Portrait of a young officer
History - EY HistoryWhen we joined the Essex Yeomanry from the Training Regiment he was just one of a number of 2nd Lieutenants. There always seemed to be an anxiety of them rushing hither and thither in their zeal to impress. Well, perhaps he was not quite like the rest of them; he was reserved almost to the point of shyness and was a little less sure of his divine right to command. He was ready with a smile whenever he returned our meticulously practiced salutes and he was the first whom we learned to recognise and elevate from the anonymity of the pack. It could have been partly due to the fact that he seemed to be very little older than most of us and considerably younger than the majority of NCO's - or perhaps it was just that we acknowledged him for what he was, a thoroughly good bloke!
He seemed to be a little underrated by his fellows, pretty low in the pecking order. They spoke of him sometimes with affection but in the sort of tones that they would use for a playful puppy just learning to come to heel. We could see no reason for their patronising manner. Whenever we spoke to him, perhaps when acting as his Ack at an O.P. or whilst awaiting orders for a move, he always appeared to know what he was talking about and could reason out what was going on around us. He was a little diffident about airing his views but he had a good eye for country and made an excellent Observation Post Officer whenever his turn came around.
He was unlucky in many ways. He did not make some of the glaring errors that some of the other subalterns made, but if ever he did slip up he always seemed to choose a moment when someone of higher rank was on hand to take notice. Then of course, his colleagues, thankful that it was not they who were called to account, joined in unctuously.
During our long spell in the desert and throughout the nerve-racking Burma Campaign he carried out his duties quietly and efficiently. At first, some of the jobs given him seemed to be too routine for someone of his ability and he was always kept a step behind his contemporaries on the promotion ladder, but when the time came for 4l4 Battery to be dispatched to the Far East no-one denied him his opportunity of appointment to troop Commander of E Troop and promotion to Captain. Perhaps to remain in the Middle East was a far safer bet!
I suppose that in a way we were pleased that his promotion came slowly. Selfishly we feared that elevation would have meant a move to the other Battery or to RHQ. It was good to have an Officer to whom one could talk on fairly even terms, and that didn't mean being 'matey' or taking advantage of him in any way. It was possible to discuss with him a problem at home, a worry about morale, or the fear that the powers that be were forgetting that we were human beings and not just figures on a ration scale. There were dozens of occasions when we needed to talk to someone in authority without the rigmarole of requesting an interview etc.
The Regiment had by now an enviable reputation but some of the senior officers who boasted of our good performances lacked the perception to see that morale was high because it was being sustained at grass roots level by an officer whom they hardly noticed. He made no pretence of having great courage but never shirked a challenge and remained cool and collected even at the height of battle. His control of his Troop's, and sometimes the Battery's guns from the confines of a Stuart Tank was exemplary. For us his bravery was never in doubt but when exceptional acts of valour were called for, his seniors were never quite near enough to record it. But quite often bravery is born of desperation and, unless responding to a definite order, he exercised too much sense to lead his men into impossible situations. He just carried on doing a worthwhile job.
When the time eventually came for repatriation on the grounds of long overseas service he was one of only two officers in the Battery who had left England with us five years earlier. By a process of attrition all of the others had either been killed or wounded or else promoted out of it. Their numbers had changed many times but we were sad that he was still there. One of the originals!
I'm sure that he thought nothing of it at the time but I wonder if, after the war, when many of his former colleagues received distinctions; for leadership and courage, he ever realised in his own quiet way just how important his own contribution had been. I wonder if anyone ever thanked him?
By Len Tutt late of 414 Battery
Footnote: Captain T E Chaplin, the subject of this little appreciation died of a heart attack on 13th May 1967 at the age of 52. He was buried at Brentwood in the presence of about sixty
Essex Yeoman including Len Tutt and myself.
G. S. Nash
Extract EYA Journal 2003