Bedales 1902? – 1906, Lieutenant Royal Engineers

Colin (as he was known at school) is unusual in that his death on 15 December will be commemorated by at least three schools.  He was born in Brighton, the twin son of George Christie and his wife Lilian, the daughter of William Skene Row, an Indian Army Officer.  George and Lilian had been married in the Catholic Apostolic Church in Brighton on 31 January 1893.  There is some confusion over his earliest school.  Mr Badley claimed that both boys came to Bedales in the Autumn Term of 1902, though it is only Gilmer he mentions as one of the first 6 boys at Hillcroft (the newly established Junior School).  Dr Bebbington of Magdalen College School believes Colin started his education in September 1903 at “a day school in Brighton”.  Certainly Colin did not accompany Gilmer to the Bedales Senior School in January 1906 and he spent the summer term at Clayesmore (then established at Pangbourne).  In the current Clayesmore Chapel he is commemorated by a stained glass window, commissioned by his parents.

Christie window, reproduced by kind permission of Clayesmore

The Headmaster, Alexander Devine, orchestrated Colin’s entrance to Osborne to prepare for a life in the Navy and he may have progressed from there to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth whence in 1910 he became a cadet on the training ship H.M,S, Cornwall  but after three months weaknesses in his eyesight brought an end to a potential naval career.  (It is interesting to note that his twin Gilmer suffered a similar fate after leaving Bedales at Easter 1912.)  It was that setback that took Colin to his father’s old school, Magdalen College School in Oxford, where he excelled as a rower and in swimming and diving: did he learn to swim at Bedales, which pursued the sport with passion?

Colin must have successfully improved his academic performance at MCS as he gained entrance to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, the training school for officers in the Artillery and the Engineers.  After a successful career there, in January 1914 he was named in The London Gazette as one of four Gentlemen Cadets from Woolwich who had been posted to the Royal Engineers on 19 December 1913.  From the Royal School of Military Engineering at Chatham in August 1914 Colin was posted to the 80th Field Company of the Royal Engineers, part of the 18th Division.

In the Army List, Colin’s designation as a full Lieutenant is dated 9 June 1915, which preceded by about six weeks the posting of the 80th to France.  I haven’t been able to follow his path over the next four months.  From the War Diary (WO95/2027/2) a section of the 80th seems to have been occupied in setting up a repair workshop for the Royal Engineers and establishing a sawmill, powered by a portable engine they had found abandoned in a nearby ruined village.  By October 1915 it was consuming 2 tons of coal a month and “cutting 25 to 30 thousand feet of timber a month”.  Much time was spent in constructing and improving trenches.  There is no evidence that Colin took part in this; by December he had been seconded to work with the 99th Trench Mortar Battery of the Royal Field Artillery commanded by Lieut. Martin Kirke Smith and it was there that he was fatally wounded on 14 December.  Their War Diary (WO95/1373/2) merely records the death of “Lt. K. M. Smith, O.C. Battery killed by a sniper”.

Colin was obviously a popular officer as the letter signed by 33 members of his Section (Christie’s boys) and sent to his parents after his death testifies. There are several versions of the background to Colin’s death, one being that he went to rescue a wounded fellow officer and was himself shot.  The version that reached Bedales, published in The Bedales Chronicle for 2 April 1916, was in a letter dated “France 24th December 1915”.  I quote it as published:

Lieut.Martin Riche (sic) Smith R.F.A. in charge of a battery of four trench mortars, was in his dug-out on 14th Dec. when a man rushed in and said, ‘A wounded officer is over the parapet and cannot be got in.’ Martin left his map, his books &c. and rushed out.  He got over, placed the wounded officer (Christie) on his shoulder and carried him under fire 60 yards, and was then shot in the heart.  Martin’s servant, Skinner (such a nice chap), got out, and was standing, or rather kneeling, over his dead officer, when a bullet entered his tunic by his right breast and travelled without injuring him downwards till it burst (it was an explosive one) in his left groin.  Another of Martin’s battery then went out and was shot in the right thigh.  Then the battery went mad and swarmed over, and the snipers, no doubt scared, ceased fire; and then all, dead and alive, were got in.  The other officer (Christie) died as we were burying my dear old Martin 15th Dec.”

The Chronicle editor concluded, “This account differs from that received from the Engineers but is preferred because none of those actually saw what happened.”  Unfortunately neither the writer of the letter nor the person who passed it on to The Chronicle is named.  It would seem most likely that it was sent to one of Colin’s brothers (his twin Gilmer or younger brother Denis, both then serving in the Army) or to his parents.  Mrs Christie did pass on letters from Denis, then a motor cycle despatch rider, which were published in The Chronicle.

Colin died of his wounds at one of the Casualty Clearing Stations at La Neuville and was buried in Plot 1, Row B Grave 2 of Corbie Communal Cemetery.

Colin’s parents contributed five guineas to the War Memorial at Magdalen College School as well as the window at Clayesmore.  Bedales’ notoriously bad record keeping means we have no idea how much they contributed to the Memorial Library Fund but it was likely to be a substantial amount as Gilmer (the survivor) had spent 10 years and Denis (who died in 1918) eight and a half years at the Junior and Senior Schools.  As Mr Badley commented, Colin “has often been here with his brothers and seemed almost as much a member of the School as they were.”  Both Colin and Denis are commemorated above the window in Bay 2 of the Library.

The sources include publications in the Bedales Archives, records at the National Archives, Kew and the usual genealogical sources.  I am indebted to Louise Smith of Clayesmore for information and permission to reproduce the Christie window and to Dr. David Bebbington of MCS permission to make use of his researches published in “Mister Brownrigg’s Boys”.