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   Obituary - Christopher Collier-Wright


Christopher Collier-Wright

House: Junior/Intermediate/Hawke
Years: 1954-1959

On 10th February 2009, Martin Langley received an e-mail from Roberta Collier-Wright:

Dear Martin

I'm sorry to let you know that our father, Christopher, died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, February 8th.

He was a dearly loved, kind, gentle and special man, who our mother Angele, Johnny and I are heartbroken to lose. As you know, following his retirement and move to London in 2006, he continued to lead an active and fulfilling life in this city which he loved. He sang in a London choir, was an active member of several societies and clubs, undertook volunteer work at Westminster Abbey and continued his writing whilst always helping others in many ways.

We are currently working on a date and venue for his London funeral and I will let you know the details.

Thank you for being a friend to our father. We know he dearly appreciated this.

Our best wishes,

Angele, Johnny and Roberta Collier-Wright

  • Tribute from Webmaster on 11th February 2009:
    This is totally devastating news, and I really cannot quite believe that I've just created an obituary page for such a great friend, someone who has been there for me from the time of the 'birth' of the Old Cambrian Society web site. Christopher was a true inspiration to me, and I sought his wise counsel on numerous occasions. In his unique and quiet way, he has worked away in the background, and has been the source of many ideas that have eventually led to articles and features on the web site.

    Christopher belonged to a group of Old Cambrians that I affectionately termed my “Four Wise Men”, and they have devoted countless hours to researching and writing pieces for the web site. The three remaining ‘wise men’ (Brian McIntosh, Ron Bullock and Martin Langley) will no doubt wish to contribute their own memories of Christopher, and like me they will feel a huge sense of loss, a void that will never be filled.

    The five of us have exchanged literally thousands of e-mails over the past 6-7 years, and the final one of these was last Saturday, just the day before Christopher passed away. He told us “I’ve just come back from a fortnight in Sri Lanka where I enjoyed several train trips along the coast and in the tea-growing highlands - all reminiscent of East Africa!”. This was in response to an e-mail from Martin who wished to expand areas of his wonderful train article “To School behind a Garratt”, and in particular to gain more information on Charles Henry Ryall, who was taken from his railway carriage by the ‘Kima Killer’ man eater (lion). Christopher will now not be able to fulfil his promise to Martin to visit the British Library and National Archives this week to research Charles Henry Ryall, something I am sure he would have relished.

    The very humorous and entertaining features on the web site, Staff Nicknames and Kenya “School Speak”, were the brainchild of Christopher, and he and Brian developed the first draft for me, and have processed and edited all contributions received from Old Cambrians over the past six years. Christopher researched and wrote the piece on the school’s second headmaster, Bernard Astley, and also the wonderful feature on the architect who designed the main school buildings at the Kabete site, Sir Herbert Baker.

    Christopher was a major contributor to other web site masterpieces, namely the articles produced by Brian on Capt Nicholson (the school’s first headmaster) and Philip Fletcher, who was headmaster during Christopher’s six years at the school.

    I feel truly privileged to have known Christopher, and I will miss the exchange of e-mails, sometimes on trivial matters of no relevance to research we were doing, his often containing very witty jokes and comments, but always captivating and written in a style unique to this lovely man. Christopher returned from Bahrain in 2006 and retired to London, and I was fortunate to meet him at the last two London reunions (in April 2007 and 2008) which I know he thoroughly enjoyed, because he made a point each time of telling me what a super evening he’d had.

    My sincere condolences go out to Angele, Johnny and Roberta. Your loss is beyond words, but is shared by many of us.

    Farewell, dear friend, I shall miss you.

    Steve Le Feuvre (Clive 1970-1975)

  • Tribute from Michael Wolff on 13th February 2009:
    Christopher and I, together with Brian McIntosh, were in the same forms at the Prince of Wales School from 1954 - 1959 and thereafter in the Kenya Regiment for 6 months in 1960. Not only did I share the same classes as Christopher [please see the photograph of form 6a 1954-59 on the website] but we were in the same dormitories in Hawke house. At this time Hawke was not bestowed with boys with a cultural heritage nor with many boys who had an interest in anything cultural, but Christopher was the outstanding exception. Unfortunately, this caused Christopher to be labeled "a swot and a wet" which abuse (for that was the intention of the word) did not cause him to be flustered one iota. I am afraid that I was the cause of his being caned twice: once when I pinched his bottom during prayers after evening prep which caused him to cry out, and another time when I pushed him onto the quadrangle grass in front of the prefect's eyes. Notwithstanding this abuse, his resiliance never left him and he showed those who tormented him (i.e. myself) that he was courageous enough to dive off the top board at the swimming pool before many boys with a bigger and better physique.

    I thought we had parted for good after we finished in the Kenya Regiment, but in the summer of 1961 and while we were on vacation from our universities in the UK, I was surprised when he suddenly, and without warning, turned up in Nakuru to seek me out. He was then taller than me and I feared reprisal, but that was not in Christopher's nature - he had come out of friendship and we had lunch together. It was not difficult to ascertain who was the better character. Again, I then thought that our paths would not cross again.

    Thanks to the Webmaster, Christopher was able to make contact with me from Bahrain and we arranged to meet at the Kenya Regiment Reunion at Winchester in about 1996 [ please see reunion photograph on the website ]. I collected him from the station, but not until we placed our arms around each other in fond embrace as old friends would. I last saw and spoke with him at the PoW (Old Cambrian Society) reunion in London in April 2008; and much later we spoke after his heart operation when again he showed such resiliance and fortitude.

    In July 2008, after a 50 year absence from the POW, I returned to the school. The pupils had been sent home because of disturbances in other schools and I was able to wander around alone and in silence. Sitting outside what was Hawke house, all the memories came flooding back.

    Christopher was a decent and loyal chap, and my condolences go out to his family. Another friend has departed and it will be with great sadness that I remove his number from my phone, but his memory will be with me whenever (which is often) I think of the good and wonderful school.

    Michael Wolff (Hawke 1954-1959)

  • Tribute from Ron Bullock on 15th February 2009:
    Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Christopher, his family name has been familiar since my pre-teen years when I used to cycle along Upper Hill Road (behind the Cathedral) and notice the name board at the end of the drive leading up to their spreading old KUR corrugated iron home.

    In recent years, we were drawn together first through the writing of articles for the OC website and later in a gradually expanding correspondence covering a host of topics from the mundane to the esoteric. Suffice it to say that this is something I shall greatly miss.

    Christopher, scholar and friend, you will be always remembered.

    Ron Bullock (Scott 1948-1953)

  • Tribute from Martin Langley on 16th February 2009:
    Being two years his junior and across the six acre from Hawke house, in Nicholson, I barely knew Christopher at school though I certainly knew who he was. By his own account (from his alumnus entry), he disliked games, preferring to “indulge my fondness for walking round the compound … etc”, and that is exactly how I remember him. He cut a solitary figure, slightly stooped, hands clasped behind his back strolling around the campus, deep in thought. Many times on the way to a hockey or rugby match, I’d see him, and hurry past thinking, “there goes Collier-Wright!”

    Fast forward 45 years or so to 2005. I had submitted a small contribution to the brilliant website article on headmaster P.F. Fletcher which Christopher co-authored with Brian McIntosh. From that point on began a correspondence and collaboration on things Old Cambrian that was to reveal Christopher as a man of uncommon decency and politeness, with a considerable intellect and manifold knowledge.

    Christopher’s father, John Collier-Wright, ended a long career with East African Railways & Harbours as the Chief Commercial Superintendent in the early 1960s. That connection with the world of the permanent way, resulted in a lifelong interest in all things railway for the young Christopher. He recalled his train trips from Nairobi to boarding school in Gilgil as a 10 year old in a web article on the Pembrokian website. He was a great help in putting together ‘To School Behind a Garratt’ for the OCS website, bringing not only his knowledge of East African trains but also correcting some of the finer points of English, of which he had a true mastery. I learned a great deal from him and will particularly miss him for that expertise.

    Christopher was a quiet, understated, gentlemanly person, who was quick to applaud others’ achievements while being very modest about his own. He valued and enjoyed his days at the PoW in spite of some early harassment for being a ‘swot’, which he bore with great equanimity, ultimately earning the respect of his tormentors. Although he enjoyed the more cerebral pursuits of life, as others have pointed out, he was not afraid of physical challenges such as diving off the high board at school without hesitation. He was a stalwart supporter of the OCS who contributed so much to the cause.

    To Angele, Roberta and Johnny, heartfelt condolences on the loss of a very good man. We grieve with you, and will miss him!

    Angele & Christopher at their home in St Johns Wood in April 2007

    Martin Langley (Nicholson 1956-1961)

  • Tribute from Brian Wakeford on 16th February 2009:
    I was very sorry to be informed of the death of Christopher. It certainly brings one up sharply to the passing of time. I hardly knew him at the Princo' (although we were contemporaries) because I was in Scott, as opposed to his being in Hawke. I languished in the thickies' form (formmaster the renowned Col Loftus) and there was a great academic gap between us.

    However, we were in the same Kenya Regiment squad, as the photo below shows. "Cyril" was a good mate then and kept our spirits up with his quick sense of humour. After our demob, we downed a few Tuskers in Nairobi and maintained contact until departing into the wider world of university in England in 1960.

    I greatly appreciated his research and writings that are in the Old Cambrian website and wish that I had "pulled finger" and made more of an effort to contact him.

    My condolences to the family.

    Brian Wakeford (Scott 1954-1958)

    Three Squad – Number Two Platoon
    Back row
    : Jannie Kruger, Jim Lockhart-Mure, Dick Suskind, Brian Wakeford, Cecil Walker, Pete Friman, Jim Pearce, Alistair McKinlay, Mike Destro, John Saunders, Jan van der Westhuizen
    Middle row: Mike Thornton, Otto Jacobs, Ian Beaty, Tony Hinde, Sid Dikes, George Smith, Tim Noad, "Cactus" Hallowes
    Front row: Barry Rowe, Chris Collier-Wright, Chris Voorveld, Dave Burn, Bob Duncan, "Mitch" Moon, "Prof" Cridland

  • Tribute from Neville Watson on 17th February 2009:
    I read with great sadness of the sudden death of 'Cyril'.

    Although I was not in Hawke House, I knew Christopher well at school because we were classmates for four years, 3A to VI Arts, and Michael Wolff's recollections of him are spot on.

    The last time I saw Christopher was in the late summer of 1960, when he had just finished his Kenya Regiment stint, and when we travelled together from East Africa to the UK on the "Kenya Castle". The next time I became aware of him was when the OC site published the wonderfully evocative "Staff Nicknames". The contributions he, and others, made to recording the wonderful and unique history of PoW have been outstanding, and hopefully the original research papers will be kept somewhere safe for posterity.

    Unfortunately I am at present on holiday in the Caribbean, so I will not be able to attend Christopher's funeral service in London on 23rd February, but my thoughts will be with Mrs. Collier-Wright and her family on that day.

    'Cyril', you were a good man (and boy), and you will be greatly missed not only by your family, but by the Old Cambrian Society.

    Neville Watson (Scott 1953-1959)

  • Tribute from Kevin Patience on 18th February 2009:
    I only heard this evening of Chris' passing. I was contacted by the family and hope to attend the funeral next week.

    I first knew of Chris through my brother Colin who was great friends of his brother when we lived near the Nairobi Club in the late 1950s. I first met Chris when we were in Bahrain and we had a common interest in East African steam and history, Chris' father having been with EAR&H for many years. Our paths would cross at various functions and later at the Kenya Regiment curry lunches at Winchester.

    Chris' command of English and history was put to the test in 2006 in Bahrain when I asked him if he would do a final proof edit of my shipwreck book, a task he did on a daily basis in between work, with us meeting for a meal in the evening to discuss the days output. It was due to his kindness and consideration that the book went as well as it did. We shared some intersting times together.

    Safari njema Bwana ......

    Kevin Patience

  • Tribute from Godfrey Dawkins on 19th February 2009:
    It has come as a great shock to me to hear that my dear boyhood friend, Christopher Collier-Wright has died. While he was in Hawke and I was in Grigg we always used to meet before going into the dining hall for supper. I think we were both the same age and certainly we were on the same wave length. Although it is 50 years ago I have always treasured that friendship.

    Our paths only crossed once again after we had left school when he was at Bristol University, and sad to say we completely lost touch with each other. Then, thanks to my brother Michael, after I had expressed a longing to be in touch with Christopher again, Michael found him for me on the Internet. And Christopher immediately telephoned me. Since then, we have been in correspondence with each other and looked forward to receiving his Christmas cards which were produced by Mission to Seamen.

    I was harbouring the hope that I would one day meet his wife and children and that they would visit us here in Kenya, but that was not to be. Of course I will send them my deepest sympathies but in case my brothers cannot make it to the funeral please would you also kindly convey my condolences to the family. I am very sorry that I myself cannot be there but will be with you very much in thought and prayer.

    Just by being able to say these few words it brings back the fragrance of Christopher’s memory.

    Godfrey Dawkins (Grigg 1956-1958)

  • Tribute from Brian McIntosh on 19th February 2009:
    The Prince of Wales School in the 40’s and 50’s was known for its rough treatment of junior boys and anyone who stood out from the crowd for anything other than prowess at competitive games. Christopher Collier-Wright was one of those who took a lot of “stick”. But he had oil in his feathers. By that I mean when others tried to give him a bad time, he would let it roll off him like water off a duck’s back. His response would be to smile, to parry with a witty riposte, or to make a joke of it.

    This cheerful, independent spirit sustained Christopher through six rigorous months of boot camp in the Kenya Regiment. He did his part as a member of 3 Squad on the drill square, the shooting range, and the ten-mile forced march with full kit and rifle. The same is true of his performance on the dreaded assault course where you needed guts to cope with lung-wrenching smoke flares, ear-splitting thunder flashes, and live bullets cracking just above your head. In the second half of the training course when survival was no longer the primary objective, Christopher found his niche as a radio operator in the signals unit during field exercises at Mugi and Rumuruti.

    After the passing out parade at the end of boot camp, we went our separate ways, Christopher to Bristol University and I to the University of Edinburgh. Forty-four years later we found each other again thanks to Steve Le Feuvre and the Old Cambrian Website which he manages so brilliantly on behalf of the Prince of Wales and Nairobi School alumni.

    The first email communication I received from Christopher was on April 30th 2004. He began with a jesting reference to my email user name, mzee. “Yes,” he wrote, “as a former head of school I reckon you qualify for the title mzee! I shall never forget your audacity at that final assembly in commanding P Fletcher to remain on stage, the mighty hip-hip-hoorays for which you called, and his moist eyes on receiving the school's donation.” (This was in reference to Philip Fletcher, a much-admired headmaster of the Prince of Wales School, who was retiring after fifteen years of service.) It was the first of hundreds of playful and witty emails I was to receive over the next few years. He would tease me and endlessly test my knowledge on matters ranging from Latin translation to Gilbert and Sullivan to Shakespeare; more often than I like to admit, I came up short in my answers.

    As part of our correspondence, we shared details of our respective lives, both in boyhood Kenya and in the intervening years. Christopher would write affectionately about his late mother who appeared in several light operas and musical shows at the Kenya National Theatre. He sent photos of himself with his wife Angele, his daughter Roberta, his son Johnny, and his grandchildren. He also kept me posted about the health and welfare of his father, then living in retirement in York, whom we would refer to as the AP (aged parent), a term remembered from Great Expectations which we read in Form IV. With sadness he also wrote about the tragic loss of his younger brother Robert who died in a motor cycle accident in Nairobi in 1964.

    As the emails flowed back and forth between Bahrain where Christopher was stationed and Pennsylvania where I reside, it wasn’t long before we started to discuss the idea joining forces to write something for the Old Cambrian Website. Christopher showed me an essay he’d written for the Pembroke House magazine on schoolboy slang and that became the platform upon which we produced the more elaborate Old Cambrian feature called “School Speak.” Another feature, “Staff Nicknames”, with its amusing anecdotes followed close behind.

    We really got into our stride when we embarked on a tribute to our old Headmaster, Philip Fletcher. We left no stone unturned - Christopher doing most of the research – whether in England, Geelong Australia, or Princeton New Jersey. It was a labor of love. We derived immense satisfaction from putting it all together and seeing it finally posted on the website. The response from Old Cambrians and other interested parties was overwhelmingly positive.

    Christopher, good soul that he was, visited Guildford Crematorium on one of his leaves from Bahrain. Finding nothing but a brief note in the records, and being determined to honor Mr. Fletcher’s memory in a fitting way, Christopher paid out of his own pocket to have a formal inscription entered into the Book of Remembrance

    During that same leave, Christopher did some research on his own account and wrote a short but fascinating article on Sir Herbert Baker, the famous architect, who designed the present school buildings in the late 1920s using Thomas Jefferson’s University of Virginia rotunda and colonnades as his model. So many people have praised that article, not only for its hitherto-unknown information but for Christopher’s lively and elegant prose. (Click here to read the Baker article)

    The Baker article piqued our curiosity about Captain B.W.L Nicholson who became the first headmaster of the newly completed prince of Wales School in 1931. It was he who established the Royal Navy traditions and emblems that persist to this day at the school. We hardly knew where to start because there was very little information to be found. At that point we were joined in the research and writing by fellow Old Cambrians, Ron Bullock and Martin Langley. Ron navigated the genealogical and nautical records to document Nicholson’s family history and naval service in two world wars; Martin was busy scanning the Impala Magazines for a CD production but found time to send to us excerpts from the magazines covering the Nicholson years, 1931-37. Things really began to hum when Cynthia and Angus McCrae sent us a box of amazing photographs taken by Cynthia’s father, Bernard Astley who was on Nicholson’s teaching staff and who succeeded him as Head Master in 1937. Truly, our cup was full to overflowing.

    After we had all spent a good deal of time on the Nicholson project, Christopher became impatient with my need to get everything just right and he demanded that we wrap things up and get the article into Steve Le Feuvre’s capable hands for posting. I complained to Christopher that he was chungering us kama ngombe (herding us like cattle); he was not offended, but without his influence I might still be tinkering with it today.

    Christopher visited Cynthia and Angus McCrae at their home in England during the Nicholson project. They were so impressed by him that they asked him to write an article on Cynthia’s father, Bernard Astley, which would be of the same caliber as the ones on Fletcher and Nicholson. In due course, yet another star feature bearing the Collier-Wright trademark appeared on the school website. It completed a trilogy honoring the school’s greatest Headmasters, Nicholson, Astley and Fletcher,1931 to 1959. (Click here to read the Astley article)

    After completing his tribute to Bernard Astley, Christopher wanted to sit back and rest for a while. He had a wide range of interests, many of which had been neglected during the two-year burst of creativity that produced the aforementioned Old Cambrian articles. For example, as a scholar and a traveler, he had developed an interest in the Assyrians of Hakkâri in south-eastern Turkey and he was thinking of writing a biography of Mar Eshai Shimoun XXlll, Patriarch of the Church of the East, who was assassinated in San Jose, California, in 1975.

    Christopher did not, however, lose touch with the Old Cambrian Society’s website. He continued to advise Steve on policy matters and to assist with new submissions by other Old Cambrians. Chief among the latter was Martin Langley’s exciting new feature on school trains and the Garratt locomotive to which Christopher generously provided a wealth of technical and factual railway information. In this he was well qualified, being the son of a former Chief Commercial Superintendent of the East African Railways and Harbors. Martin’s train feature, needless to say, was highly praised after publication by Old Cambrians and railway enthusiasts in several countries. (Click here to read "To School Behind a Garratt")

    In closing, I should like to mention Christopher’s lifelong passion for choral singing. During his time Bahrain, Christopher was a loyal member of the Manama Singers, a choral group that was well known in the region for giving excellent recitals. After retiring to England, Christopher continued to sing with choirs in London, but he was clearly delighted when he wrote to me last October, “I don't think that I have told you that I've been invited out to Bahrain by the Manama Singers to sing in their forthcoming concert. It happens to be the same work as we are practicing here (Brahms Requiem) and as they have been allocated some free tickets by Gulf Air they've kindly invited me along with the soloists etc!”

    It was therefore such a shock when Roberta, Christopher’s daughter, announced that her beloved father had died unexpectedly in his sleep on Sunday February 8th, 2009. I offer my heartfelt condolences to Christopher’s wife, Angele, his children, Roberta and Johnny, and his younger brothers, Richard and Charles.

    Those of us who knew this unique and gifted individual at the Prince of Wales School and who were reunited with him in recent years are deeply affected by the news of his death. Christopher is the third member of Form 6A of 1959 to pass on. Only six of us remain. We wonder if, when our time comes, we shall go as peacefully and with as fine a record of kindness, decency and good works as did Christopher Collier-Wright.

    Christopher Collier-Wright
    Christopher Collier-Wright at rehearsal with the Manama Singers in Bahrain
    (Photograph from the Manama Singers Website)

    Brian McIntosh (Rhodes 1953-1959)

    The following was Christopher's entry in the Alumni section of this web site prior to his death:

    Christopher Collier-Wright

    House: Junior/Intermediate/Hawke
    Years: 1954-1959

    I acquired my nickname Cyril in my first term when, in the absence on leave of Dougal Gammie, Bertie Lockhart was our somewhat unlikely temporary English master. He kept us occupied by getting us to read plays. As a diminutive rabble, it fell to my lot to read the part of a young boy called Cyril in a play set in an underground train which was stuck in a tunnel. A part which I was never to forget!

    My favourite position in games was Left Outside or Remainders, affording me the opportunity to indulge my fondness for walking round the compound, swimming and reading. I enjoyed singing in the chapel choir and the choral society, and attending the meetings of the Political and Historical Society and other groups.

    After the Kenya Regiment, I went to the University of Bristol. A colonial upbringing led to an overseas career in the teaching of English as a foreign language. I held posts through the British Council in Syria, Ethiopia, Cyprus and Bahrain, and am still working at the University of Bahrain. My wife Angčle and I have two children, and are about to become grandparents for the second time.

    I have had some opportunity for travel off the beaten track in Ethiopia and elsewhere, including a trip by mule to Magdala on the centenary of the Napier expedition, a voyage by canoe down the River Baro, and journeys through the Carpathians and the Caucasus. Bertie Lockhart’s training stands me in good stead in the Manama Singers here in Bahrain, and I lead a walking group on desert hikes in the “winter” months.

    Image of Christopher Collier-Wright - 2005
    Christopher Collier-Wright (2005)

    (Registered - 13th February 2003) (Updated - 16th March 2005)