Peel, Maurice Berkeley

Chaplain / Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment

1873 - 1917

Maurice Berkeley Peel was born 23 April 1873, the youngest son of Viscount Peel, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Adelaide, daughter of William Stratford Dugdale. 

He came to Winchester College from Mr Parry's school at Slough in January 1887 and was in E House, Morshead's. He rowed in his house IV and was a member of the Debating Society. He left Winchester in the summer of 1891 and was elected to an Exhibition at New College, Oxford, and took his degree in 1895 with Honours in History. On leaving the University he worked for a few years at Oxford House, Bethnal Green, and held a commission in the 4th Volunteer Battalion of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment. He was ordained in 1899 and after seven years as Curate of St. Simon Zelotes, Bethnal Green, was appointed successively Vicar of Wrestlingworth and Eyeworth, Bedfordshire, and Rector of St. Paul's, Beckenham.

Immediately war broke out he volunteered his services as a chaplain and went to France in October 1914 with the 7th Division, being awarded the M.C. early in 1915. He accompanied the men whenever they went, and at the Battle of Festubert personally led one of the battalions of his brigade to the attack, carrying nothing but a walking stick. He fell in that action severely wounded in four places but refused to be attended to until all the other men had been looked after. He was sent home to England and took a year to recover, and in the course of that year was appointed to the living of Tamworth.

In 1917 he again volunteered, and was sent to his old battalion. His practice was to live with the men in the line and in action to go over with the third wave, so that he might tend to all those who had fallen earlier. After the capture of Puisieux he received a Bar to his M.C.

He was killed by a sniper shortly afterwards - on 14 May 1917 - at Bullecourt, while going out to rescue a wounded man. The senior Chaplain of the Division, the Reverend Eric Milner-White (later Dean of York) and a great friend of Peel's,  set out to discover how he had died and where he was buried. He wrote: 'His brigade were put into a village [Bullecourt] for twenty four hours. In that time, the Germans made three desperate counter-attacks on it, gaining a little each time. It was not clear where the Germans were, and where the English and German snipers crept about. At early dawn on the 15th (the second anniversary of Festubert) he got out of his trench to visit either a wounded man or an isolated post of men. On the way, a sniper’s bullet caught him in the chest; he fell unconscious and died very shortly, one Welch Fusilier officer crawling out and staying with him till the end'. Milner-White continued: 'That same night, one of the chaplains, Mr McCalman, with great courage went up with a cross, hoping to bring in the body and bury it. Arrived within a few yards, he was not allowed to go further, the risk being too great. On Ascension Day, the 17th, Mr McCalman and I went up together in daylight. Some men then holding the dreadful line had that morning crept out and buried the body a yard or two from the spot where he fell. We raised a temporary cross upon it, and I said the service over the little grave, using with tragic appropriateness the Collect for Ascension Day, which Maurice always used at his burials'. 

Peel now rests in grave V A 31 of Queant Road Cemetery, Buissy.

There is a stained glass window dedicated to his memory in St Editha's Church, Tamworth. Mr. Peel married in 1909 Miss Emily Alington, who died in 1912, and left two children. His son, Major David Peel, also won an M.C. whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, Irish Guards, during the Second World War. He is buried in grave VI.C.3 of the Leopoldsburg War Cemetery.

NOTE: Oxford House was established in 1884, the first university "settlement". The inspiration came from Keble College, Oxford. It was built as a home for graduates, tutors and those intending to enter the church so they could learn at first hand about the problems of disadvantaged areas and provide practical support for the local community. Based on Christian principles the settlement movement grew rapidly and by the 1930's there were settlements in most urban centres in the UK.

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