John Alexander Christie was born on June 15, 1869 in Belfast to John and Mary Anne Christie (née Archer). When he was 18 ½ years old, he joined the 2nd East Lancashire Regiment at Belfast on January 5, 1888. Within 3 years he had been promoted to Corporal.
He deployed with them to Gibraltar on January 29, 1893 where they remained for 2 years and 3 months returning to England on April 30, 1895 as a Sergeant. He passed a Regimental Transport Course the following year but in January 1897 he went absent without leave from Aldershot for a week and upon his return was arrested, stripped of his rank and, at his own request, transferred to the Army Reserve on February 15, 1897. While he was a civilian, he married Emma Tyler, in December 1898, and would eventually have seven children, the first two dying as infants in late 1901. Earlier that year he had been allowed to rejoin for another 12 years which would extend his service to 21 years.
At the outbreak of the Boer War, he was called up for service on December 18, 1899 and deployed to South Africa with the 1st Battalion East Lancs Regiment in January 1900. There he served for a year before being invalided back to England but would later be awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with Paardeberg, Dreifontein and Cape Colony clasps.
Back in England he spent two years at the Regimental Depot and by July 1902 had been promoted back to Sergeant. In March 1903 he was posted back to the 1st battalion then in Ireland, where he passed his Mounted Infantry Certificate, but after 7 months transferred to the 2nd battalion in Poona, India where he and his family remained for the next 3 years. In India he passed his School of Musketry course at Satara in June 1906.
Returning to England in October 1906 he was posted back to the 1st Battalion East Lancs Regiment in Ireland again and in 1908 was preemptively granted permission to continue in the service beyond 21 years. As such, he was posted to the 5th Battalion at Burnley in December 1910 as Sergeant-Instructor. Here he received a Certificate of Proficiency Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield Lock, in May 1912. In 1914 he received his Long Service and Good Conduct Medals but his military service was far from over.
Shortly after the outbreak of War, he sailed to Egypt with the East Lancs Division, in early September 1914, just over 2 months after his youngest son, Albert Frederick Christie, was born in Burnley. In Egypt, the men drilled, trained and improved their physical fitness and on May 5, 1915 they embarked at Port Said for Gallipoli, arriving there on May 9th. Sgt. Christie was 45 years old and he was about to spend the next 8 months living under canvas in extremely difficult conditions which would severely challenge men less than half his age.
On March 18, 1915 the 9th Battalion, Manchester Regiment war diary notes that Colour-Sergeant James Holt of the pre-war permanent staff was invalided home from Egypt. In August 1914 the Cheshire Reporter lists three permanent staff members: Sergeant-Major Fowler, Colour-Sergeant Holt and Sergeant Craig. These men were regular Army N.C.O.s, permanently attached to the 9th Battalion, whose remit was to properly train the men and instill in them the same professionalism found with the regular forces. Only two traveled to Egypt with the battalion; Fowler and Holt. To lose such an experienced man just a few weeks before deployment to Gallipoli was a huge blow and it is likely that Sergeant-Instructor Christie was attached to the 1/9th Manchesters in March or April to fill this gap. Although we do not know exactly when Christie joined the 9th, we are certain that by May 23rd Sergeant-Instructor Christie was attached to them and assigned to “C” Company as he is referenced by name in Lance-Corporal Albert Platt’s interview with the Ashton Reporter. Christie would remain attached to the 1/9th for the duration of the war and provided exemplary and invaluable service.
On June 7, “C” Company was involved in a bloody bayonet charge that resulted in almost 50% casualties, Sgt. Christie was one of them but was only slightly wounded and did not leave the battalion. Remarkably, on the following day he was with Lieut. A.W.F. Connery, and No 11 Platoon, took over a small redoubt from troops of the Chatham Battalion, Royal Naval Division and spent the next 48 hours under heavy fire from Turkish shells and machine guns rebuilding the parapet a number of times as the bombardment repeatedly knocked it down. From the Ashton Reporter:
“On the afternoon of the 8th the company took over the guard in the gully, and Lieut. Connery, with his platoon and Sergt.-Inst. Christie, took over a redoubt from the Marines, which was subjected to a continuous heavy fire from Turkish gun and machine guns. Whilst Lieut. Connery was on this duty the Turks several times knocked the parapet down, and under a hot fire he himself, ably assisted by Sergt.-Inst. Christie and some of the men, rebuilt it as often as it was knocked down, and in addition greatly improved the defences. After 48 hours of this strenuous work the platoon was relieved.”
On June 22 another veteran, Regimental Sergeant Major Joseph Fowler, senior member of the battalion’s pre-war permanent staff, was wounded when he was shot through the scalp, and forced to leave the peninsula and go to hospital. Sergeant Christie was given an immediate field promotion to acting Regimental Sergeant Major, confirmed one month later and ante-dated to June 22.
By August, sickness was becoming widespread and on August 3 Christie was medically evacuated to hospital in Alexandria, with pneumonia, on the hospital ship Assaye. He rejoined the battalion at Gallipoli on October 28 and remained with them until they evacuated the peninsula two months later on December 28, 1915. On Saturday November 6, the Ashton Reporter published a first-hand narrative of events at Gallipoli by an un-named N.C.O. of “C” Company. In his report he specifically called out the good work of Sgt.-Major Christie, along with Sgt.-Major Fowler and Lance-Corporal Albert Platt as well as two young 2nd Lieuts.
“It is almost certain that had Lieuts. Wade and Connery and the two new N.C.O.s mentioned [Christie and Platt] been recommended for various good works carried out by them some distinction would have been awarded.”
The battalion sailed to Egypt in January 1916 where they were engaged in the defence of the Suez Canal from potential attack by the Turks from the Sinai. In March he was admitted to hospital at Suez suffering from Pyrexia, rejoining the battalion two weeks later. In June he was granted one month’s leave in England embarking at Alexandria on June 4, 1916 and rejoining the battalion at Kantara on July 27, (leave being exclusive of travel time).
On February 13, 1917 the London Gazette made the following announcement (Christie’s B.103 making the clarification: for distinguished service in the [Gallipoli] Campaign):
Decorations and medals conferred by HIS MAJESTY THE KING OF SERBIA. (September and October, 1916.) Cross of Karageorge, 1st Class (with Swords):
2218 Acting Regimental-Serjeant-Major John Alexander Christie, Manchester Regiment.
On March 2, 1917 the battalion embarked HMT Arcadian at Alexandria for France, arriving at Marseilles on the 11th. On May 2 he was promoted to Temporary Sergeant-Major (Warrant Officer Class I) for the duration of the War. He attended a 4th Army School of Instruction for 5 weeks at Flixecourt followed by 10 days leave in England, rejoining the battalion in the field on August 15, 1917. While he was in training the London Gazette carried the following announcement on July 24, 1917:
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to the undermentioned Warrant Officers, Noncommissioned Officers and Men for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty in the Field: —
2218 S.M. J. A. Christie, E. Lan. R. attd. 1/9th Bn. Manch. R.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has performed consistent good work throughout, and has at all times set a magnificent example of courage and initiative.
As can be seen from the annotated D.C.M. listing above, it was awarded specifically for his actions in Krithia Gully, (actually starting on the afternoon of June 8), rallying his men and repeatedly rebuilding the parapet over a 48-hour period while under heavy fire but also, as the inscription states, for his repeated good work throughout the Gallipoli campaign.
Shortly after he returned to France from leave, he was wounded on September 9, 1917 and again 8 days later on the 17th, remaining with the battalion both times. He was not so lucky on March 26, 1918 when he was wounded by shellfire in the left thigh and treated at 26th Field Ambulance. From there he was medically evacuated to No 9 General Hospital, Rouen and then transferred to England on the hospital transport ship Panama, on March 31. In England he was treated at Red Cross Hospital Highfield Hall, Southampton, being discharged on May 7, 1918, 36 days later. After 3 weeks leave, he reported to the 4th (Reserve) Battalion, East Lancs Regiment at Scarborough on June 1 where he remained until he was discharged upon completion of his service on May 6, 1919. He had served for a quite remarkable 31 years 122 days, the majority of the war years in front line infantry positions with the 9th Battalion Manchester Regiment.
In his civilian life he remained in Burnley, and became the landlord of the Derby Arms Hotel, Standish Street, Burnley. He remained active after the war with the South African War Veteran’s Association, the 42nd Division Old Comrades’ Association and the British Legion and had been in charge of every Burnley Armistice day parade of ex-servicemen since the War. But on September 8, 1934 he died after a month’s illness and was interred at Burnley Cemetery. Regimental Sergeant Major John Alexander Christie, D.C.M. was 65 years old. His wife, daughter and four sons survived him.