Categories: Toowoomba Grammar School, East Toowoomba, Queensland | Anzacs, Second Boer War | Anzacs, World War One | Gallipoli 1915 | AIF - Headquarters 1st Light Horse Brigade | AIF, Headquarters Desert Mounted Corps | Headquarters, 1st Australian Division, World War I | Headquarters, Volunteer Defence Corps | Australian Army Generals | Australian Army Generals, World War I | Australian Army Generals, Chiefs of Army | Knights Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George | Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath | Mentioned in Despatches | Australian Notables | Huguenot Descendants.
General Sir Henry George Chauvel GCMG KCB, more usually known as Sir Harry Chauvel, was a senior officer of the Australian Imperial Force who fought at Gallipoli and during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign in the Middle Eastern theatre of the First World War. He was the first Australian to attain the rank of Lieutenant General and later General, and the first to lead a corps. As commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, he was responsible for one of the most decisive victories and fastest pursuits in military history.
Henry George "Harry" Chauvel was born on 16th April 1865 at Tabulam, New South Wales, Australia. He was a son of grazier, Charles Henry Edward Chauvel, and his wife, Fanny James. The Chauvels were from a French Huguenot family who fled France for England in 1685. Harry was christened on 21st September 1865 at Grafton, New South Wales. His father's brother and sister were the sponsors. He was educated at Toowoomba Grammar School, East Toowoomba, Queensland.
Harry's father established a 96,000-acre station at Tabulam, on the Clarence River near Kyogle in the north of New South Wales, on which the family raised 12,000 head of cattle and 320 horses. Following a series of severe droughts in northern New South Wales, the property was sold in 1888, debts cleared, a much smaller 12,000-acre property purchased at Canning Downs on the Darling Downs in Queensland.
Chauvel was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Upper Clarence Light Horse, a unit organised by his father, in 1886. After the family moved to Queensland he was commissioned in the Queensland Mounted Infantry in 1890 (at the time different colonies meant separate, mostly militia, armies).
In 1899 Chauvel commanded one of two companies of Queensland Mounted Infantry that were Queensland's initial contribution to the Boer War. For his part in the fighting in South Africa, Chauvel was Mentioned in Despatches, and appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG).
Based on his experiences in South Africa, Chauvel propounded ideas on the nature of mounted infantry. He recommended that Australian troops improve their discipline in the field, called for stronger leadership from officers, and emphasised the need for better organisation for supply and for timely and efficient medical evacuation. They soon lost their title of Mounted Infantry, becoming known as the Light Horse.
While stationed in Brisbane, Chauvel and Major (later General Sir) Brudenell White played tennis at the Jopps' place at Newmarket with their daughters Dora and Sibyl. Chauvel became engaged to Sibyl Jopp in January 1906, and they were married on 16th June 1906 at All Saints Church of England, Brisbane. They ultimately had two sons and two daughters.
Promoted to Colonel in 1913, Chauvel became the Australian representative on the Imperial General Staff but the First World War broke out while he was still en route to the United Kingdom. Chauvel arranged for the Australian Imperial Force to be diverted to Egypt, where he joined his new command, the 1st Light Horse Brigade, in December 1914. In May 1915, the brigade was sent, dismounted, to Gallipoli, where Chauvel assumed responsibility for some of the most dangerous parts of the line. He took charge of the 1st Division that November. His role in the Gallipoli campaign as a whole was recognised by his appointment as a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB).
In March 1916, Chauvel became commander of the Anzac Mounted Division in the Middle East, gaining victories in the Battle of Romani in August and the Battle of Magdhaba in December, and nearly winning the First Battle of Gaza in March 1917. In January 1917 Chauvel was appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG). The following month, he took over the Desert Column, later known as the Desert Mounted Corps, thereby becoming the first Australian to command a corps, and the first to reach the rank of Lieutenant General. At Beersheba in October 1917, his light horse captured the town and its vital water supply in one of history's last great cavalry charges. It has been said that few battles have been won in such spectacular fashion. He followed up this victory with one of the fastest pursuits in military history. For the decisive Beersheba victory, and the subsequent capture of Jerusalem, Chauvel was Mentioned in Despatches twice more, and appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1918 New Year Honours List. For his services as commander of the Desert Mounted Corps, Chauvel was created Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in June 1919, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme by the President of France and the Order of the Nile (2nd Class) by the Sultan of Egypt, and was Mentioned in Despatches for the 11th time.
In 1919, Sir Harry Chauvel was appointed Inspector General. He was concurrently Chief of the General Staff from 1923, succeeding his old tennis partner Sir Brudenell White, until retirement beckoned in 1930. In November 1929, he became the first Australian to be promoted to the rank of General. 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. 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 in 1930, when he was made a lay canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. Chauvel frequently led Anzac Day parades through Melbourne but resigned from the leadership of the march in 1938 in protest against the decision by the Returned and Services League of Australia to change the form of service at the Shrine from a Christian to a secular one.
During the Second World War, Chauvel was recalled to duty as Inspector in Chief of the Volunteer Defence Corps (VDC). At its peak, in 1942, the VDC boasted a strength of more than 100,000 men, mostly regarded as either too old or infirm to be 'real soldiers'. Nevertheless, these 100,000 mostly part-timers freed up 'able-bodied' men for fulltime, overseas service.
During the war, Chauvel's son Ian served as staff officer in the Italian campaign, while Edward was posted to New Guinea to learn about jungle warfare from the Australian Army. The two men had resigned their commissions in the Australian Army in 1930 and 1932 respectively, and accepted commissions in cavalry regiments of the British Indian Army. Chauvel's daughter Eve joined the Women's Royal Australian Naval Service and spent a day in a lifeboat in the North Atlantic after her ship was torpedoed by a U-Boat. Son-in-law Tom Mitchell was captured by the Japanese in the Battle of Singapore.
Chauvel passed away, six weeks short of his 80th birthday and within sight of victory both in Europe and the Pacific, on 4th March 1945 in Melbourne, Victoria. Sir Harry Chauvel was given a state funeral service at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, and is buried in Springvale Cemetery, Victoria.
Chauvel's daughter, Elyne Mitchell, wrote a number of non-fiction works about her father and his corps, including The Lighthorsemen. Elyne also wrote The Man from Snowy River, the book upon which the 1980s film was made.
In his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T E Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) provided a wildly inaccurate version of Chauvel. Historian Charles Bean noted that "this wise, good and considerate commander was far from the stupid martinet that readers of Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom might infer.
Chauvel is commemorated in a bronze plaque in St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne. There is a memorial window in the chapel of the Royal Military College, Duntroon. Portraits of Chauvel are held by the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, the Naval and Military Club in Melbourne, and the Imperial War Museum in London. His sword is in Christ Church, South Yarra and his uniform is on display in the Australian War Memorial.
Chauvel Street, North Ryde, New South Wales is named in his honour.
Chauvel's nephew, Charles Chauvel, became a well-known film director, whose films included Forty Thousand Horsemen (1940), about the Battle of Beersheba.
Harry Chauvel was portrayed by Bill Kerr in the film The Lighthorsemen (1987), which covered the exploits of an Australian cavalry regiment during the Battle of Beersheba.
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