Written by Abigail Wharne, Archivist
Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Malcolm McVittie recently wrote a letter to the Head Master, describing his father’s experiences after leaving school. This letter recounted a story of bravery and perseverance.

When Charles Harold McVittie left Brighton College in December 1926, the College Council was in mourning for its President, the 7th Earl of Chichester, Francis Godolphin Henry Pelham. The minutes for this year are otherwise devoid of bad news. There is no correspondence with the War Office, no reference to anti-aircraft insurance, and no mention of Old Brightonians losing their lives to the First World War – as was the case ten-years previous. 1926 was a year of peace for Britain, but the young McVittie still had his eyes set on a military career. On leaving the College, he joined the army and went to the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. In 1928, he was commissioned into the Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment.

Records reveal that Charles won a prize for Latin while at Brighton College, and played for the 3rd 11. Little else can be found in the archives. We cannot assume from this, however, that Charles made little impression on the school. As is often the case, the evidence that survives a person does not tell the full story of their life. Malcolm was able to provide some insight into why his father may not have played for our 1st teams: ‘unfortunately, his asthma made it difficult for him to keep up on marches, and in 1935 he transferred to the Royal Army Ordnance Corps’.

It was in this position that he served in Palestine, Malaya and after the fall of Singapore, in 1942, became a prisoner of war in Changi. Mcvittie was awarded a mention in despatches for his services to other prisoners, and continued to serve in the army after the war, until retiring in the rank of Major General in 1963. He was made a Companion of the Order of Bath (CB) and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

McVittie’s bravery has been described here, but what of his perseverance? I shall leave this to Charles son to explain:

‘In the run up to the fall of Singapore in February 1942, after my mother and brother had been evacuated, my father decided, along with several others, to bury some valuables including his binoculars and his Leica camera. He chose a bunker at the 9th hole of the Royal Singapore Golf Club. After he was released at the end of the war in August 1945 he had no regard for his valuables and after three and a half years as a prisoner he was just keen to get home to his wife and son. In 1951 my father was posted back to Singapore as the Director of Ordnance Services, Far East Land Forces (DoS FARELF).

Once back in Singapore he enquired at the golf club as to whether he could recover his belongings from the bunker on the ninth hole. He was told by the Secretary of the Club that he could not. Apparently the Golf Course had been vandalised in 1946/47 by individuals doing precisely what my father wanted to do and all such excavations were forbidden. However, a little later the committee of the club were looking for a new chairman and my father was approached and asked if he would like take up the post as he was a Brigadier and well known as a good golfer.

He agreed and once firmly in post he directed that the 9th Hole should be restructured and during that his aluminium screw top box was recovered and inside he found his valuables including his camera. He continued to use the camera for the rest of his life and in 1988 it passed to my brother and then to his son, my nephew who is still using the camera.’

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