Vernon (left) with rugby playing colleagues Alistair Campbell (centre) and R W Wingrove (right) photographed on the day they left Shanghai to go to war. They were part of the first contingent that departed on 16 September 1914. The scene was described as follows ‘Amid scenes of the wildest enthusiasm, the eleven men who have volunteered for service left Shanghai last Friday. The French Bund was lined with people, in fact such a crowd has not been seen in Shanghai for a long time.’ The men, who travelled third class on the M. M. S. Polynesien to England via Marseille, were ‘very well known locally and nearly all are prominent athletes. They can both ride and shoot’. Fellow rugby players Hugh Martin, G H Brown and E C Creasey were also onboard. Of the six rugby players who left Shanghai that day, Vernon was the only one to die in in the War.
Vernon's WW1 flying record card
Theophilus Chater Vernon joined the many fallen of 1917. Born in Hong Kong in 1887, Theophilus who had played in the ‘All Japan’ interport game in 1908 was one of the first volunteers to leave Shanghai in late 1914.
He trained to be a Pilot gaining his certificate (number 1249) in a Maurice Farman Biplane on 15 April 1915. During his training he had a near escape when his plane dropped 600ft and hit the ground. The machine was badly damaged but he walked away from the wreck with just his teeth damaged. After completing his training, he joined the Royal Naval Air Service becoming a Squadron Leader. After his initial service flying in the Mediterranean, he was transferred to the Western Front.
He was killed, not flying a plane but trying to rescue one which had been forced to land in ‘No Man’s Land’ to prevent it falling into the hands of the ‘Hun’. A team of men led by Vernon had been working for ninety minutes in the middle of the night. They had managed to move the plane about thirty yards, when they were spotted, the Germans opened fire with a machine gun. Commander Vernon was hit in the head by two bullets.
His Commanding Officer wrote; ‘I have lost not only a very gallant officer and gentleman, but one of my greatest friends, he lived and died the death of the thorough sportsman that he was. It was the end he would have chosen for himself. We have buried him today with full military honours. The service was public, and attended by the French Army, and of course our Navy and the R.F.C.’
Vernon's body was eventually interred at Malo-les-Bains, a small town 3 kilometres east of Dunkirk.The Cemetery was used in the autumn of 1917 by units of the XV Corps and to a small extent before and after that time. There are now over thirty , 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site
Announcement of Vernon's death in the 6 October 1917 edition of the North China Herald.
Theophilus Chater Vernon (1887 - 1917)