Hon Herbert Lyttelton Pelham, Croix de Chevalier of the Legion of Honour
Herbert was born at Lambeth Rectory on 3rd April 1884 to Rev Francis Godolphin Pelham, and his wife Alice. He was their 4th and youngest son and had brothers Jocelyn, Henry and Anthony and a sister Ruth. His father was Rector at Lambeth. He was educated at Cheam, Charterhouse and South Lynn, Eastbourne.
In 1902 Herbert’s father inherited the title of 5th Earl of Chichester from his brother Walter who had died childless. In that same year Herbert aged 18 joined the Duke of Connaught’s Own Hampshire and Isle of Wight Royal Garrison Artillery. He was gazetted as Second Lieutenant in the Royal Sussex Regiment in 1904 and posted to 2nd Battalion, serving in Malta, Crete and Ireland. Herbert was promoted to Lieutenant in 1908 and got a distinction in musketry and over 95% in machine gunning. He was appointed Adjutant in December 1911, acting as an administrative assistant to a senior officer, learnt to fly in a Vickers Biplane at the Vickers School, and was awarded his Royal Aero Club Aviator’s Certificate in November 1913.
At the outbreak of war in August 1914 Herbert was involved in mobilisation duties and was specially commended for his work. He left England for France on 12th August 1914, a week after the war began, with the 2nd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, 2nd Brigade,1st Division. The battalion was in reserve during the Battle of Mons, and formed part of the rearguard during the retreat to the Marne. Major-General E H Bulfin wrote on 10th September:
for the good work done that day I sent in Pelham’s name for recognition.
Herbert’s Captain was killed in action on 12th September and Herbert became acting Captain. The BEF were in pursuit of the German First and Second Armies as they retreated after the First Battle of the Marne earlier in the month and the offensive began on the evening of 13th September. The Germans turned and faced the Allies on the northern side of the River Aisne. Low-lying ground extending a mile on each side of the 100 foot wide river gave little cover to the pursuers. The Germans were positioned behind a dense thicket that covered the front and slope of steep cliffs (Chemin Des Dames) and therefore held a vastly superior position. Under the thick cover of the foggy night, the BEF advanced up the narrow paths to the plateau. When the mist evaporated under a bright morning sun, they were mercilessly raked by fire from the flank. Those caught in the valley without the fog’s protective shroud fared no better. (Wikipedia)
Herbert was killed on that day, 14th September, 5 weeks into the war, aged 30. Major- General Bulfin wrote:
Pelham with a handful of men of the Sussex held on to the Chemin des Dames, and it was here that he lost his life, working the machine guns, and he died one of the most brave and gallant gentlemen it has ever been my honour to know. A fine capable officer who put his duty before everything, and by his self sacrificing devotion set a splendid example to us all. By his death the Regiment has suffered a terrible loss and the Army has lost a most capable officer, who would have gone far in his profession.
His Commanding Officer, Major Green wrote to his parents:
Your son died a soldier’s death in the forefront of the fighting on the 14th. …we have lost a much loved comrade who we all felt had a promising career ahead of him.
His name was mentioned in despatches:
Lieut and Adjutant the Hon H L Pelham. I saw this officer two or three times under heavy fire conveying orders and encouraging the troops. He was killed in an advanced position, assisting with the machine guns, several of the detachment having been knocked out. In him the Army have lost a most promising officer. His work during mobilisation and during the campaign has been deserving of the highest praise.
A later letter, sent to his mother who was by then living at Oldland, Keymer about the whereabouts of his body reads:
I wish I could give you further details regarding your son, but the circumstances of the battle on the 14th, the first day of the Aisne, were such that we were not able to hold to the foremost ground to which we got that day, and indeed although we have been here a month today, we have never got back on the actual ground on which your son was killed. We know where your son fell, in the forefront of the battle, but we do not know as yet where he lies. The Germans, doubtless, have buried him, and when we move forward we shall, I hope, be able to give you fuller particulars.
He went on to say that the French President had awarded Herbert the Croix de Chevalier of the Legion of Honour for conspicuous gallantry in the field between 23rd and 31st August, an award which he had been recommended for before his death. He added some further detail for Herbert’s mother about her son’s death:
The action was fought between a place called Vendresse and Cerney, and your son was killed just on the edge of the latter place. He was with Mr Dashwood in a farmhouse with the machine guns when the building was destroyed by a shell…Mr Dashwood tells me that his death was instantaneous, and that he was struck by a piece of shell and was thus saved from suffering.
De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour 1914 – 1924
It is believed that Herbert was initially buried by the Germans but his remains were later recovered and he was re-buried in Vendresse British Cemetery. This cemetery was made after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from other cemeteries and from the battlefields and of over 700 men commemorated on this site more than half are unidentified. The inscription on Herbert’s headstone reads:
The People that know their God Shall be strong and do exploits.
Nearly three years later the Mid Sussex Times reported:
The Late Hon H L Pelham:
A tablet containing a figure of St Michael has been placed in Stanmer Church in memory of Lieutenant and Adjutant the Hon Herbert L Pelham, Royal Sussex Regiment, Croix De Chevalier Legion d’Honeur, who was killed in the forefront of the battle of the Aisne on September 14th 1914. … The memorial is of similar design to that erected in Lambeth Church to the deceased officer’s memory. The Archangel’s figure has a shield bearing a red cross and a banner inscribed ‘From strength to strength. … The tablet also contains representations of the badge of the Royal Sussex Regiment and the famous Pelham Buckle, the latter being a reminder of a brilliant military feat of a member of the Pelham family as long ago as 1356. Sussex readers will recall the fact that Stanmer Church stands within a few yards of the ancestral mansion of the Pelham family.
He is also remembered on Falmer War Memorial inside St Laurence Church. A finely carved wooden plaque, completed by Ditchling wood-carver and letter-cutter Kenneth Eager, lists the names of the fallen from both world wars including Herbert. It is known as the ‘Pelham Memorial’.
Herbert is also commemorated on the Memorial Panels in the House of Lords.
As an ex-pupil of Charterhouse School Herbert is commemorated along with 700 pupils who died in World War I. A school chapel, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott was erected at Charterhouse School and consecrated in 1927 making it the largest war memorial in England.