On 28 April 1916 a man calling himself Eric Claude Champion de Crespigny married Eileen Barbara Lamport by licence at Holy Trinity Church in Vauxhall Bridge Road, London. He stated that he was a soldier, age 22 [so born about about 1894], the son of Claude de Crespigny (deceased). He gave his address as 13 Stafford Road, Stockwell.

Westminster, London, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns: Holy Trinity, Vauxhall Bridge Road City of Westminster Archives Centre; London, England; Westminster Church of England Parish Registers; Reference: HTVBR/PR/2/5 retrieved through ancestry.com

On 25 September 1917, Private Claude E de Crespigny, presumably the same man, of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment, B Company, was captured by German forces at Ypres [the Third battle of Ypres is also known as the Battle of Passchendaele].

A duckboard track passing through Chateau Wood, near Hooge in the Ypres salient, 29 October 1917. Photograph by Frank Hurley. Australian War Memorial collection number E01220.

On 5 December 1917 he was at reported to be a prisoner at Dulmen, he had previously been in Dendermonde camp; Dendermonde is a city in east Flanders and Dülmen is a town in North Rhine-Westphalia. Records of the International Committee of the Red Cross give de Crespigny’s service number as 10882, stating that he was born 1 February 1894 at Maldon. His next of kin was recorded as his wife, who lived at “Wyvern House”, Llandrindod Wells, Wales.

Prisoners Of War record from FindMyPast

In a report of 8 February 1918 he was stated to be in 1 Münster having previously been in Lager Dülmen (Camp Dulmen) which was just over 30 kilometers south-west of Münster. There was a slight variation in some of the details reported. He was captured 10 September 1917. He was wounded: “Kugel 1 Bein und Schamleiste” or “Ball [bullet] 1 leg and groin”. His birthdate was given as 1 February 1893 and place of birth London.

Prisoners Of War record from FindMyPast

Eric de Crespigny is recorded on Medal Index Cards, compiled towards the end of the war, as ERIC C C D’CRESPIGNY. I cannot find any earlier military records that name him.

Eric Claude Champion de Crespigny was recorded on the 1918 electoral roll for the City of Westminster as living at 48 Eaton Square.

Eileen remarried on 10 November 1919 to a man called Cyril Wardale King, giving her name as Kathleen Barbara Lamport. I have found no record of a divorce, nor have I found any other record naming Eric de Crespigny before his marriage in 1916 or after the 1918 electoral roll.

So who was Eric Claude de Crespigny?

The only man who fits the surname, was possibly the right age in 1892 or 1893 to father a child, and who in 1916 was describable as ‘deceased’ is Claude Champion de Crespigny, who was born in 1873 and died in 1910. Claude did not marry. He possibly fathered an illegitimate son, and this may be the man who called himself Eric de Crespigny.

However, I think that Eric Claude simply assumed the identity and then, from 1919, reinvented himself as Edmund Alexander Champion de Crespigny, adopting the name of a dead child who had died in 1905, the youngest child of Philip Augustus Champion de Crespigny (1850-1912). ‘Eric Claude’ later called himself Claude Edmund Alexander Champion de Crespigny.

His signature on the 1916 marriage record of ‘Eric Claude Champion de Crespigny’ bears a strong resemblance to the signature of Claude Edmund Alexander Champion de Crespigny on 1923 and 1927 petitions for United States naturalization.

Eric’s signature in 1916
Claude Edmund’s signature in 1923
Claude Edmund’s signature in 1927

Why assume somebody else’s surname and then their identity? I think Eric/Edmund/Claude gained a social and perhaps some financial advantage by pretending to be connected to the Champion de Crespigny family.

He did get somewhat out of his depth though when in 1930 in Chicago he claimed to have a PhD and joined the faculty of Loyola University. (A significant shift from his occupation as typewriter salesman reported on the census of 1 April 1930). As Professor Claude Champion de Crespigny, he gave a talk on “Britain in India today”. Professor de Crespigny was said to have ‘served with the British Legation in India’. Since India had not yet gained independence, the term ‘British Legation in India’ makes no sense. Perhaps no one noticed the slip.

Nothing was heard of ‘Professor’ de Crespigny after this. When he died in 1967 his occupation was hotel clerk, of Houston, Texas.

Claude had come down in the world, poor chap. In the long run, stealing another man’s name didn’t do him any good.

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