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A Tribute to Lt. Colin Kitching RNVR

July 2008

Colin was a founder member of RVHG.

Colin and his siblings were born in Malaya: Colin in 1920, Joan in 1922 and Brian in 1932. In 1928, Colin and Joan were left in the charge of their maternal grandmother in Morecambe when only 7 and 5 years old. This was the colonial system and necessary for schooling but it was traumatic for children and parents, who only saw each other for a few months every 3 years. Colin was educated at Sedbergh School in Yorkshire and then Oxford University.

He was old enough to be in the Navy for almost the whole of WWII. As a naval rating he was on HMS Edinburgh in 1941 when six capital ships, including the Edinburgh, were sent to scour the north Atlantic in the hope of finding the München, a German weather ship. They hoped to capture its Enigma machine and code tables. The Edinburgh was the ship which found the München. Colin was a member of the boarding party. He delighted to relate that a German sailor helped him over the rails onto the München. The German captain threw the machine overboard, but code tables, which were the really valuable item for our intelligence, were found in a drawer. That year Colin also took part in two crucial Malta convoys to relieve the beleaguered island.

Fortunately Colin left the Edinburgh before it was sunk. This was because he was commissioned as a sub-Lieutenant Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in March 1942.  In August 1942 he took part in the infamous Dieppe raid to test the German defences on the Channel coast of France. He was in command of a Landing Craft Personnel (or LCP). These were unarmoured plywood deathtraps. Of the 104 naval personnel on 26 LCPs in Colin’s sector of the raid, 21 lost their lives in landing Canadian troops. So Colin survived a 1 in 5 chance of losing his life. Later that day they were given the suicidal order to return to the beach to pick up survivors. Colin later wrote ‘it is a very strange feeling to know that you’ll be dead in 10 minutes’. Fortunately this order was cancelled just before they emerged from the protective smoke screen. Colin described this episode in his life as the naval equivalent of the charge of the light brigade. Colin was also off the coast of Normandy on D-day, 6 June 1944. His task was laying smoke from LCPs over ‘Sword’ anchorage. He did this every night for five weeks. The Allies had such air superiority that smoke was not necessary during daylight. In September Colin, now in command of six LCPs, was in the first boat to enter the captured Le Havre harbour. They were sweeping for Katie mines which had created havoc when the Allies captured Cherbourg. Fortunately they discovered there were no mines in Le Havre harbour. 

Back in civilian life Colin returned briefly to Oxford and was awarded a degree in History.

Colin and Betty were married in 1943. In 1944 he heard that his father had died as a prisoner in the notorious Japanese internment camp of Changi, in Singapore. In 1945 it became apparent that his mother had also not survived the war. In fact she had been killed in 1942 but he did not yet know that. So Colin and Betty had a kid brother, Brian, to look after which they did admirably for nine years until he was 21. Just imagine when you people were young newly-weds the inconvenience of having a 12 year old boy in the household! Colin arranged for Brian to be educated at his old school, Sedbergh. The headmaster told Colin during a speech day that he must be the youngest parent the School had ever had!

Alan was born in 1945 - the same year they took Brian on - and Ian in 1958. The family stayed south of London, first in Worcester Park, then in Wimbledon and finally in New Malden. For a time the household also included Betty’s father and, for a shorter period, her brother. Colin was Assistant Secretary at the Middlesex Hospital and later an executive of the Pirelli Tyre Company. As an example of his brotherly devotion, Brian’s degree results came when he was on holiday abroad. He still treasures the telegram sent 54 years ago which reads ‘second class honours loud prolonged cheers – Colin’.

Colin and Betty moved to Repton in 1972 when Pirelli relocated. They have made a major contribution to local life, particularly since Colin retired. They were founder members of the Repton Village History Group – formed in 1980 - and have been an inspiration to the group since then. In 2005 Colin was elected an honorary life president. He delighted in showing off this church’s historic crypt which he believed is the oldest intact building in Derbyshire. Another major interest was Calke Abbey (National Trust). Colin edited the journals of Sir George Crewe which in 1995 were published with the title ‘The Squire of Calke Abbey’. It was Colin who suggested that a war memorial to the 49 villagers who lost their lives in two world wars should be part of Repton’s Millennium celebrations. It was duly unveiled in 1999 next to St Wystan’s Church.

For many years Colin played cricket for the RNVR and was also keen on golf. Like his father he was not a big hitter of the ball but he was accurate. He was also a keen follower of  the England rugby and cricket teams and of Surrey and later Derbyshire County Cricket Clubs.

Colin and Betty had to wind down with advancing years, even giving up golf! Betty spent the last three years of her life in Ryder House Nursing Home. Colin visited her almost every day until her death two years ago. So Colin has lived on his own for the last five years but with magnificent support from neighbours and other friends. He was a lovely man, loyal, dependable and conscientious. He took a keen interest in the local scene and in the activities of friends and family. As we bid a final farewell to Colin the family want to thank you all for your kindness and support of him particularly during his last difficult five years.  


Brian Kitching

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