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Evelyn Collisson - Great War Fatality

Collison E E A
2nd Lieutenant E E A Collisson [X550/1/81]

Thomas Collisson became Rector of Lower Gravenhurst and Vicar of Upper Gravenhurst in 1916. He had been born at Highbury, in the London Borough of Islington and had lived in Canada from 1873 to 1877. Educated at Christ’s Hospital and then Christ’s College, Cambridge, where he received his BA in 1880 and his MA in 1883 he became a deacon in 1880 and was priested in 1882. He was curate of Haslingden [Lancashire] from 1880 to 1883 and followed this by curacy stints at Holy Trinity, Marylebone [London] 1883-1884, Saint Jude’s, South Kensington [London] 1884-1890 and Frimley [Surrey] 1895-1896. His wife’s name was Florence.

His only son Evelyn Ernest Arnold was born at Haynes Vicarage on 19th July 1893. The Bedfordshire Standard of 17th March 1916 tells us that he was educated at Boxgrove School, Guildford [Surrey], “where he gained many prizes for both studies and sports and left a Prefect at the top of the school in every subject. He then entered Aldenham School [Hertfordshire] and gained a Junior Platt Scholarship, being placed at once in a high form. During his five years at the school he won classical, history and sports prizes and the school heaped honours upon him … On leaving school his Housemaster wrote to his father: “He has achieved the greatest distinction possible at a public school”. Peterhouse College, Cambridge offered him a History Exhibition, to develop into a scholarship, but as he desired to enter into business life he did not proceed to the University. He at once entered the house of Messrs Gibbs and Sons of 22 Bishopsgate(2), who that same year sent him out to their house in Valparaiso, Chile”. Gibbs and Sons dealt in cloth, guano, wine, fruit, banking, shipping and insurance. “There excellent prospects were held out to him, but at the beginning of the war he offered his services and cabled to his father, “May I come? I want to”. Receiving a favourable reply he, with Brian James Brett Walsh, an Aldenham scholar, in the same house of business, started over the Andes through the snow, on mule back, to Buenos Aires, being unable to travel by sea, as the German Fleet which sank the Monmouth was then in the Valparaiso roads”.

Defeat of the German squadron at the Battle of the Falklands on 8th December 1914 no doubt allowed Collisson and Walsh to sail for England. “He joined the Duke of Bedford’s Camp at Ampthill as a Second Lieutenant. At Aldenham School he passed the Military Certificate A, top, gaining unusually high marks; was a Sergeant in the Army Officer Training Corps and won the challenge cup for shooting. From the Ampthill Camp he went to the Front in France and was to have received a Headquarters Staff appointment”. In fact he joined 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.  

Second Lieutenant Collisson was killed on 23rd February 1916, at 12.15 in the afternoon, shot by a sniper. The Battalion War Diary [X550/3/WD] tells us that it was snowing and very cold. The Battalion were at Maricourt on the Somme, at that time a quiet area, and manning the front line. Brian Brett died of wounds at Gallipoli with the Essex Regiment on 28th October 1915. The newspaper piece ends: “Second Lieutenant E E A Collisson was buried at Maricourt, the officiating priest being the Rev G R Vallings, Chaplain of the 1st/7th Gordon Highlanders”.

In the Bedfordshire Standard of 14th March was a letter from sapper H Harper of the Royal Engineers, from Bolnhurst who had visited Collisson’s grave: “It is beautifully kept, with box tree edging, a cross bearing his name, regiment and date of death; an iron cross also lies on the grave, with the “Brave Bedfords” badge attached to it. Being Bedfordshire born myself, I have been interested in conversations with the lads of the 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment and they all feel the loss of their officer, who was highly respected by all ranks. I am sure that Rev and Mrs Collisson would like to know that their son had a proper burial and I sympathise with them in their great loss”.

The grave forms part of Cérisy-Gailly Miliary Cemetery. On the stone is written: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”.

His parents clearly felt the strain of his death and perhaps felt that a change of scene might help their suffering, no longer surrounded by places where the memory of their boy was redolent. They moved to Swyre in Dorset, just inland from the coast in July 1916. Thomas Collisson served the parish as rector until he died on 29th January 1921, aged 68.