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Regimental Sergeant Major H Chaffer MM
Late Grenadier Guards

Regimental Sergeant Major Henry (Jack) Chaffer, who has died aged 91, was born in army quarters at Kingston-upon-Thames on 6th March 1924. The son of a regular soldier, Jack falsified his age to join the Grenadier Guards at 16, and suffered his first setback on sentry duty at Windsor Castle, when he was presenting arms as King George VI walked past with his dogs. As it was a hot day, and he was wearing a steel helmet and respirator on his chest, the King suggested that he might be more comfortable if he stepped back into the shade of a buttress. Chaffer’s commanding officer was unimpressed by his account, however, and the young man spent three days in the guard room until an equerry confirmed his story. He received a week’s leave in compensation.

Six months after marrying at 18, he sailed to North Africa as part of the newly raised 5th Battalion for the Tunisian campaign. He landed at Salerno for four months of bitter fighting, and then was sent to Naples for a rest, only to be ordered to join the amphibious assault on Anzio. Promoted lance-sergeant, Chaffer was subsequently wounded and spent six weeks in hospital. Upon recovery, he was sent up to the Gothic Line near Florence where, on 2nd December 1944, he took part in a moonlight attack on a strong German position in the foothills of Monte Sole.

The Grenadiers were 70 yards from their objective when they came under a hail of machine- gun fire in which the officers and seven members of Chaffer’s own platoon were casualties. Seeing his platoon commander lying seriously wounded, Chaffer rushed forward into a minefield and brought him back to safety. Assuming command of the platoon, he quickly recognised the precariousness of their position. By making use of the high ground they occupied to provide covering fire on to the enemy positions, however, he was able to extricate his men without further loss or injury.

The citation for his Military Medal described how “the courage, coolness and efficiency of this lance-sergeant has been notable throughout the whole of the present campaign and was, on this particular occasion, outstanding and a great inspiration and encouragement to his platoon.” Chaffer returned home in August 1945 and after three weeks was posted to Germany as a colour sergeant. He was demobilised when 5th Battalion was disbanded, and worked briefly at the Hawker aircraft factory in Kingston.

When the Territorial Army was reformed in 1947, however, Chaffer immediately joined the local ‘terrier’ battalion of his father’s regiment, the East Surreys, and was soon made an honorary member of the sergeants’ mess. He spent so much of his spare time with them that it was suggested he should re-join the regular Army and was signed on for a full 22-year engagement. He became recruiting sergeant at Great Scotland Yard, where he had first enlisted, and served in Malaya, Aden and Cyprus. At one point he was provost sergeant, the position his father had also held 20 years earlier in India.

On retiring in 1976 from the Queen’s, as the regiment had by then become, he joined the Tower of London where, at more than 6 ft tall and kitted out in Tudor state dress, he made one of the more impressive Beefeaters at the Tower, while his politically incorrect accounts of English history made him a favourite with the crowds. Jack Chaffer’s wife, Doll, predeceased him in 2011. Their son and daughter survive him.

By kind permission of The Daily Telegraph

© Crown Copyright