b. 16/04/1894 Bradford, Yorkshire. d. 01/03/1966 Rotherham, Yorkshire.
George William Chafer (1894-1966) was born at 77 Mill Lane, Bowling, Bradford, Yorkshire on 16th April 1894. His father is unknown. He was the illegitimate son of Lucy Chafer who may it is believed to have had a relationship with her employer. She was a domestic servant in Bradford at the home of Reverend Robert Lickes, a Wesleyan Minister at Queen Street, Epworth. By 1901, when William was seven, she was now living with her parents in Epworth, before becoming a servant for William Lane in Barnard Castle, Durham by 1911.
Willie, as George was known in the family, was brought up at Skyers Farm and Studcross, Epworth, Lincolnshire by his grandparents, William Chafer and Amelia nee Glew. Later he lived with his aunt, Mrs Leah Elizabeth Whitley in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire and later at Ravenfield Common, Rotherham. He was educated at Epworth Church of England School from 1899-1908. He was employed as a woollen spinner at Sowerby Bridge until moving to Rotherham, where he was employed as a weigh clerk at Silverwood Colliery.
He enlisted on 2nd June 1915 and went to France on 21st December. On 3rd/4th June 1916 east of Méaulte, Somme, France, during a very heavy bombardment and attack on our trenches, a man carrying an important written message to his commanding officer 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, choking and blinded by gas, ran along the ruined parapet under heavy shell and machine-gun fire.
He was evacuated to hospital where his injured leg had to be amputated and he was later treated at Stobhill Hospital, Glasgow. The VC was presented to him by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 4th November 1916. He was also awarded the Russian Cross of St George, 3rd Class on 15th February 1917. He was discharged on 2nd December 1916 and was a member of the VC Guard at the interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920.
Willie lived in Bramley, near Rotherham, at various times with Mr and Mrs Read of 15 Silverwood Cottages and Bill and Clara France in Flanderwell Lane. He had a milk delivery business, which failed and started a poultry farm in 1929. Then he worked for the Ministry of Labour and National Service in Rotherham and Lincolnshire for 35 years. He was a local councillor and Chairman of Bramley Parish Council until he retired in April 1959. He was a founder member of the Fellowship of the Services, a long time member of the British Legion and one time President of the Wickersley Branch.
During the Second World War, Willie served in the Home Guard as a platoon sergeant, because his duties could be carried out in spite of his missing leg. In June 1956, £189 was raised locally to allow him to travel to London for the VC Centenary celebrations. He retained links with his old Regiment and travelled to West Germany as its guest when new Colours were presented.
Willie never married. He died at Rotherham General Hospital on 1st March 1966 and was cremated at Rotherham. His ashes were buried in the yard of Bramley Youth and Community Centre, which he was largely responsible for creating. He left £3,062, including £1,000 to Captain David Anderson of Edinburgh, who served with him in France.
In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and the Russian Cross of St George 3rd Class. The medals are held by the Prince of Wales’ Own Regiment of Yorkshire Museum, York and displayed in the York Castle Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: PRINCE OF WALES OWN REGIMENT MUSEUM, YORK.
BURIAL PLACE: ROTHERHAM CREMATORIUM, ROTHERHAM, YORKSHIRE.
(ASHES SCATTERED ON THE GROUNDS OF THE COMMUNITY YOUTH CIVIC CENTRE, ROTHERHAM, YORKSHIRE).
George Chafer's VC on display at the Prince of Wales Own Regimental Museum, York (February 2012)
Bradford War Memorial
War Illustrated, 26th August 1916
The site where Chafer's ashes were scattered
Updated medal group at York Army Museum
(courtesy of Terry Hissey)