Letters from the First World War – Alfred Chater

At the end of last year, we introduced the story of Alfred Dougan Chater, a soldier of the London Regiment. Our first post featured the heartfelt letter that Alfred wrote to his sweetheart, Joyce, shortly before departing for France. We then posted a letter that Alfred wrote to his mother on Christmas Day 1914, where he vividly describes the famous Truce between British and German soldiers.

Here, we pick up his story in 1915.

  • Injured on his birthday

By the end of 1914, Alfred had transferred to 2 Battalion, the Gordon Highlanders. The battalion war diary provides useful contextual information about where his unit was based, daily activities and military actions over the following months. Alfred is actually mentioned by name in the entry for 11 March 1915 – his 25th birthday. Alfred was one of four Lieutenants wounded on this day at Neuve Chapelle in France. We know from his papers in IWM Collections that he was initially treated at Lady Hadfield’s Anglo-American Hospital in Wimereux, before being sent home to Britain for continued specialist care.

  • Harold Gillies and plastic surgery
The Queen's Hospital for Facial Injuries, Frognal, Sidcup: the operating theatre. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3659)

The Queen’s Hospital for Facial Injuries, Frognal, Sidcup: the operating theatre. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 3659)

We know the nature of Alfred’s wounds because his name appears in the Lives of the First World War records from the Harold Gillies Archive. Gillies was a pioneering surgeon in the field of plastic surgery, based at the Queen’s Hospital in Sidcup. He used a range of techniques, including skin grafting and bone transplants, to reconstruct faces broken and scarred by the effects of shrapnel and bullets. Alfred’s record in Lives of the First World War tells us that he received treatment for a fractured mandible [jaw bone] caused by a gunshot wound to his face.

  • Recovery and reunion

Alfred recovered well from his major reconstructive surgery, and in March 1916 married Joyce in Epping, Essex. The couple had four children together – Michael (born in 1917), Joanna (1918), Patricia (1921) and Rosamund (1926).

Alfred died in Henley, Oxfordshire in 1974, at the age of 84.

Alfred’s moving story shows how you can use Lives of the First World War to piece together and remember experiences of love, separation, service and challenges.

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