General Sir Harry Chauvel, GCMG, KCB (1865–1945)
by James Maberly (continued)
Retirement was for Chauvel a fruitful experience; directorships in three important companies gave him new interests and he now had time for ex-servicemen's causes. He was for many years chairman of the trustees of the Australian and Victorian war memorials, a senior patron of Melbourne Legacy, and active in the work of the Australian Red Cross and the Young Men's Christian Association. My mother told me that twice a week he would visit the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League (RSL) and sit with his and other old soldiers and try and find ways to assist with their re-adjustment into civilian life. Nowadays there is so much that is and can be done to assist people, but in those days, PTSD hadn’t been invented and no-one quite knew how to deal with it. My mother told me that he spent many hours on the phone trying to organise employment for many of these people.
On the eve of Anzac Day 1935, one newspaper wrote that Chauvel 'has come by his quiet work in the interests of returned men to be regarded as their peace time leader'. Such work was but one manifestation of the religious faith on which his life had been built and which was recognized by his Church when he was made a lay canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, in 1930.
The Plaque in St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, in Memory of Chauvel and his consistent efforts to support his former army comrades in the years after the war. (Image James Maberly)
In 1937 Chauvel led the Australian Services Contingent at the coronation of King George VI. In fact, he led the entire representation of the Dominion and Colonial Troops. Of course, he should have worn his Generals hat, but he put in a special request to the King that he be allowed to wear the hat of the Light Horse, which he was duly allowed to do. My grandmother wrote of this being a truly remarkable occasion and Chauvel spoke of the greatest honour bestowed upon the Australians being asked to take over the guard at Buckingham Palace. He wrote ’I heard that every sentry’s beat had to be picketed by policemen because the girls crowded all around them and they could not walk up and down their beat. I motored to Buckingham Palace and St James’s, and sure enough there were three policemen on each sentry’s beat’.
He represented the Returned Sailors' and Soldiers' Imperial League of Australia on the committee which drew up plans for reserve and garrison forces early in 1939. When the Volunteer Defence Corps was set up in June 1940, Chauvel became its inspector-in-chief. At 75 he was in uniform again and on the move around the country. When White, who had been recalled to be chief of the general staff, was killed in 1940, it was to Chauvel that the Prime Minister, (Sir) Robert Menzies, turned to for advice on a successor.
In 1944 his health began to fail and he died in Melbourne on 4 March 1945, survived by my grandmother, Lady Sybil Chauvel and his 4 children. He was cremated after a state funeral.
Above: The Herald, May 15, 1937. The King shakes hands with the leader of the Australian Coronation Contingent, General Sir Harry Chauvel, at Buckingham Palace., and
Right: taking the salute at Buckingham Palace (Source: thought to be the London Times (if more accurate information held, please contact the author via contact form on this website))
A Reflection on Chauvel
As a soldier, Chauvel's courage and calmness were matched by his humanity which was extended to the enemy as well as his own men. He was always well forward in battle; in the field he lived simply, sleeping in his greatcoat on the sand when his force was on the move. Indeed, my mother told me that he would often walk around his troops with his ADC, stopping to drink tea or coffee and to chat with them and would sometimes ask if they would mind if he slept with them. He would wrap himself in his greatcoat next to them and sleep in the sand alongside, rather than in his generals’ quarters.
Loyalty was one of his chief characteristics: he stood by Birdwood when Allenby tried to interfere with the A.I.F. command, and by the New Zealanders when there was an attempt to make Anzac Mounted wholly Australian. He has been criticized for lack of resolution at Rafa and Magdhaba but I believe it was an unwillingness to accept more casualties for a prize he did not value; there was no question of his resolution at Quinn's Post, or Romani or Beersheba. Besides, he knew that if Anzac Mounted were to suffer a disaster, the Desert Column would be crippled.
Chauvel seemed shy and reserved, in Birdwood's phrase 'very retiring', so that some found him aloof. In reality he was a warm, uncomplicated man, with a keen sense of humour. He rarely sent written orders of the day but he made a point of visiting and addressing troops who had done well or had suffered heavy casualties. His successes in the field and his obvious integrity strengthened his position, but some senior British officers seem to have resented a mere 'colonial' having the best command in the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.
His long period of office at the head of the Australian army showed Chauvel at his best. In an adverse political and economic environment he knew that, as he could neither train nor equip the army for war, he must ensure the survival and efficiency of the officer corps. Nor could governments pretend that they had not been warned.
Henry Gullett’s quote from the official history of the First War for me says it all:
“Always cool, and looking far enough ahead to see the importance of any particular fight in its proper relation to the war as a whole, he was brave enough to break off an engagement if it promised victory only at what he considered an excessive cost to his men and horses. He fought to win, but not at any price. He sought victory on his own terms. He always retained, even in heated moments of battle, when leaders are often careless of life, a very rare concern for the lives of his men and his horses.”
- Henry Gullett, official Australian historian
Last year, I attended the celebrations of the Battle of Beersheba at the Australian War Memorial and the launching of the General Sir Harry Chauvel Memorial Foundation.
The General Sir Harry Chauvel Memorial Foundation
Honouring the memory of Chauvel and his achievements together with his qualities of integrity, independence, resourcefulness, thoroughness and generosity of spirit. The Foundation seeks to inspire future generations of Australians.
After much discussion, the aims of the foundation were decided by the Board;
The Annual Sir Harry Chauvel Award
“This award recognises the humble, selfless heroes; the quiet achievers who work for the good of their communities and of the nation. The award seeks to perpetuate the outstanding qualities embodied by Chauvel and the Light Horsemen so they might inspire others to work in their communities and give something back to the society that nurtured them. The award is open to all Australians aged from 16-30 years old, based in rural and regional Australia.”
Then in April this year, for the Anzac Day celebrations, our daughter Joanna visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra over the Anzac celebrations and laid a wreath, in honour of her great-grandfather and all the men who fought and those who died in the Desert Campaign. It was a fitting moment, three generations later, for her to remember this extraordinary man.
James Maberly – November 2018
JoJo Maberly at the AWM. Taken by Peter Crisp in 2018
It is important to note that whilst this talk is primarily about Chauvel and his troops, it must not be forgotten that Sir Archibald Murray, prior to his replacement, had made substantial progress, taken further with a new approach by Viscount Allenby. Sir Philip Chetwode and Chauvel remained friends for the rest of their lives, and it is a credit to all of the commanders under Chauvel’s command, whether Australians, New Zealanders, British, Indian or Arab, that they all performed with great courage and skill and deserve the same credit for all their efforts as Chauvel himself.
Bibliography and source material
The majority of Information was taken from the book ‘Chauvel of the Light Horse’ By Alec Hill, but I also use excerpts from my mother’s recollections, the Light Horse Association, Wikipedia, the AWM archive, The Australian Dictionary of Biography, ’The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’ by TE Lawrence and various articles written in various publications both in the UK and Australia.
I have also edited the maps – not because I think they are wrong, but to make it easier for those reading this document to follow what exactly they mean. Maps can be difficult to read and often confusing, so I have made an effort to make the whole campaign easier to understand by adding annotations and arrows, showing the lines and actions of Chauvel’s troops at Gallipoli, but also the Allied movement, and in particular the movements of the Desert Mounted Corps in the Desert Campaign.
Boer war – from Wikipedia- Unknown - (Original text: John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland Image 33969) Original uploader was Hawkeye7 at en.wikipedia (29 January 2010 (original upload date))
Romani map – from Wikipedia - Original file (2,610 × 2,170 pixels, file size: 2.49 MB, MIME type: image/jpeg). Powles, C. Guy, Lieut.–Colonel CMG, DSO, 'The New Zealanders in Sinai and Palestine Volume III Official History New Zealand's Effort in the Great War,' (Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin and Wellington: Whitcombe & Tombs Ltd, 1922)
Wikipedia - Department of Military Art and Engineering, at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). - This map was created by the Department of Military Art and Engineering, at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point). The initial version was created under the supervision of General Vincent Esposito in 1959. It is now available on the West Point web site at: http://www.dean.usma.edu/history/web03/atlases/great%20war/great%20war%20%20pages/great%20war%20map%2050.htm.The map image has been cropped to remove unneeded territory. Originally uploaded to en Wikipedia as en:Image:Palestine-WW1-3.jpg by en:User:Cglassey 25 April 2006. Map showing Allenby's final attack at Megiddo, September 1918.
Above: The bronze bust of Chauvel by Louis Laumen now permanently on display at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. (Image: James Maberly)
Right: Chauvel in Bir Salem in 1918 after the occupation of Jerusalem. (Source: This photo I found loose in my mother’s copy of the book ‘Australia in Palestine’, originally given to my grandmother by HGC and was obviously taken by a military photographer at Bir Salem – which is how it’s endorsed at the back ‘End of ’18. In Bir Salem’. )