A Talent for Adventure
Image of the Colonel
Copyright: The Andrew Croft Memorial Fund
Colonel Andrew Croft DSO, OBE, Polar Medal
Andrew Croft had a diverse and distinguished career as Arctic explorer, SOE agent behind the German lines during World War II and latterly as reforming Commandant both of the Plymouth-based Infantry Boys’ Battalion and thereafter the Army Apprentices School at Harrogate. Colonel Croft was invited by then Commissioner, Sir Joseph Simpson, to (re-) create a Cadet Corps for the Metropolitan Police.
He arrived in 1960 and retired in 1971 shortly before his 65th birthday. During his time as Commandant, the system of training underwent complete overhaul. Andrew Croft was not, however, a man to sit behind a desk. He participated in every activity, outdoor and indoor; it was his example that converted new recruits into some of the best policemen of their time.
For Croft, every young man had talent and could be trained to bring out the best in himself and, in due course, pass on the skills he had learned. Croft knew each man’s history; he shared their triumphs and disasters; with sympathy and insight, he imbued them with his own exemplary integrity and leadership skills.
Croft was awarded the DSO for his achievements in North Africa, Corsica and France during 1943-44 and was appointed OBE in 1970. His participation in the Oxford University Arctic Expedition of 1935-36 earned him the Polar Medal.
His retirement came far too early, at the peak of his powers; he remained, however, the inspiration to many of those who came after him. Fittingly, his tombstone carries the inscription “Explorer, soldier and leader of men”.
Copyright: Savannah Publications: Lieutenant Colonel Neville W Poulsen/Rear Admiral J A C Myers CB: British Polar Exploration and Research.
Born 30.11.1906. The son of the Curate of Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Attended Lancing and Stowe Schools, becoming head boy at Stowe. Went to Christ Church, Oxford, and then spent two years in Lancashire, working in the cotton trade. During the slump of 1929 he went to the Continent for a year to learn French and German. He found himself a captive audience with Hitler, and was a witness to Hitler’s Brown Shirts at the burning of the Reichstag.
In 1933-34 he was a member of Martin Lindsay’s three-man Trans-Greenland Expedition as principal dog driver and photographer. He went out to Greenland in advance of the other members and wintered at Jakobshaven. He took part in the crossing of Greenland from east to west in 15 weeks, covering 1080 miles. The reconnaissance mapping of Greenland’s highest mountains was also carried out.
In 1934-35 he became a tutor and ADC to the young, and last, of the Maharajahs of Cooch Behar. In 1935-36 he served as Second-in-command of Glen’s Oxford University North East Land Arctic Expedition, where he spent a year sledging and mapping, and again taking charge of the dogs and photography. For this expedition he was awarded the Polar Medal and later received the Back Award of the Royal Geographical Society. His next three years were spent in Cambridge with Louis Clarke, an art connoisseur, philanthropist and friend of Queen Mary.
He prepared himself for the forthcoming war by training as a pilot, but when war broke out he was rejected by the RAF as being too old at 32. He joined the Army and was sent as British Army Liaison Officer to the Finnish Army, during the Russian onslaught in the winter of 1939-40. When the Germans invaded Norway in April 1940 he was in Bergen engaged in organising supplies for Finland. He made his way to Alesund, from where he was evacuated to England. In late April 1940 he was posted back to Norway as Chief Intelligence Officer to Brigadier Colin Gubbin’s Independent Companies operating in the region of Bodo, but was evacuated shortly afterwards. In the autumn of 1940, after a training course in guerrilla warfare, he was posted to the Combined Operation Directorate, and given the task of devising and testing landing craft for use on commando raids, and to act as an instructor in small boat handling. Late in 1941, he served in Stockholm as Assistant Military Attache at the British Legation, to gather intelligence through contacts with the Norwegian resistance. He also joined Sandy Glen in long-range ice reconnaissance missions, by Catalina aircraft, to map the southern limits of Arctic drift ice for the benefit of the convoys to Russia. In 1942 he returned to active service with the Commando forces engaged in small boat training. He was then sent to the Mediterranean and, in April 1943, operated for a while with the Special Forces unit behind German lines in Tunisia, and was then put in charge of small boat training at a base in eastern Algeria. Between August 1943 and September 1944 he was given an independent command to operate small boats out of Calvi in Northern Corsica on covert missions to the Italian and French coasts, where secret agents and equipment were landed. For this hazardous work he was awarded the DSO. In early August 1944, after parachute training, his team was dropped into southern France, to operate behind German lines. He spent the last two months of the war in Denmark, helping to disarm the Germans. In 1945 whilst still in the Army he was invited to serve as the British Army observer on the Canadian Exercise ‘Musk Ox’, involving a 3000 mile winter journey across the Canadian northern wastes.
After a period of secondment to the Canadian Department of National Defence, to develop clothing and equipment for Arctic warfare, he obtained a regular commission in 1949.
For the last six years of his army service he was in charge of the Infantry Junior Leaders Battalion at Plymouth, and of the Army Apprentices’ School at Harrogate, in the rank of Colonel. On his retirement from the army in 1960 he became Commander of the newly formed Metropolitan Police Cadet Corps at Hendon, where he remained until his final retirement in 1971. He was appointed OBE in 1970.
- Croft, Andrew: Geographical Magazine. 1935, 1937, 1938 & 1947
- Glenn, AR assisted by Croft, Andrew: Under the Pole Star – The Oxford University Arctic Expedition 1935-36
- Croft, Andrew: West Greenland Sledge Dogs. Polar Record, 1937
- Croft, Andrew: Polar Exploration. 1939 (2nd Ed 1947)
- Croft, Andrew and Roberts, Brian: Notes on Selection and Care of Polar Footware. Polar Record, 1940
- Croft, Andrew: Report Number 35 by the British Army Observer on Exercise “Musk-Ox”. Military Operational Research Unit, 1946
- Croft, Andrew: Mountain Warfare. MI Review, 1947
- Croft, Andrew: The Army and the Boy. British Army Review, 1960
- Croft, Andrew: A Talent for Adventure. 1991
Preparations in Greenland, 1933
Copyright: The Andrew Croft Memorial Fund
Members of ‘Operation Balaclava’ in Corsica, 1943
Copyright: The Andrew Croft Memorial Fund
‘On Parade’ in Hendon
Copyright: The Andrew Croft Memorial Fund
All photographs: Copyright The Andrew Croft Memorial Fund.
All these photographs come from Colonel Croft’s Archives.
Contact Us for permission to use, and for further archives and resources relating to his time in the Arctic, the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the rest of his life.
Interview with Andrew Croft, “The Man Behind the Braid”, conducted at Hendon by two of his Metropolitan Police, Cadets Harris and Haggar, in 1962.
What has been the most exciting event of your life so far?
I find it extremely difficult to tie this down to one specific incident, but I can recall to mind three equally memorable occurrences. The first was on the 8th April 1940 when dressed as a civilian I was waiting at Bergen Harbour for the British but the Germans came and I had to escape.
The second was when I participated in a parachute operation, with twelve other members of my unit, into southern France just before the ‘invasion’ by French and American troops in August, 1944. Our mission was to ambush German units, and blow up bridges between the coastal road to the south of Montpelier, and the hilly area further north, whether there were twenty thousand members of the French Resistance awaiting the Germans in the narrow passes. Assisted by 138 French volunteers, we were relatively successful in achieving our objectives. One German Armoured Division bull-dozed its way through; four Infantry Divisions were suitably engaged and were turned northwards, where they were mopped up by the French Resistance in the mountains.
The third incident was on the British Trans-Greenland Expedition of…
an arduous and featureless crossing, the thrill of seeing from the vase Ice-Cap the mountains – many of which have never been seen by man before – gradually coming into view, was really a terrific moment.
In all your travels, which country appealed to you the most, and why?
Undoubtedly, North Greenland. Its great beauty, its delightful climate and scenery are unique. My first visit there was on the expedition which began in October 1933. The Eskimos are a wonderful people, and very cheerful’ for the first time, a country – North Greenland – and its inhabitants gave me a sense of understanding, efficiency and love.
After the winter freeze-up, the complete silence in the late winter and throughout the spring, was penetrating. When dog sledging, the only audible sound was the yapping of the huskies and the crackle of the sledge runners. Dogs and man were alone. Man rarely gets the chance to be alone, and silence can be rewarding.
In latitude 70 degrees in June and July, the sun is visible for 22 hours a day. Up on the ice-cap, sledging over an average of 1 ½ miles thickness of ice, I…
I shall never forget the phenomenon and beauty of glorious sunsets merging into sunrises; radiant colours reflected from the clouds above and the snow beneath.
How did your early life influence your later career?
What is your favourite sporting activity, and in which have you achieved most?
I have always been keen on athletics, rugger, mountaineering and sailing, but the sport that I enjoy most is ski-mountaineering. I have taken part in this in about a dozen countries, including India, Canada, U.S.A. and most of Europe.
Ski-mountaineering is going where there are no other tracks or people, keeping to the tops of mountains and coming down only about every five days for supplies.
I have not achieved any distinction at this sport.
I regard it as a way of life, for a holiday, for relaxation, for the freedom of being alone on the mountains with firm friends and doing things for the love of it.
Do you agree that man is master of his fate?
No! I have tried to plan my life but few of these plans have ever succeeded; one thing has led to another. However, I have attempted to follow my mother’s advice – “Never miss an opportunity”. Most people have some ambition, but the course of this ambition may be altered as life goes forward. Being a person’s son, I originally hoped one day to be well-off financially (something a person can never hope to be). I soon found, however, that material matters gave small satisfaction and that happiness cannot be sought as an aim in itself. Life is a struggle and happiness can only be achieved by tring to do something in which one believes, to the best of one’s abilisty. It is the unhappy times that mould men’s characters.
You are an author, Sir, how many books have you written?
I have written only one book, “Polar Exploration”, but I have contributed several articles to geographic magazines and Army journals. I have helped with other books, being the joint author of “Under the Pole Star” and also assisting in the writing of “Sledge”.
You have the D.S.O., would you tell us briefly for what it was awarded?
My Brigadier told me that it was for my parachute drop with twelve others into southern France. However, my General informed me that it was for a previous operation in Corsica, and eleven month visit there (September 1943 to July 1944) after the Germans had cleared out. We set up two Commando Bases in Corsica and from then we carried out 52 operations in seven months. This was only accomplished because of the intensive training we went through. Every month we spent two weeks training and two weeks on operations; these were carried out at night time when the moon was below the horizon, and under the strictest security measures. The coastal area to which we operated was between Civitavecchia (Port of Rome) and Marseilles; the operations varied from the landing of agents, armaments, explosives, wireless sets, and so forth, to beach reconnaissance and the bringing out from the then occupied Italy and France, any prisoners of war and Resistance partisans who were “on the run” from the Germans.
What makes men climb mountains?
I can only speak from my own point of view. It is the love of the great outdoors that has played a great part in my interest for mountain climbing. I find it thrilling to grapple with a specific problem with unaided effort, and apart form being very exciting it is also relaxing. There is a wonderful sense of achievement when one has overcome the challenge of a mountain, and it is refreshing to get away from telephones and papers and go with a few friends into the mountains.
Of all the great personalities you have met and read about, which one has influenced you the most?
The Head Master of my Public School. He had a dynamic personality and new everyone intimately. He instilled in us a mutual trust and we all felt we had to do our best under the circumstances. With all humility, I have tried within the Cadet Corps to recreate that same sense of self-discipline, founded as it was on goodwill and essential co-operation, combined with friendship, without familiarity. I feel that we are gradually succeeding, but we cannot succeed unless we carry forward the same attitude to life into adult service. Service to others is the basic requirement of the Force.