The Champion de Crespigny family of Essex, who came to settle in England in the 18th century, could trace their Norman roots back to the 1st Crusades. In Sir Claude Champion de Crespigny, 4th Baronet (1847-1935), the knightly blood of his ancestry was more than apparent. A soldier, sportsman and adventurer, his life reads like that of a fictional Victorian action hero. After a military career, he became expert in a number of sports. As a ballooning enthusiast he was the first man to cross the North Sea in 1883. He was also a big-game hunter, a fearless diver, canoeist, sailor and swimmer (becoming the first European to swim the Nile rapids in 1889) and as a jockey, he rode his last steeplechase at the age of 67. Unsurprisingly, his maxim in life was, 'Where there is a daring deed to be done in any part of the world, an Englishman should leap to the front to accomplish it.’ In 1872, he married Georgina McKerrel with whom he had five sons and four daughters. His eldest son, another Claude, committed suicide by shooting himself in 1910, a tragedy exacerbated, thought doctors, through an attack of influenza and madness induced by several heavy falls during polo games.
In 1914, at the outbreak of hostilities, another son, Lieutenant Norman Champion de Crespigny joined the Queen's Bays. But with the war barely underway, he was killed in action at Nery, near Compiegne in France on 1 September. Typically, considering his pedigree, he died gallantly while trying to hold an important strategical point against advancing Germans. As he attempted to take the enemy guns, revolver in hand, he was hit by shrapnel.
Norman was buried at Nery but disinterred later and returned home to be buried in the family mausoleum at Champion Lodge, Maldon, Essex, which his father had built in the grounds for his eldest son. The exhumation had been difficult, buried as he was in a grave with 17 other soldiers and he was eventually identified by the name on the neckband of his shirt. The ceremony, carried out with full military honours, was recorded in the Essex County Chronicle on 13 November 1914. 'The body, enclosed in a coffin of polished oak, with silver-plated furniture, arrived in London on Monday, and was conveyed to Maldon by train on Tuesday. Major General Heath, of the South Midland Division, sent a gun carriage, on which the remains were conveyed to Champion Lodge. Sir Claude and Lady de Crespigny met the train and followed the coffin to their residence, Sir Claude walking behind the gun carriage.
For the funeral the 7th Worcestershires provided the firing party (H Company); band and escort (D Company); The Queen’s Bays the bearers and trumpeters; and the Warwickshires the gun, a 15-pounder. Capt. Grosvenor was in charge of the troops. A large and sympathetic crowd gathered round the Crescent, in the centre of which is erected the mausoleum of polished granite, and the appearance of the long procession, moving in front of Champion Lodge and across the meadow to the spot was striking in the extreme. The firing Party, with arms reversed, marched slowly at the head, followed by the band, including the drums and buglers, with drums draped with crêpe, and under Drum-Major Gale; than came thee surpliced choir of Great Totham Church and the clergy; the gun and carriage, drawn by six jet black horses, the coffin being covered by the Union Jack; and the mourners and intimate friends, the escort bringing up the rear.
The solemn music of the Dead March, played by the band, and borne on the keen November Breeze for miles, was peculiarly impressive. At the Crescent eight stalwart N. C. O.’s of the Bays quietly and reverently shouldered their burden, and the Rev. H.T.W. Eyre, vicar of Great Totham, began the burial service. He was assisted by the Rev. R. Moseley, chaplain of the Royal Chapel, Chelsea. During the service the firing party stood at the present, and the other troops remained bareheaded. At the close of the service, which included the hymn, “God of the Living in Whose Eyes,” three volleys were fired, and the trumpeters sounded the “Last Post”.'
Lieutenant Norman Champion de Crespigny was one of the few officers whose body was returned to England before the practice was forbidden in 1915.