn all the archives of the British Legation in Belgrade that could have been of interest or advantage to the enemy.

But it was Dayrell Crackanthorpe’s younger brother Oliver who was cause of great family concern just a few months later. For in December 1914, Captain O M Crackanthorpe, of the Border Regiment, was reported ‘missing, believed killed’.

Luckily, the report proved an error.

Recuperation at Newbiggin Hall

By then, Dayrell Crackanthorpe was back at Newbiggin Hall, for it was reported in July 1915 that having been there since the autumn, on sick leave, he was to proceed to Athens on special service as Acting Counsellor to His Majesty’s Legation. 

This was actually deferred until early 1917. First, he was summoned to work temporarily in the Foreign Office, in London. Then his doctors ordered him to rest. The ‘trying experiences’ of his time in Belgrade in 1914 had ‘had a very bad effect on his health’. 

Going back to his wife Ida… In December 1917, it was reported that she has been seriously ill in London, having overworked herself the previous summer in France. She had gone there with Lady Ponsonby to organise a canteen behind the front line.

Dayrell Crackanthorpe was made a CMG in the Honours List that year. He returned from Athens to be his wife – and again in July 1918, when she was seriously ill in a sanatorium in the North of Scotland. From there, she was transferred to the south of France, but to no avail. She died there in December 1918, in effect, a casualty of her service in the First World War.

Dayrell Crackanthorpe retired from diplomatic postings in 1922. He died in 1950.

Image: In his description of the popular mood in the Serbian capital Belgrade after the assassination on 28 June, Dayrell Crackanthorpe observed that the primary sensation was one of 'stupefaction rather than of regret'.