Category Archives: Commentary

“He was always on the spot when the situation was dangerous”

On the night of January 13, 1916, Jack Peirs and 450 men of the 8th Queens were stationed in the trenches near Poperinge, Belgium, waiting to be relieved by the 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment.[1] When the first members of the 13th Battalion arrived to relieve the bombers and signallers of the 8th Queen’s that evening, the men had been there for less than two full days. Peirs wrote to his sister, Cecily, earlier that day saying, “We are being relieved at once & then do a tour at the back & then up again.  I don’t know why they are giving us such a short time here this spell, but we don’t mind.”  Later that evening, as the relief continued, Peirs crossed paths with a familiar face from home, Captain Peter Temple Chevallier, his distant cousin. 

Chevallier, not yet 21 years old, was serving as the adjutant to the 13th Middlesex Regiment after enlisting at the start of the war.[2] Peirs wrote his father on January 14th, telling him of their encounter at Poperinge and recalled meeting him on a family holiday, as well as at Carshalton. Like PeirsChevallier proved himself to be an exceptional leader in combat and was awarded the Military Cross on September 5, 1917 and the Distinguished Service Order at the end of the war.[3] 

A Tatler article about the 13th Middlesex Regiment, July 26, 1916. Chevallier is furthest to the left standing in the second row.

A Tatler article about the 13th Middlesex Regiment, July 26, 1916. Chevallier is furthest to the left standing in the second row.

In May of 1917, Chevallier was brought up as a member of the Brigade Headquarter “staff learner” initiative and trained to be a General Staff Officer.[4] However, he returned to his battalion to fight with them at the Battle of Passchendaele in August of 1917, where his acts of gallantry would earn him the Military Cross. The official citation for his award reads:  

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In order to get ammunition and rations up to the front line in an attack, he personally reconnoitered the best places for forward dumps, and the routes to them, under a very heavy enemy barrage. He then returned and brought up carrying parties, and showed them the way. His ex-ample to these parties was exceptionally splendid. He was always on the spot when the situation was dangerous, and by his personal influence and disregard of danger kept up the morale of the men, although continually exposed to heavy fire.[5]

That August, the 13th Middlesex was fortunate enough to sustain minimal casualties. This was a much-needed reprieve for the men, who had suffered over 250 casualties the month prior.[6] Chevallier’s M.C. citation was published in the January 9, 1918 London Gazette, just eight days before he would accept a position as a GSO 3rd Grade at Brigade Headquarters, where he remained until the war’s end.[7] 

Outstanding military service seems to be almost hereditary within the Chevallier familyP.T.’s father, Captain Barrington H. Chevallier, was an accomplished Naval Captain for over a decade after P.T.’s birth in 1895. Barrington Chevallier retired as a Captain and joined the admiralty as the Superintendent of Ordinance Stores for the Royal Navy from 1909-1916. Two of his other sons, Felix and Joseph, were Lieutenants in the Royal Navy during the war, making P.T.’s decision to join the Army unique. 

In the years directly following the war, Chevallier was closely involved in the planning and fundraising of the 24th Divisional monument at Le Verguier, which honored men from both the 13th Middlesex and the 8th Queen’s. [8] The monument was finally unveiled in October of 1926Chevallier was an incredibly successful businessman after the war and his work would take him and his wifeJoanne Miriam Penfold Wyatt, to South Africa, Argentina, Canada, Australia, and the United States. The two never had children of their own. However, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Peter and Joanne took guardianship of two eleven-year-old boys, just two weeks after Operation Pied Piper (the call to evacuate children out of London) began. The boys, George Turner and George Saville, were both the sons of Great War veterans like Peter. [9]

The Chevalliers were fortunate that those of them who answered the call to arms survived to return home after the war. Upper class, educated, men who became officers were statistically far more likely to lose their lives during the Great War, and thus their families were more likely to lose their sons.[10] Both Chevallier and Peirs showed remarkable leadership in and out of combat and provided sterling examples of bravery and perseverance for their men.  

 

CITATIONS

1: 8th Battalion The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment War Diaries, 13 January 1916. 

2: England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915; 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diaries, January 1916.

3: “Awarded the Distinguished Service Order”, Supplement to the London Gazette, January 1, 1919, 17; 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diaries, 5 September 1917.

4: 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diaries, 26 May 1917.

5:  “Awarded the Military Cross,” Supplement to the London Gazette, 9 January 1918, 594. 

6: 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diaries, July 1917.

7: 13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diaries, 17 January 1918.

8: Letters about the planning and design of the 24th Division memorial shared with #TeamPeirs by the Séverin family in Le Verguier, France, in 2016 were written both to and from Chavellier between 1921-1924.

9: England and Wales Register: Nedging, Suffolk, September 1939.

10: John Lewis Stempel, Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War (London: Orion Books Ltd., 2010).

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

“Awarded the Distinguished Service Order.” Supplement to the London Gazette.                            1 January 1919.

“Awarded the Military Cross.” Supplement to the London Gazette. 9 January 1918.

England and Wales Register: Nedging, Suffolk. September 1939.

England & Wales Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915.

Lewis- Stempel, John. Six Weeks: The Short and Gallant Life of the British Officer in the First World War. London: Orion Books Ltd. 2010.

8th Battalion The Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment War Diaries, 13 January 1916. 

13th Battalion Middlesex Regiment War Diaries, 1917- 1918. https://13thmiddlesexww1.wordpress.com/