General Sir Alexander Frank Philip Christison, 4th Baronet, GBE, CB, DSO, MC & Bar (17 November 1893 – 21 December 1993) was a British Army officer who served with distinction during the world wars. After service in the First World War and later distinguishing himself during the Burma Campaign of the Second World War, he went on to have a successful postwar career, and eventually lived to the age of 100.
Early life and military career
Christison was born in Edinburgh, the eldest son of five children of Sir Alexander Christison, 3rd Baronet and his second wife, Florence. He was educated at Edinburgh Academy and University College, Oxford where, as a cadet in the university's Officer Training Corps (OTC), he was made a second lieutenant in March 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the Great War.
Christison was commissioned into the 6th (Servide) Battalion, Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in 1914. The battalion, a Kitchener's Army unit created from volunteers in September 1914, formed part of the 45th Brigade of the 15th (Scottish) Division and, after training in the United Kingdom, departed for the Western Front in July 1915. He saw action in the battles of Loos (where he was awarded the Military Cross), the Somme and Arras. In July 1917 he was awarded a Bar to his Military Cross. The citation for this award reads:
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to award a Bar to the Military Cross to the undermentioned Officers.
2nd Lt. (temp. Capt.) Alexander Frank Philip Christison, M.C., Cam. Highrs.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He displayed the utmost courage and determination in pushing back the enemy and clearing the north side of the village. By his tireless energy he succeeded in getting the position consolidated under heavy fire. (Military Cross gazetted 14th January, 1916.)
In late October 1918 he served as a major with the 1/6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders, a Territorial Force (TF) unit, part of the 152nd (Seaforth and Cameron) Brigade of the 51st (Highland) Division. The war came to an end soon after, with the signing of the Armistice with Germany.
Between the wars
After vacating his position as adjutant of the 4th Battalion, King's Own Scottish Borderers, another TA unit, in November 1923, Christison was assistant manager of the British Olympic team in Paris in 1924 which was followed by a further appointment as an adjutant, this time with his regiment. Still a captain, he attended the Staff College, Camberley from January 1927 after which he was appointed as a staff officer grade 3 (GSO3) at the War Office.
Having been made a brevet major in January 1930, a sign of approval and likely future promotion at a time when prospects for promotion in the peacetime army were slow, Christison saw service from January 1931 as the brigade major (a brigade's senior staff officer) of the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade, relinquishing the appointment in January 1933. He was promoted to major in November 1933.
In February 1937, Christison was appointed commander of the 2nd Battalion, Duke of Wellington's Regiment in the Multan area of the Punjab, North-West Frontier Province. In February 1938 he was promoted to colonel and selected to command a brigade in India.
Second World War
In 1940 and 1941, during the Second World War, Christison was Commandant of the Staff College, Quetta in the former British India (now Pakistan). In early 1941 he returned to the United Kingdom and was promoted to acting major general (his rank was made permanent in July 1942) and, on 17 June, became General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division, a Territorial Army (TA) formation, which in November was reduced to the Lower Establishment.
Following this, in June 1942, he returned to India and after a short appointment as a military district commander, he was promoted acting lieutenant general in late 1942 to command XXXIII Indian Corps. He assumed command of the XV Indian Corps in 1943, part of the newly formed British Fourteenth Army, succeeding Lieutenant General William "Bill" Slim, who had been promoted to command the Fourteenth Army. The XV Corps made up the Southern Front of the Burma Campaign in the coastal region known as the Arakan.
During the Second Arakan Offensive in February 1944, XV Corps advanced southwards. A Japanese attempt to outflank and isolate elements of the Corps failed when the 7th Indian Infantry Division held off the attacks and the Corps' administrative area–the "Admin Box"–successfully fought off attacks by the Japanese 55th Division (Battle of the Admin Box). This was the first time in the Second World War that a British army had defeated the Japanese in a land battle. XV Corps was withdrawn on 22 March to assist the allied defence of Imphal. In December 1944 Christison and his fellow corps commanders, Lieutenant Generals Montagu Stopford and Geoffrey Scoones, were knighted and invested as Knights Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the viceroy Lord Wavell at a ceremony at Imphal in front of the Scottish, Gurkha and Punjab regiments. Slim was knighted and invested as Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath at the same occasion.
In 1945, Christison assumed temporary command of the Fourteenth Army and also deputised for Slim as Commander of Allied Land Forces, South East Asia when Slim was on leave, reverting to XV Corps on Slim's return. Christison led XV Corps into Rangoon in May of that year.
In September 1945 Christison deputised for Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten as commander of South East Asia Command, and took the surrender of the Japanese Seventh Area Army and Japanese South Sea Fleet at Singapore on 3 September. From 1946, Christison was Allied Commander of forces in the Dutch East Indies. In November, Christison's troops were involved in a full-scale battle to suppress pro-Independence Indonesian soldiers and militia in Surabaya.
Christison was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (GOC-in-C) of Northern Command from 1946 to 1947; he was then GOC-in-C of Scottish Command and Governor of Edinburgh Castle from 1947 to 1949 He was promoted to full general in August 1947. He held the honorary appointments of aide-de-camp general to the King (1947 to 1949) and Colonel of his regiment, the Duke of Wellington's Regiment (1947 to 1957). In 1947 Christison was appointed Colonel of the 10th Gurkha Rifles and in late 1949 he was also made Colonel of a Territorial artillery unit.
Christison married twice: to Betty Mitchell, with whom he had three daughters and a son, from 1916 until her death in 1974; and then to Vida Wallace Smith until her death in 1992. He died in 1993 at the age of 100.
A brass memorial plaque to his memory lies on the south aisle of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh (Episcopal).
- Mead 2007, p. 99.
- "No. 35841". The London Gazette (Supplement). 29 September 1942. p. 3.
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- "No. 37184". The London Gazette (Supplement). 17 July 1945. p. 3746.
- "No. 38620". The London Gazette (Supplement). 27 May 1949. p. 2607.
- "No. 28808". The London Gazette. 3 March 1914. p. 1734.
- Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives
- Christison Family Papers: Life and Times of General Sir Philip Christison: an Autobiography
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- "No. 36720". The London Gazette (Supplement). 26 September 1944. p. 4473.
- "No. 38051". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 August 1947. p. 3933.
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- "No. 38891". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 April 1950. p. 2019.
- "No. 38651". The London Gazette (Supplement). 28 June 1949. p. 3175.
- Mead, Richard (2007). Churchill's Lions: A Biographical Guide to the Key British Generals of World War II. Stroud: Spellmount. ISBN 978-1-86227-431-0.
- Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.
|Commandant of the Staff College, Quetta
Sir Oliver Leese
|GOC 15th (Scottish) Infantry Division
|GOC XXXIII Indian Corps
|GOC XV Indian Corps
Sir Montagu Stopford
Sir Oliver Leese
|Allied Land Forces, South East Asia
Sir William Slim
Sir Edwin Morris
|GOC-in-C Northern Command
Sir Montagu Stopford
Sir Neil Ritchie
|GOC-in-C Scottish Command
Sir Gordon MacMillan