Crawford, Frederick Hugh ('Fred') (1861–1952), soldier and UVF gun-runner, was born 21 August 1861 in Belfast, son of James Wright Crawford of Cloreen, Malone Road, Belfast, owner of a chemical factory, and Madge Crawford (née Mathews) of Portadown, Co. Armagh. The family were methodist and Frederick was educated at Methodist College, Belfast, and University College School, London. He began work in Harland and Wolff's shipyard as a premium apprentice, later qualifying as an engineer. In December 1881 he managed to rescue several men who had fallen into the shipyard dock after a gangway collapsed, for which he was awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society. He then spent a year at sea as an engineer with the White Star Line and some time travelling the world. Returning from Australia in 1892 to take up the family business, he found unionists agitated at the prospect of home rule. He was strongly opposed to home rule, which he believed should be resisted by force of arms. To this end in 1892 he was a founder member of Young Ulster, an armed secret society modelled on continental national sporting clubs, and was involved in drilling its members and in the first of many attempts to import weapons. He was also a member of Lord Ranfurly's Ulster Loyalist Union (1893), and appears to have considered a plan to kidnap Gladstone and take him to a remote Pacific island, where he would be marooned with a few necessities and a good library of classics. It seems, however, that Ranfurly refused to put up the funds needed to finance the operation.
Crawford was commissioned second lieutenant in the artillery militia in 1894 and served in the Donegal Artillery in South Africa (1900–01); he rose to the rank of major, was decorated and mentioned in dispatches, and learned a great deal about modern weapons and warfare. After the war he remained on the reserve. In 1906 he was secretary of the Ulster Reform Club, but resigned when his efforts to import 10,000 rifles were revealed. This episode intensified his exasperation at the failure of fellow unionists to support their threats against home rule with armed force. He generally believed that Ulster unionists were under siege: he regarded the 1907 Belfast strikes as a nationalist plot to destroy Belfast’s prosperity and denounced protestants who participated in industrial action as either dupes or demagogues. From 1911 he was a member of the Ulster Unionist Council, and was a key figure on its secret military committee. For the next three years he tried various schemes to import arms into Ulster and, although often unsuccessful, he gained valuable experience and contacts in the international arms trade. He helped to raise the Young Citizen Volunteers, and commanded the guard that escorted Edward Carson (qv) on Covenant day (28 September 1912). He was a founder member of the Ulster Volunteer Force (31 January 1913), and was appointed director of ordnance on the UVF headquarters staff.
Throughout 1913 he managed to import into the north hundreds of rifles, some machine guns, and a large quantity of ammunition, using various ingenious ruses to hide them from the customs authorities. However, in June 1913 customs in Belfast and Dublin and police in London managed to seize several hundred rifles which Crawford had imported. By now he was frustrated by piecemeal efforts to arm the UVF and pressed for a single large-scale purchase of weapons. Despite a royal proclamation prohibiting the importation of arms into Ireland (4 December 1913), his proposal was approved by Carson in January 1914, and Crawford was commissioned to undertake the task. In February, using a defence fund subscribed to by British and Irish unionists, he bought 20,000 rifles and 2,000,000 rounds of ammunition in Hamburg and spent the next two months arranging their shipment to Ulster. Using a Norwegian collier, the SS Fanny, he managed to ship the arms alongside Tuskar Rock, where they were transferred to the Clyde Valley and landed at Larne, Bangor, and Donaghadee on the night of 24–5 April 1914; they were then distributed to UVF units throughout Ulster. The successful landing and efficient distribution of the arms greatly boosted the morale of the UVF and its credibility as a fighting force.
After the outbreak of the first world war Crawford was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and appointed OC Royal Army Service Corps in northern Ireland; he undertook an instruction tour in France in 1916. During the violence of 1920–22, he maintained that Ulster protestants could not rely on the British army and would have to protect themselves and he played a leading part in reviving the UVF. He also formed the Ulster Brotherhood, an armed undercover body nicknamed ‘Crawford's Tigers’, and discussed plans to infiltrate the IRA in Dublin and to kidnap Arthur Griffith (qv), but concluded that his strong Belfast accent might put him at a disadvantage. Although his efforts to seek legal status for the UVF were unsuccessful, many of its members were incorporated into the Ulster Special Constabulary and he was appointed commandant of the South Belfast B Specials. In April 1920 he published a leaflet, Why I voted for the six counties, in which he argued that it was essential for the safety of the British empire that the Northern Ireland state be predominantly protestant. At the opening of the Northern Ireland parliament in 1921 he was created CBE by George V. By 1923 his chemical manufacturing business was failing and he applied to the Northern Ireland government for employment. He was appointed contracts and stores officer of the Ministry of Home Affairs (1925–36) with responsibility for an arms depot. At the age of 78 he volunteered for active service in the second world war, but was turned down. His gun-running activities were recorded in Guns for Ulster (1947). He died 5 November 1952 in Belfast.
He married (1896) Helen Wilson of Lincolnshire; they had two sons and three daughters.