A Bradford World War One hero is to be honoured at a ceremony commemorating him being awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious military decoration which is awarded for valour in the face of the enemy.
The ceremony, led by the Lord Mayor’s Chaplain, which will mark the installation of a stone at Norfolk Gardens, will take place on Friday, 3 June exactly 100 years to the day that 22 year old Private George William Chafer was awarded the Victoria Cross for an outstanding act of bravery.
His citation for the medal says: “For conspicuous bravery during a very heavy hostile bombardment and attack on our trenches, a man carrying an important written message to his company commander was half buried and rendered unconscious by a shell. Private Chafer, at once grasping the situation, on his own initiative, took the message from the man’s pocket, and, although severely wounded in three places, ran along the ruined parapet under heavy shell and machine gun fire, and just succeeded in delivering it before he collapsed from the effects of his wounds. He displayed great initiative and a splendid devotion to duty at a critical moment.”
As part of the government initiative to honour and recognise the winners of the Victoria Cross in the First World War, commemorative paving stones will be laid in the recipients’ home towns across the UK as part of the national WW1 centenary events.
The stone for Private Chafer is the second of three stones to be laid in Bradford to commemorate the actions of Victoria Cross recipients from the city. Each stone will be laid on the 100th anniversary of the action for which the VC was awarded.
Private George William Chafer of The East Yorkshire Regiment, was born in 1894 in Bradford and moved to Epworth, Lincolnshire, with his mother who died shortly after. Will was raised by his aunt in Rotherham and before joining the army, he worked as a clerk.
He joined the army on 2 June 1915, not having signed up before as he was unsure he would be accepted owing to his small stature. After training for six months in England, he was posted to C Company, 1st Battalion, stationed at Meaulte just south of Albert in France. It was here that he was awarded the VC for an outstanding act of bravery on 3-4th June 1916 – his soldier friends then named him ‘Willie the youngest and smallest VC’.
Willie survived the war, but with severe injuries to his leg and he later had a false limb fitted. He tried his hand at dairy and poultry farming and ended his working life with a job at the Ministry of Labour in Rotherham, where he died in 1966 at the local hospital.
A civic event will take place at 11am on 3 June 2016 at Bradford City Hall. The ceremony will be led by the Lord Mayor’s Chaplain, Revd Sarah Jemison, and will be attended by the Lord Mayor of Bradford Coun Geoff Reid, serving members of today’s Yorkshire Regiment, and veterans old and new.
The event will be even more significant because The Yorkshire Regiment will bring along Private Chafer’s original Victoria Cross which is held by the regiment in the York Army Museum.
The Lord Mayor of Bradford Coun Geoff Reid: said: “The outstanding bravery of Private Chafer was long ago recognized by his country with the VC. However, at a time when a number of families in Bradford are thinking about sacrifices made by young men in 1916, it is right that the city itself should commemorate in a very special way the courageous initiative of Private Chafer and the honour in which he was held by both by fellow soldiers friends and by the nation.”
Assistant Curator of the Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire (PWO), Museum Hannah Rogers said: “It is very rare for a museum item as important as this to be on show publicly, but the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the laying of this special stone, would not be the same without having Private Chafer’s real Victoria Cross here in Bradford today.”