Company Sergeant Major Thomas Chrisp
Thomas Chrisp was born 7 October 1892 at Elsdon in Northumberland, the eldest son of four children of Thomas Chrisp, then a Police Constable, and his wife Isabella (née Charlton). His father transferred to Seaton Sluice in 1896, and his career then led him successively to Seaton Delaval, Norham, and in 1905 Wooler. Promotion to Inspector followed in 1907.
Thomas Chrisp junior first attended school at Wooler. He then won a bursary as part of a Northumberland County Council apprenticeship scheme for pupil teachers to the Duke’s School at Alnwick, which he attended 1906-1911. His academic instruction was balanced by practical teaching experience, and Chrisp first served as a salaried pupil-teacher at his old school in Wooler and then moved to a school in Alnwick. He also spent some time teaching at St Margaret’s Church School in Durham City, although it is not known when. He excelled at the Duke School, playing in the school football team, serving as prefect, and he passed the Senior Cambridge Examination in 1910. He was also active in the school’s Literary and Debating Society, and once spoke in support of the motion “In the opinion of this House arbitration is a better means than war of settling international disputes”, and which was carried by 21 votes to 18. However his years there were marred by the early death of his father on 29 January 1910. The family subsequently moved to Alnwick.
Having finished his apprenticeship scheme Chrisp took up a post as an Uncertificated Assistant teacher at Guide Post Primary School, near Choppington, in September 1911. It was here that he met his future wife, May Hedley, who also joined the school staff that year, but as a better qualified Certified Assistant. This may have spurred him to apply to the teacher training course at Bede College in Durham, and which he attended 1912-1914. At Bede College Chrisp was in the second class, and passed the Certificate Examination successfully in July 1914. His time at the college was much taken up with sport, and his achievements in rugby, rowing, tennis, cross-county running, and, principally, football, can be followed in The Bede magazine. He also continued to participate in lively college debates, and was a talented artist. But any plans he might have had to return to his school as a newly Certified Assistant were thwarted by the outbreak of war.
All Bede students during their time at the college served as volunteers in the 8th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry (T.F.), in which they formed their own Company. Indeed the Bede men were at a training camp when war was declared, and a large contingent immediately signed up for service abroad, Thomas Chrisp among them. After a further period of training the battalion was dispatched to France on 19 April 1915, and quickly moved up to the front line to participate in the Battle of Gravenstafel Ridge on 25 April, part of the Second Battle of Ypres. Fuller details of this engagement and the heavy losses the battalion suffered can be found above under the biographies of the Bede men who were killed that day. Thomas Chrisp came out of the encounter with two gunshot wounds, to his right arm and left thigh. Hospital treatment and then a period of convalescence in England followed. After he had recovered Chrisp was promoted to Sergeant Major and assigned to train new recruits. It was in this period, on 24 June 1916, that Thomas Chrisp married May Hedley at Hexham, where Thomas Chrisp’s mother was then working as a caretaker for the Abbey; a son would follow on 17 March 1917.
Chrisp re-joined his battalion in France in July 1916, and took part in heavy fighting on the Somme through August and September. In one particular action on 29 September, described in The Bede magazine excerpt below, his actions were such that he won the Military Medal, awarded to him on 22 October, and which was gazetted on 9 December 1916.
The Battalion carries out a bombing raid along an old German C. T. [Communications Trench] which we were holding as a front line, meeting with great resistance, and, after our store of bombs had been exhausted, subject to heavy grenade fire from the German positions. In spite of heavy losses we succeed in holding on to our position. During this raid 2nd Lt. Bewick was killed and 2nd Lt. Wallace seriously wounded. Our stretcher-bearers did magnificent work on this occasion, rescuing our wounded from under the very feet of the Germans. Serjeant Chrisp earned his M.M. during this stunt. The Bede magazine, vol. 13, no. 2, April 1917, p.5
The battalion spent the next period attacking the Butte de Warlencourt, and in early April 1917 moved north to participate in the Battle of Arras.
Sergeant Major Chrisp was killed on 23 June 1917 by a German shell which caught him just as he was entering his dugout. He was buried at Neuville-Vitasse Road Cemetery. An obituary published in The Bede magazine in August 1917 recorded his comrades’ sense of loss. “The whole Company mourns his loss. He was always a true friend to the men, and one to whom they always went in any trouble. If anyone was in want, of anything, they always said ‘go and ask the Major’ … and very rarely were they refused.” His widow and young son were then living at Summerleigh in Choppington. May Chrisp would return to teaching in 1920.
Thomas Chrisp’s sacrifice is commemorated on several war memorials across the north east of England, at: Wooler School; the Duke’s School in Alnwick; St Margaret’s Church and School in Durham; Bede College’s 1914-1918 Cross, Plaque, and Roll of Honour; the 8th Battalion D.L.I. Drill Hall; the Town Hall in Durham City; the Comrades’ Club in Durham City; Hexham Abbey and War Memorial Hospital (now demolished); St Paul’s Church reredos and cross in Choppington; and the National Union of Teachers War Record 1914-1919 (1920) Durham section.