The Reverend Harris was vicar of Burbage for 15 years from 1950 until his retirement in 1965. He was a man who left a very positive impression on the villagers. Being somewhat of a national figure, I will start with a merger of the obituaries published in the Times & Telegraph
Obituary, Saturday May 18, 1996
Brigadier the Rev Charles Harris, one of the last surviving Indian Army cavalry commanders, died on May 4 aged 99. He was born on May 10, 1896.
Charles Edwin Laurence Harris, then known as "Laurie", was born and brought up in London. He saw little of his father, who worked on the stock exchange in South Africa, and spent happy holidays with his grandparents at their home in a country vicarage near Hereford. He was a descendant of Sir Lachlan Maclean of Douart and nephew of Major-General James Harris - "China Jim" of Indian Mutiny fame.
On leaving St Paul's School he went to work for the Anglo-Mexican oil company at Tampico, Mexico, and returned in an oil tanker to join the Artists' Rifles on the outbreak of the First World War.
In May 1915 he went to France, where he was employed on guard duties at St. Omer before being posted back to England prior to being sent to India for officer training at Wellington in the Hilgiri Hills. After being commissioned he spent several months with the 113 Infantry at Dargai Fort on the North-West Frontier. Harris (who, for an unexplained reason was rechristened "John" by the Army) returned to Athies on the Somme in France to join the 2nd Lancers once known as that famous Indian Army regiment of irregulars, Gardner's Horse. The 2nd Lancers had been raised by a former Highland officer in 1809 as
an Irregular regiment and was originally paid by Gardner strictly
according to merit. It attracted first-class recruits. They were dressed
in silver embroidered emerald green coats and red pyjamas (breeches) and
carried curved sabres, long matchlocks, shields and lances. The colour
of the breeches was later changed to yellow.
The regiment fought with tremendous success in the Burma Campaign of
1824 to 1826, marching 2,000 miles without losing a man. Gardner married
a 13-year-old Princess of Cambay who bore him a son in a long and happy
When the regiment arrived in France in 1916, they still carried sabres
and lances, in addition to more modern weapons. Dressed in cotton drill
they camped in the snow at Orleans. Later one of them won a Victoria
In 1917 Harris's regiment charged as part of the cavalry at Cambrai, through a hail of machine gun bullets and across the barbed wire.
Initially the British achieved a breakthrough with tanks at the start of
the battle, but the Germans successfully counter-attacked and drove them
However Haig had kept a large force of cavalry in reserve to exploit the
expected success of the tanks; and even though the initial advantage was
lost, Harris's regiment of the 2nd Lancers
was ordered to charge the German position.
As the Lancers advanced on a shallow valley, they came under German
machine-gun fire from right and left. They suffered 100 casualties,
including their Colonel who was killed early in the battle, and came to
a halt after 3,000 yards, in a wired sunken road.
Harris's initial duties in this battle were to clear a road through three German
trenches and ten belts of wire. This task was completed just in time for
the attack on Nov 20 when the tanks and infantry went through first and
the cavalry followed. Harris remembered especially the Scots Greys whose
horses were dyed a reddish brown colour with potassium permanganate for
Harris's own regiment had charged after a German counter attack which
had shelled them with high explosives and gas. Subsequently they were
ordered to withdraw under cover of darkness.
After its mauling at Cambrai, the regiment was converted briefly to an infantry role in the trenches and then reformed and later sent to serve under Allenby in Syria and Palestine until the end of the war.
He then returned to India and completed a
nine-month course at the Cavalry School, Saugor, India; he then returned
to his residence to be Adjutant at Poona. This last appointment gave him
opportunities for polo and the highly dangerous sport of pig-sticking.
He also shot a tiger and a bear in the jungle of the Central Provinces.
At Gujerat, Harris won the Salmon Cup for pig-sticking and was in the
final of the Gujerat Cup. The regimental polo team, of which he was a
member, won the Open and Junior tournaments in Bombay.
He spent two years as an instructor at Sandhurst before he himself
became a student at Staff College, Quetta, where the future Field
Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck was Chief Instructor. Harris then returned
to his regiment at Meerut and Ferozopore. He captained the polo team
which won the Meerut Polo tournament and the Indian Cavalry Polo
tournament at Lahore.
His next two postings were as GSO2 at HQ Meerut District for a year and
HQ Simla and Delhi for a second year. Here he served under Brigadier
Lord Gort, who would be Commander-in-Chief in France at the beginning of
the Second World War.
This was followed by three years as a Cavalry Instructor at Staff
College, Quetta, where he served under the future Field Marshal Lord
Montgomery. When war broke out in 1939, Harris was on leave in Devon,
but promptly returned to India by troopship, completing his journey with
a nine-day march to Sialkot.
He was then posted for a three-month course in mechanised training at
Ahmedmagar and returned to Sialkot to start the mechanisation of his
regiment. In June he became a GSO2 (Operations), at Simla in the summer
and Delhi in the winter. In June 1941 he took command of the 2nd Lancers
with orders to reconstitute it as an Indian Armoured Car Regiment and
take it to Mena camp in Egypt.
In September 1941 Harris led the regiment up to Deir-Ez-Zor on the
Euphrates, where its role was to maintain internal security and defend
Syria. Six months later they returned to Egypt where he was appointed
commander of the Desert Brigade (called for deception purposes 8th
Division, which would have been at least three times as large).
The brigade then moved up the Gazala line but was very badly cut up at
Bir Hacheim when the British armour proved no match for the Germans -
though Harris was mentioned in despatches. The 2nd Lancers were then
withdrawn and sent to north Syria to combat any possible thrust by the
German Army towards the oil fields of the Middle East.
When that danger receded, Harris was successively commander of 23rd
Lorried Infantry Brigade of Gurkhas and then Deputy Director of Military
Training at Delhi, which at the time was concentrating on training for
jungle warfare. A year later he joined General Slim's 14th Army HQ in
Western Bengal, but after contracting pneumonia and malaria
simultaneously, he was evacuated to England on a cargo ship carrying
On retiring from the Army in 1946 he went to Ridley Hall, the Anglican theological college at Cambridge and, on being ordained, began work as a curate in Dorchester also serving as chaplain to the local prison.
From there he was given the living of Burbage, Wiltshire, where he firmly resisted a proposed merger with a neighbouring parish. In 1965 he retired for the second time, moving to a village near Dover, Kent. He was for 16 years chairman of the local Conservative Association and continued to take local services, his last one aged 98 by which time he had endured two hip replacements. An avowed traditionalist, he insisted on using the Book of Common Prayer.
In 1993 he was invited by the British Legion to play a prominent role in the Westminster Abbey service, attended by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the First World War. He stood, as straight as a gun barrel before the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior to recite in ringing tones Laurence Binyon's famous lines from For the Fallen.
A spirited, outgoing person who loved company, he declared his intention of being photographed on a horse on his 100th birthday in a last act of defiance against old age. Steps had already been taken to procure an appropriately docile mount. But it was not to be. Harris died, following a fall, six days before his centenary.
His first wife Audrey, whom he married in 1928, died in 1961. He is survived by his second wife Margaret and by three daughters two from his first marriage and one from his second.