Obituary Christopher Martin Haydon Harrison

This obituary was provided by Christopher's son, Robin.

Christopher Harrison was born in Calcutta where his father was Professor of Physics in Presidency College. The family came to Lee-on-the Solent in the early 1920s when his father was appointed Chief Scientist in the Mine Design Dept at HMS Vernon, Portsmouth, and Christopher came to Blundell’s from his prep school West Hill Park, Titchfield in September 1928 when he was 14. He was a boarder in Francis House.

His career at Blundell’s was busy. Quite apart from his studies, he was an active sportsman, participating in rugby, cricket, tennis and cross-country running, and during his time at Blundell’s he represented either his house or the school in all these sports. The contemporary Blundellians also noted that he won the Temple Memorial Latin Prose Prize twice, was a member of the Blundell’s Fire Brigade and a sergeant in the OTC.

He went on to win a Blundell’s Exhibition to Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, matriculating in October 1933. He read classics and then history, getting a II.2. One suspects that he may have spent too much time on other activities than his studies! Certainly he seems to have focussed his sporting efforts on cross-country running in which he was the College Captain; he also ran for the University Cross-County Second Team and the Hare and Hounds. It was while at Cambridge he met and became engaged to his first wife Betty Pinnock (‘Jane’).

After obtaining his B.A., Christopher trained for the Colonial Administrative Service and was posted to Nigeria in 1938 where he was thrown in at the deep end by his District Officer, another Old Blundellian Godfrey Allen (North House): he was told to survey for a new road including a suitable place for a bridge. He was subsequently posted as aide to the Governor of the Eastern Provinces.

He and Jane were married in April 1939 and they returned to Nigeria together, where Jane accompanied Christopher on many of his trips ‘into the bush’ to carry out his administrative responsibilities – remarkable in those days when antibiotics were not available!

At the outbreak of war, Christopher joined the Volunteer Reserve of the Royal West African Frontier Force and in 1940 was posted to the 7th Battalion, Nigeria Regiment. Between then and the start of 1943, the regiment spent fruitless periods patrolling in the north in anticipation of attack by the Vichy French; such an attack never occurred. However, early in 1943, General Orde Wingate’s plans for attacks on the Japanese from within Burma had been initiated with the insertion of the first Chindit force; following its success, Wingate determined to use troops who were ‘used to the jungle’, and as a result 7NR were mobilised in 1943 to go to India for training for this enterprise. In April 1944, the main group for the second Chindit force was dropped by glider into the heart of Burma with the task of disrupting Japanese communication, positioning itself across the main railway line and road between north and south. Immediately on his arrival, Christopher was transferred from commanding his company to becoming Brigade Major at Henu (the White City’ base). As he would no longer be in the ‘front line’, this move annoyed him considerably, though in fact fighting at Henu was fierce throughout the Chindits’ stay. His duties as Brigade Major won him a Mention in Dispatches.

After a month of making ‘guerrilla’ attacks in the region around Henu, for various reasons it was decided that the entire Chindit force should fight their way north through the jungle to meet up with a Chinese force under General Stilwell. This they did over the next three months, through atrocious country and weather, carrying 65 lb packs. During this period increasing numbers of officers and men succumbed to dysentery or typhus, amongst whom was Christopher. Whenever possible, the sick were airlifted out to eventual recovery.

Once recovered, Christopher rejoined 7NR for a while as battalion commander in India before returning to the UK on leave and rejoining the Colonial Service. After two further tours in Nigeria, he was seconded to the Colonial Office in London where among other duties he liaised with the early planning of the Transantarctic Expedition, becoming friendly with its leader Vivian Fuchs.

Between 1953 and 1955, he returned to Nigeria, this time based in Lagos during Nigeria’s preparation for independence, where he was at different times Principal Assistant Secretary (Political Affairs), Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Communications, and Acting Secretary to the Council of Ministers. In 1955 he retired at his own request as Nigeria was becoming independent: for him, the Colonial Service of his youth had passed.

Returned to England, Christopher joined the Guided Weapons Division of English Electric Aviation (later the British Aircraft Corporation) as Assistant Manager (Administration). He was responsible for the administration of the company’s new works at Stevenage during its initial two years build-up. He then transferred to the Sales Department. However in 1963, following the cancellation of English Electric’s development of Blue Water, he resigned, and joined the Ministry of Overseas Development where he linked up with several former Colonial Service colleagues.

His activities at the MOD involved engaging and liaising with firms of engineering consultants and other organisations related to aid in the fields of agriculture, water resource, electricity and telecommunications development.

On his retirement from the Civil Service in 1975, he joined Sir William Halcrow & Partners, an engineering consortium, as their Administration Manager (and later Director). He finally retired in 1981.

During his time at Halcrow’s, his first wife Jane died of cancer. He subsequently remarried a colleague also working for Halcrow’s, Janet Carpenter. After Christopher’s retirement, they moved to Filkins, near Burford, on the edge of the Cotswolds where they remained for the rest of their lives. Janet died in 2012.

During his life Christopher was a committed churchman. He served on the committee that oversaw the building of St George’s, Stevenage, the largest church to be built since the Second World War. Later, in Filkins, he was a churchwarden and treasurer, also secretary of the Village Institute. He was very active in village social life throughout his time in Filkins, being involved in the Drama group (where he played many varied roles), the Gardening club and, while his physical strength prevailed, the Bowls club. He was a modest man with firm views on life. Active well into his 98th year, he had great morale and never let the decline of his faculties (hearing and eyesight) get him down. He was much loved and admired by his friends both near and far. In later years he was a generous supporter of both Blundell’s and Sidney Sussex. He is survived by his three children, Robin, Timothy and Sarah Jane.