Claude Raul Champion de Crespigny, one of my 5th cousins twice removed, was born at Durrington, Wiltshire on 19 September 1878. He was the fifth of nine children of Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny the fourth baronet, and Georgiana Lady Champion de Crespigny née McKerrell. The five sons of the fourth baronet were all given the first name Claude. The younger four sons each had a middle name: Raul, Philip, Vierville, Norman.
Raul was educated at Wellington College, Berkshire. He joined the army and served in the prestigious Grenadier Guards regiment. He became a 2nd Lieutenant on 17 January 1900 and was promoted Lieutenant two years later, on 1 April 1903. Raul was awarded the Queen’s Medal with four clasps in the South African War. He became a Captain in 1908.
On 24 Jun 1913 Raul married Violet Rose (Vere) Sykes in the Royal Military Chapel (The Guards’ Chapel) on Birdcage Walk opposite St James Park. Vere’s brother Claude Alfred Victor Sykes was also an officer in the Grenadier Guards.
Over the course of World War 1 Raul was promoted from Captain to Brigadier-General. He was Commanding Officer of the 2nd battalion Grenadier Guards at the Somme and remained in command until 22 Sep 1917, when he replaced Brigadier-General G. D. Jeffreys as commander of the 1st Guards Brigade. Raul de Crespigny was mentioned seven times in despatches. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order, D.S.O., in 1916, invested with the Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George, C.M.G., in 1918, and the Companion of the Order of the Bath, C.B., a year later. In 1916 he was also decorated with the Montenegrin Cross (Order of Danilo 4th class).
An article in a New Zealand newspaper called the ‘Dominion‘, dated 29 January 1918, with the headline ‘The Perfect Soldier’ described Raul’s distaste for staff work and eagerness to return to his battalion. He was:
'One of those commanding officers who believe in being in the thick of the fighting, he used to lead his men over the top with a 'loaded stick' as a weapon. In one of the recent engagements in Flanders he charged a Hun machine-gunner who was scattering death right and left with his stream of bullets. With one mighty swing of his stick he broke the neck of the Hun, and the regiment went on. The Hun's gas mask and steel helmet are in England now hanging on the walls of Brigadier-General de Crespigny's Essex home among innumerable trophies of the chase, grim relics of a man whose hobby is fighting.'
The article goes on to list his sporting accomplishments in steeple-chasing, boxing, cricket, shooting and aquatic sports.
Though Champion Lodge was certainly cluttered with sporting trophies, bashing a Hun to death then then mounting a trophy of the occasion on your wall seems more likely to have been a literary trope than solid fact. Nancy Mitford’s ‘Uncle Matthew’ comes to mind, in ‘The Pursuit of Love‘:
"THERE is a photograph in existence of Aunt Sadie and her six children sitting round the tea-table at Alconleigh. The table is situated, as it was, is now, and ever shall be, in the hall, in front of a huge open fire of logs. Over the chimney-piece plainly visible in the photograph hangs an entrenching tool, with which, in 1915, Uncle Matthew had whacked to death eight Germans one by one as they crawled out of a dug-out. It is still covered with blood and hairs, an object of fascination to us as children."
Raul’s marriage ended in divorce in 1926.
Raul became the 5th baronet after the death of his father in 1935. He died on 15 May 1941. His obituary in the Chelmsford Chronicle noted that he “settled at Champion Lodge, and took a kindly interest in the affairs of the neighbourhood, especially the British Legion. His last public duty was performed a few months ago, when he opened the gift sale of the Maldon Farmers’ Union in Maldon Market on behalf of the Red Cross.” Members of the British Legion provided a guard of honour at his funeral.
Claude Raul had no children. Of the five sons of the fourth baronet, only Claude Vierville had a daughter, but women could not inherit the baronetcy. The title passed to a cousin, Henry Champion de Crespigny (1882-1946), son of Philip Augustus Champion de Crespigny (1850-1912). Philip was the younger brother of the fourth baronet, second son of the third baronet.
Three of Claude’s four brothers:
- Claude de Crespigny 1873 – 1910
- Claude Philip: The sailor and the princess
- Claude Norman: C is for Compiègne on 1 September 1914