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Christian, Sydney Ernest (1868–1931)

by J. Whitelaw

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Sydney Ernest Christian (1868-1931), soldier, was born on 17 April 1868 in Sydney, son of William Bassett Christian, pastoralist of Tenterfield station, and his wife Emma, née Rendall. Educated at The King's School, Parramatta, and the Church of England Grammar School, Geelong, Victoria, he decided on a military career and qualified for entry to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, England; instead of enrolling, however, he returned to the family property. In 1891 he was commissioned second lieutenant in a volunteer unit, the 4th New South Wales Infantry (Maitland) Regiment.

On 18 February 1895 Christian joined the New South Wales Permanent Military Forces as a lieutenant in 'A' Field Battery; he was also made an aide-de-camp to Major General (Sir) Edward Hutton, officer commanding the colony's forces. He saw active service during the South African War, serving in 1900-01 with 'A' Field Battery, Royal Australian Artillery, in Cape Colony, Transvaal and Orange River Colony. He was wounded in action at Paardeberg and Springfontein and in July 1901 was mentioned in Lord Kitchener's dispatches as 'a very good gunner and horsemaster'. After returning home he was made temporary staff captain for artillery, first in New South Wales and then in Victoria. He married his cousin Edith Ina Christian on 11 February 1902 at St John's Anglican Church, Darlinghurst, Sydney; they were an exceptionally devoted couple, but had no children.

Christian was confirmed as captain in 1905 and two years later went to England on twelve months exchange duty with the Royal Artillery. In January 1909 he became chief instructor for militia artillery in New South Wales and Queensland, and though he was 'a severe task-master, intolerant of inefficiency', the soundness of his training was later borne out by the success of citizen artillerymen at Gallipoli and on the Western Front. Promoted major in November 1910, he commanded the 1st Battery, Royal Australian Field Artillery, until World War I.

On the formation of the Australian Imperial Force Christian was appointed to command the 1st Field Artillery Brigade; he was promoted lieutenant-colonel in October and sailed for Egypt with the first contingent. Early in May 1915 his brigade was sent to Cape Helles, Gallipoli, where it served with the British Army's 29th Division until October. For distinguished service in the campaign he was appointed C.M.G., awarded the Légion d'honneur and mentioned in dispatches. In February 1916 he was promoted colonel and temporary brigadier general and was appointed to raise and command the artillery of the newly formed 5th Australian Division. Apart from a nucleus of officers and seasoned gunners the artillery had to be drawn from volunteers from the light horse and the infantry. Time for training was short and equipment lacking; however, the formation was ready to leave Egypt for France by the end of May, an achievement which the official war historian described as remarkable. Christian commanded the artillery in the Armentières sector and in July, at the battle of Fromelles, the 4th Divisional Artillery as well. His men served with the New Zealand Division in Flanders in October and November and then spent the winter on the Somme. In January 1917 he was evacuated because of illness and in April was invalided to Australia and demobilized.

Christian retired from the Australian Military Forces in January 1918 with the honorary rank of brigadier general. His wife had died in London just before his evacuation from France and for the rest of his life he lived at the Australian Club in Sydney; his chief interests were golf and fishing. He died of pneumonia on 17 May 1931 and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Defence Department, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, P. L. Murray ed (Melb, 1912)
  • A. D. Ellis, The Story of the Fifth Australian Division (Lond, 1920?)
  • C. E. W. Bean, The Story of Anzac (Syd, 1921, 1924), and The Australian Imperial Force in France, 1916 (Syd, 1929)
  • E. T. Dean (ed), War Service Record of First Australian Field Artillery Brigade, 1914-19 (Adel, nd)
  • R. L. Wallace, The Australians at the Boer War (Canb, 1976)
  • London Gazette, 5, 8 Nov 1915, 24 Feb 1916
  • Reveille (Sydney), May 1931
  • Gunfire (Sydney), Sept 1963, Mar 1973
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18, 19 May 1931.

Citation details

J. Whitelaw, 'Christian, Sydney Ernest (1868–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/christian-sydney-ernest-5588/text9539, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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