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Grandson of 1914 UVF gun-running mastermind Colonel Crawford dies

By Alf McCreary

John Crawford, the grandson of Colonel Fred Crawford - the historical Ulster figure who helped to mastermind the Larne gun-running for the old UVF in 1914 - died in Norway earlier this week.

Colonel Crawford was a leading campaigner against Home Rule in the early 20th century.

He was a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, and was in charge of 2,500 stewards and marshals who escorted Lord Carson from the Ulster Hall to Belfast City Hall on September 28, 1912 for the signing of the Ulster Covenant, allegedly in his own blood.

He tried several times unsuccessfully to smuggle in arms for Ulster loyalists, but in April 1914 he evaded the authorities and, with helpers, supplied enough weapons and ammunition to the Ulster Volunteers to resist Home Rule by force.

However, this was overtaken by the outbreak of the First World War when many of the Volunteers joined the British Army.

Fred Crawford wrote a stirring account of this in his book titled Guns For Ulster, which was first published in 1947.

A second edition was published in 2014 by Books Ulster to mark the centenary of the Larne gun-running.

John Crawford, who died this week, wrote the foreword to the second edition of his grandfather's book.

He stated that "The book records how (my grandfather) and a handful of helpers smuggled 20,000 Austrian and German rifles into Ulster in 1914.

"Some would hold the view that this enhanced the risk of civil war within the country, and confrontation with the British, but others would argue that it had the opposite effect.

"A well-armed UVF was more likely to act as a deterrent to Home Rule and to discourage conflict with Irish nationalists.

"The dangers of his mission should not be underestimated.

"He had to evade the attention of German, Danish and British authorities, such as police and customs officials, and to steer clear of the British Navy.

"Always one step ahead, he changed ship and course until the cargo was safely delivered to the Port of Larne. The arms shipment proved unnecessary in the end, and bloodshed was thankfully avoided, but this in no way detracts from the daring actions and achievements of my grandfather."

The late John Crawford came from a line of major historical Ulster figures. His maternal grandfather was JM Andrews, Northern Ireland's second Prime Minister, who served from 1940-43.

His great uncle was Thomas Andrews, the chief designer of RMS Titanic, who lost his life when she sank in the Atlantic on her maiden voyage to New York in April 1912. A relative of the family is Johnny Andrews, a local businessman and a member of the Conservative Party in Northern Ireland.

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