George William Chafer V.C. – Small in Stature; Big in Heart

Private George W Chafer V.C.

George William Chafer, an orphan of a little over five feet in height was not your typical Victoria Cross recipient; indeed, he is the smallest man to ever receive the award. What he lacked in stature though, he more than made up for in courage and determination.

Born in Bradford in 1894, George lost his Father when he was an infant, and was orphaned before his 16th Birthday. He was brought up by his Aunt and Uncle before moving in with the Reed Family in Rotherham and taking up a job as a weigh clerk at the Silverwood Colliery.

In 1915 George joined the 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment; he was mocked by his friends at the time, who said he was far too small to join the army. Undeterred he completed his training as was sent to France around Christmas time.

On the night of the 4th of June 1916, during a very heavy enemy bombardment, a messenger carrying an important message to a company commander was knocked unconscious and half buried when an artillery shell exploded nearby. George, on seeing the messenger decided that the message must be of great importance and on his own initiative he grasped it from the unconscious man.

Battle of the Somme 1916

Although severely wounded in three places himself, and half choked and blinded by gas, he ran along the ruined parapet under heavy enemy fire and just succeeded in delivering it to the company commander before collapsing as a result of his own injuries.

For his efforts he was awarded the Victoria Cross and the Russian Order of St George, which was personally handed to him by the Tsar of Russia. He also unfortunately lost his left leg as a result of the injuries he received.

After the war he went on to work as a milk man but struggled to make ends meet as the coal stoppage meant that people could not afford to pay him, and as a result he could not afford to pay his suppliers. He eventually gave up the milk round and used the small amount of capital he retained to set up as a poultry farmer.

George passed away at his home in Rotherham at the age of 71.

October 19th – On This Day in…



October 19th, 1940

ONLY 400 NEW CARS LEFT

Car production replaced with military vehicle production

The manufacturing of new cars for civilian use has been suspended in Britain. There are now only around 400 new cars for sale in the country. The following announcement came from the Ministry of Transport:

“a recent inquiry into the numbers of new cars in the hands of dealers and manufacturers had shown that after eliminating cars which must in the national interest be exported, 400 were left for civilian use.”

Before the war, the number of new registrations in a year was around 275,000.

October 19th, 1940

SHELTER FOR ALL

Public Air Raid Shelters

The Minister of Home Security, Mr Herbert Morrison has today announced sweeping measures to speed up the construction of public air raid shelters in every town. The Government will bear the cost of the building and equipping of all approved types of shelters. The financial obstacles which have delayed the construction have now been swept aside by the introduction of this new scheme.

Local authorities had been worried about covering the costs of shelters that may be used by people coming from other areas, but that has now been eliminated Mr Morrison declared.

October 19th, 1940

Nazi Air Officer Escapes, Is Caught

Grizedale Hall POW Camp

A German Air Force officer who escaped from a prisoner of war camp in the Lake District was recaptured after a few hours on the run. Police and the Home Guard quickly threw up a cordon around the area. The German officer was soon caught in the remote countryside.



October 19th, 1941

Radio Doses of Blitz Noise to Cure Nerves

The BBC could broadcast five minute concerts of air raid noises weekly; a suggestion which Doctor A. E. Carver, a specialist in nervous and mental afflictions has suggested could defeat the terror of the noise experienced during a raid.   

The noise is a medicine which could defeat the terror experienced during an air raid and could form part of the training for civil defence volunteers, to immunise them from the noises and allow them to carry out their jobs more effectively.



October 19th, 1942

Patrolling again on Desert Front

Desert artillery bombardment resumes

Following a great sand storm in the Egyptian desert, patrolling and artillery bombardment have now resumed. Our long range fighters have successfully attacked enemy transport on the coastal road.

In other action, British planes armed with torpedoes has successfully attacked a German supply vessel which was seen to be listing heavily to port, and was beached near the coast of Tripolitania.



October 12th – On this Day in…

RAF Strike by Day and Night

October 12th 1941

Blenheim Bombers

After daylight sweeps over the channel in which RAF fighters shot down seven enemy fighter aircraft for the loss of two aircraft, the RAF carried out another fierce bombing raid on the French side of the channel the same night.

Large fires were set on the docks at Boulogne, after a daylight sweep as the night bombers concentrated on targets further inland. Another formation of Blenheims, escorted by fighters attacked an enemy convoy of the coast of Holland.

Nazis Admit ‘Were on the Defensive’

October 12th 1942

Germans on the Defensive

A sensational statement on German radio by a military spokesman admitted that Hitler was turning from the offensive to the defensive. That is the position on the eve of the fourth winter of the war declared the spokesman in a broadcast to millions of German listeners. The German listeners were also to that “The end of the war cannot be foreseen.”

“The speeches we heard from the Fuhrer and Marshall Goering express a transition in the military situation” the spokesman said.

Fifth Push 15 miles

Clark says ‘Hit ‘em hard’

October 12th 1943

American Soldiers of the Fifth Advance

The right wing of General Clark’s Fifth Army has advanced fifteen miles in twenty-four hours and has begun to turn the Volturno Line. The British and American troops are advancing through pelting rain, often knee deep in mud. They have penetrated deep into mountainous terrain, although German resistance is now said to be stiffening.

According to Berlin the allies have opened up a fierce artillery barrage, and the battle for the Volturno crossing is fast approaching.

Sergeant Louis Massey: The Great Escape

There are many stories of daring escapes from Nazi prisoner of war camps during World War Two, but the story of Sergeant Louis Massey, 35, of the Royal Army Service Corps and is particularly impressive. Captured during the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force at Dunkirk, Sergeant Massey was sent to a German prisoner of war camp in France. In December Massey managed to give his guards the slip and escape from the camp. Trapped in occupied France with only the clothes on his back, Massey set off in Bitter December weather on an epic 1,600 mile journey.

Sgt Massey (R) with a Russian Soldier in Moscow

Hiding where he could during the day Massey only travelled at night in an attempt to avoid German patrols. He was almost constantly starving an ate what berries and mushrooms he could find in fields and woods, plus the occasional bit of food that sympathetic locals could spare from their own meagre rations he managed somehow to make his way through Belgium, Holland and Germany, eventually reaching Poland were he managed to befriend some locals who helped him to cross the Russian border.

The ordeal did not end there though. With no papers to identify him and corroborate his story he was arrested as a spy and sent to a Russian Jail until June 1941 when the Germans crossed the Soviet border and the British Embassy in Moscow stepped in to get Massey released. On his release he linked up with the British Military Mission as he felt his experience in the RASC would be useful. He spent his time organising the transport of supplies and equipment until it was time for him to return home, a journey that took him through Persia, India, Africa eventually taking him home to Hampstead.

Evacuation of the BEF from Dunkirk

For his efforts in escaping captivity and trekking 1,600 miles to safety, Sergeant Massey was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal which he received from the King in an investiture at Buckingham Palace. Following the ceremony Sergeant Massey told the press that “The King, who seemed very familiar with my adventures, congratulated me on my safe return”  

The Great Sand Sea Raiders

They came from the great sand sea, wreaked havoc amongst the enemy, and melted away into the shadows as quickly as they arrived. David Stirling’s band of piratical raiders struck fear into the hearts of the enemy. With their dusty mismatched uniforms and straggly beards they looked like a ragged collection of misfits and vagabonds; in truth they were an elite fighting force the likes of which the world had never seen before.

Sir David Stirling

David Stirling was not exactly the 1940’s British Army Officer type. Partial to a little too much socialising and probably a little work shy, he was malingering in a military hospital after injuring himself in a parachute jump, when he came up with the idea for a special raiding force that would carry out lightning raids on enemy installations in North Africa. Britain already had a Commando force that carried out raids from the Sea; but the Germans expected seaborne operations and coastlines tended to be well defended; what they never expected was that the enemy would attack from the vast expanse of the North African Desert; the great sand sea.

North African Desert

Stirling’s idea involved small groups of heavily armed and highly trained commandos, attacking the lightly defended axis airfields from the desert, and then melting away into the night. To Stirling the idea of lightning night time  raids promised adventure, and the opportunity to significantly disrupt the enemy’s operations. 

The Special Air Service

Jock Lewes was Stirling’s polar opposite. Disciplined, fit, and dedicated to soldiering Lewes was the archetypal British military officer. The differences between the two men were as day and night, yet between them they recruited and trained a group of men that would become regarded as the finest special forces unit in the world.

Getting the idea through the chain of command would not be easy however. The Army’s doctrine had changed little since the Great War; new and somewhat radical ideas were seen as a threat to the traditions of the Army. Sneaking around at night blowing up aircraft and then retreating into the darkness was simply not the done thing. Stirling knew that only a General would even give consideration to an idea like this, but getting an audience with the top brass in the middle of a war would be a near impossible task. Undeterred, Sterling, who was still in crutches following his accident, made his was to Middle East Headquarters, ditched his crutches and proceeded to climb a wall and break in. 

The guards were quickly alerted to Stirling’s break in by his abandoned crutches and promptly raised the alarm. Stirling made a dash for the nearest office marked ‘adjutant general’. The office was occupied by none other than one of Stirling’s former instructors, a red faced Major who thought little of Stirling as a student and promptly threw him out. Stirling had more luck in the next office, which was occupied by the Deputy Chief of Staff, General Sir Neil Ritchie. Stirling handed his proposal to Ritchie who was interested enough to order the Major in the next office, the very same former instructor who threw Stirling out of his office, to offer him every assistance in bringing his plan to fruition.

SAS Insignia

And so the Special Air Service was born. Over the next 12 months this band of highly armed desert raiders crept up to enemy bases in the dead of night, and destroyed everything they could lay explosives on, blowing up, and shooting up aircraft, petrol tankers and supply vehicles, then making good their escape across the desert, before their enemy knew what had hit them. 


After the war the SAS was disbanded, but later reformed in 1947. The regiment survives to this day, and from its humble beginnings in North Africa, remains one of, if not the finest fighting force on the planet.