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    Colonel Charles Edward Colbeck MC RE

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    Single “engraved” 1915 Star, with the correct details to Captain Charles Edward Colbeck Royal Engineers

    Later awarded the Military Cross for the defence of Kut-al-Amara while serving with an Indian Imperial Service company, the Sirmoor Sappers and Miners and later was the driving force in developing a modern “Greek Fire” for defending Britain’s beach defenses before WW2

    Being more than interested in the “Shingle Street” conspiracy I was surprised to find Colonel Colbeck moving to the area just before the war…I shall leave you to ponder if  it is is more than a coincidence. 

    1881; was born on the 11th April 1881 in Harrow, the son of Mary and Charles. He had one brother and two sisters. His father Charles was a master at Harrow (died 1903), 

    1895; Charles Edward entered Harrow (Midsummer) 1895 as an Entrance scholar, became a Monitor in 1899 and passed for RMA Woolwich in 1898 but did not enter

    Winston Churchill was at Harrow 1888-1892

    1900; He became an Engineering student Royal Indian Engineering Collage at Coopers Hill

    1903; Commissioned 1st September 1903

    1906; Promoted Lieutenant

    1911;  Served Royal Engineers attached to the 1st K G O Sappers & Miners and noted as attending the 1911 Delhi Durbar as Special Service Officer to the Maharaja of Sirmoor

    1914; Assistant Inspector Imperial Service, Sappers

    1914; 27th August, 1914 promoted Captain as Senior Special Service Officer to the Sirmoor Company, Sappers and Miners belonging to the Maharaja Amar Parkesh of Sirmoor

    1914; 17th November deployed with the company to Mesopotamia

    1915; In his Book in Kut with the Sixth Division and Captivity, 
    Major Sandes MC RE mentions Major Colbeck three times; First is building a bridge a mile downstream then moving it closer to Kut; 

    “While these three boats were being placed in the bridge I went down again to the two long   sections of gissara (type of boat used in Turkish and Arab bridges). bridging moored by Captain Colbeck, R.E., above the fort, where we  cut loose two more gissaras and brought them up also to be placed in the new bridge. This was very slow and laborious work”.

    The third mention is a trench raid; 

    "It was evident that the Turks intended to assault the fort, and, by December 17th, the garrison feared that the enemy had begun mining from his sapheads. Our sappers had sunk a shaft opposite the east point of the fort and another in the north-east bastion, and had run-out some short listening-galleries. As water was encountered only 13 feet below ground-level there was no fear from deep Turkish mines, but to ascertain if hostile mining was actually in progress and to check the enemy, two sorties were planned for the early morning of December 18th 1915.
    To commence with, two parties of Sirmoor Sappers crept out after dark on December 17th     and cut two ways through the remains of our barbed wire, and stacked light bamboo pyramids of barbed wire close at hand ready to close the openings if required. A red Verey light (part of our aeroplane equipment) was to be fired as a signal for the sorties, whereupon our guns were to shell the Turkish support trenches, and all the machine guns and rifles in the fort were to add their quota to the storm of bullets.

    The sorties were timed to start an hour or so before dawn, as soon as the moon went down. 

    No. 1 Sortie Party (fifty men of the 103rd Mahratta Light Infantry) was led by Lieutenant Hinds, 103rd Mahrattas, with four bombers from the 1st Oxford and
    Bucks Light Infantry, accompanied by Captain C. E. Colbeck, R.E., with six Sirmoor Sappers carrying explosives for destroying mine-shafts. 
    This party dashed for the nearest hostile sap from the north-east bastion. No. 2 Sortie Party, similarly composed, but with men from the 119th Infantry and led by Lieutenant Haddon of that regiment, with Jemadar Durga Singh in charge of the sapper party, rushed out at the same time from our trenches outside the east point of the fort.
    The Turks were taken completely by surprise while at work and were bayoneted before they could get their rifles. The sortie parties then worked down the Turkish trenches and saps with bombs, sending back about a dozen prisoners and a quantity of rifles and entrenching tools. A fierce fight ensued with a party of Turks trapped at the third sap opposite the north face, but this sap was eventually cleared by bombing. Five sapheads were next examined and found to show no trace of mining work, so the two sortie parties returned to the fort just before dawn on December 18th, having killed about forty of the enemy and with only one man of the two parties slightly wounded. The garrison of the fort was much relieved to know that the Turks were not mining towards the walls, and jubilant at the complete success of the sorties”.

    A bound photocopy of typescript diary, 29 April-30 June 1916 is held http://www.worldcat.org/title/ce-colbeck-papers/oclc/54867177  (I have not obtained a copy)

    1916;  Captured by the Turks, his diary (57pp) describing their surrender to the Turks on 29 April 1916 relates to his experiences during a sixty day journey in May and June on foot and by boat, rail, donkey, lorry and cart across Asia Minor from Kut to the officers' prisoner of war camp at Yozgad and conditions in the camp, July - December 1916; together with two congratulatory addresses to Colbeck and another officer in the Sirmoor Sapper Company from the Indian soldiers under their command is held in the imperial war museum http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030002076

    He is also mentioned in the Book “The Road to En Dor” by Jones, the story of an the escape from Yozgad . Charles was the person that made the table which the Ouija Board was used
    1916; Mentioned in Despatches 5th April and 19th October

    1918; 1st Sept 1918 Promoted to Major

    1919 Capt. (now Maj.) Charles Edward Colbeck, R,.E. awarded the Military Cross for distinguished service in connection with the defence: of Kut-al-Amara. 1915 Star, War and Victory

    1925; Chief Instructor School of Electric Lighting

    1929; Promoted Lt Colonel

    1933; Promoted to Colonel 

    1936; Appointed to the Royal Engineers and Signals Board (the aim of which was to trial new equipment)

    1937; Colonel Colbeck proposed to the Admiralty’s scientific branch the idea of “blocking or burning” enemy landing craft by distributing petrol over the water and on the beaches, it appears that a number of experiments were undertaken at Weymouth and Christchurch using a number of different delivery methods, by 1938 by reasons of secrecy the experiments appear to have been dropped, nothing more was undertaken on the project and his work was reportedly never looked at.

    Information taken from “Burn the Sea: Flame Warfare, Black Propaganda and the Nazi Plan to Invade England” by James Hayward

    1938; 11th April 1938 relinquishes his appointment as a member of the Royal Engineers and Signals Board and retired with the rank of Colonel

    1940, Shingle Street (taken from another site) "However many eye witnesses have maintained an attempted landing took place at night in a part of Suffolk known as Shingle Street at the end of August 1940. Shingle Street at the time was in the process of being heavily fortified as it had been recognized as a likely place for a German landing. With the lack of heavy guns and equipment new ideas were being thought up on how to defend British beaches and ports. A cheap, simple and quick solution was devised in the way of a kind of water placed flame thrower. Pipes were laid at the low tide level with outlets to spray flammable liquid onto the surface of the ocean; this would then be set on fire literally cooking landing craft.
    Many believe that a German invasion was attempted with a number of landing craft sent from Belgium.

    During that night witnesses recall the church bells ringing which was the invasion warning. A dance taking place at Aldeburgh was stopped by military officers and soldiers were re-called to duty and vehicles commandeered.
    Any events if they did happen that night are now very mysterious. Some witnesses say they saw the ocean burning and others they heard explosions and voices of people in pain on the beach. The next witness statements take place over the next few days when they saw badly burned bodies wearing German uniforms wash up on beaches and in ports as far down as Felixstowe. The estimate of numbers range from a few to several hundreds and other wit-nesses claim they were buried in a large mass grave on the beach under the Shingle or trans-ported further in land”.

    1941; Having attained the age limit of liability to recall, Charles ceases to belong to the Reserve of Officers

    1941-45; No note of war service other than on a number of (Airforce) lists he is still noted as a member of the Royal Engineers and Signals Board but this could be an oversight. 

    1947-49 In 1947 Charles became Mayor of Aldeburgh about 20 miles from Shingle Street

    1957; He died in 1957 at the age of 76.

    He was an avid sportsman playing Cricket for the Royal Engineers as well as being the president of the Royal Engineers Golf club; he published a small booklet “Coastal Erosion at Aldeburgh” by C. E. Colbeck and helped found the “Aldeburgh Festival”
    He lived in Thellusson lodge Aldeburgh a grade II listed town house which was part of the mansion built by the Marquis of Salisbury at the end of the 18th century later he moved to "Berwick Berners" Victoria Road, Aldeburgh18489881_10154728978811701_5137884344850066601_o.jpg

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    Edited by dante
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    • 1 year later...

    Thanks for this fascinating post!  I learned a few things about my grandfather that I didn't previously know. 

    He was always known as Eddie to distinguish him from his father.  His paternal aunt Caroline married another Harrow schoolmaster Frank Marshall. Their daughter Catherine Marshall was the same age as Charles Edward Colbeck and became a prominent suffragist and a peace campaigner in WW1. My grandparents first house in Aldeburgh was The Red House which they sold to the artist Mary Potter. It then became the home of her friends, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. As mayor, C.E.C assisted Britten to found the Aldeburgh Festival.

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