History Podcasts

Noel Chavasse : First World War

Noel Chavasse : First World War


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Noel Godfrey Chavasse was born in Oxford on 9th November, 1884. His father, Francis Chavasse, became Bishop of Liverpool in 1900.

Chavasse was educated at Liverpool College and Trinity College, Oxford . After graduating with first class honours in 1907 he studied medicine. In 1908 Chavasse and his twin brother, Christopher, both represented Britain in the Olympic Games in the 400 metres.

In 1909 Chavasse joined the Oxford University Officer Training Corps Medical Unit. The following year he sat and passed the examination that allowed him to join the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons. Chavasse worked in Dublin and the Royal Southern Hospital in Liverpool before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1913.

On the outbreak of the First World War Chavasse offered to serve in France. He was transferred to the Western Front in November 1914 where he was attached to the Liverpool Scottish Regiment. In the first few months Chavasse was kept busy dealing with trench foot, a condition caused by standing for long periods in mud and water.

In March 1915 the regiment took part in the offensive at Ypres, where poison gas was used for the first time. By June 1915 only 142 men out of the 829 men who arrived with Chavasse remained on active duty. The rest had been killed or badly wounded.

Chavasse was promoted to captain in August 1915 and six months later was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at the Battle of Hooge. In April 1916 he was granted three days leave to receive his award from King George V.

In July 1916 Chavasse's battalion was moved to the Somme battlefield near Mametz. On the 7th August the Liverpool Scottish Regiment were ordered to attack Guillemont. Of the 620 men who took part in the offensive, 106 of the men were killed and 174 were wounded. This included Chavasse who was hit by shell splinters while rescuing men in no-mans-land. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

In February 1917 he was granted 14 days leave in England. He returned to the Liverpool Scottish Regiment and took part in the offensive at Passchendaele. For nearly two days he went out into the battlefield rescuing and treating wounded soldiers. It was during this period Noel performed the deeds that gained him his second Victoria Cross.

After being badly wounded Chavasse was sent to the Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek. Although operated on he died on 4th August 1917. Noel Godfrey Chavasse was Britain's most highly decorated serviceman in the war.

During an attack he (Noel Chavasse) tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy's lines for four hours. Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and, under heavy fire, carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey. The same night he took up a party of trusty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell hole twenty five yards from the enemy's trench, buried the bodies of two officers and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns. Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice were beyond praise.

Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the dressing station, he (Noel Chavasse) refused to leave his post, and for two days, not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition, went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out. During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry an number of badly wounded men over heavy and difficult ground. By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions. This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.


Insane Bravery: The Men Who Were Awarded the Victoria Cross Twice

The Victoria Cross, representing the United Kingdom’s most prestigious honor, is royalty among British decorations.

It is awarded to personnel of the British Armed Forces for acts of bravery “in the presence of an enemy.”

The recipients are men who have stepped up in desperate times, sometimes even laying down their lives to quell the storms of the battlefield.

Obverse of the cross ribbon: 1½” (38 mm), crimson (blue ribbon for naval awards 1856–1918)

Since its introduction in 1856 by Queen Victoria, the Victoria Cross has been awarded 1,358 times for acts of exceptional bravery, from the Crimean War in the 1850s to the Afghanistan War of present times.

With barely a handful of recipients across all sections of the British Armed Forces, this indicates that the Victoria Cross is a sparingly awarded decoration. Except for Elizabeth Weber Harris who received a replica Victoria Cross in 1869 with permission from Queen Victoria, there has never been a female recipient of the award.

Queen-Victoria

Stories of the recipients are usually marked by extraordinarily intense situations, with many of them not surviving long enough to receive the award in person. As a matter of fact, as of 2018, there are only nine living recipients of the VC.

Clearly, receiving Britain’s highest award takes extreme guts. But what would it take to receive it twice? In the history of the Victoria Cross, only three people have achieved this.

Not Afraid of the Rain: Arthur Martin-Leake

Born on April 4, 1874, in Standon, Hertfordshire, Arthur Martin-Leake had some experience as a doctor before the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899 which saw him enlist in the Imperial Yeomanry.

He served first as a trooper, being involved in Princeloo’s surrender and the relief of Hoar’s laager. After that, he joined General Baden-Powell’s South African Constabulary where his savoir-faire in the field of medicine became of paramount importance.

Arthur Martin-Leake c. 1902

His first VC-worthy performance came on February 8, 1902, during hostilities at Vlakfontein.

As hostile engagements tensed up at Vlakfontein, casualty levels were climbing on both sides. Martin-Leake was 27 years old and a Surgeon-Captain at that time. He and his team were everywhere, attending to the wounded.

He found a wounded man, flat of the ground and writhing in pain, barely 100 yards away from enemy positions.With about 40 Boers pumping out their ammunition at any foe in sight, going to the man’s aid would be a brush with death.

But Martin-Leake stepped up to the challenge. Under a rain of hostile fire, he managed to attend to the injured man successfully.

After that, he found a wounded officer to help, but this time he was not as lucky. Three shots left him badly wounded. However, he continued with his duties until he fell over on his back, overcome by the effect of his wounds.

Two monuments erected on the farm of Commandant Claassen, to commemorate two outstanding individuals during the Boer War: Captain Surgeon Martin-Leake, was one of only a few soldiers to receive TWO VC’s during his lifetime.

At this point, according to his VC citation, all eight men around him were wounded. While they lay on the Veldt, awaiting treatment, Martin-Leake made sure everyone else had some water before he did.

In June 1902, a month after the collapse of the South African Republic and Orange Free State and the effective end of the Second Boer War, Martin-Leake received his first Victoria Cross from King Edward VII at St. James’s Palace.

With the outbreak of the First World War 12 years later, Martin-Leake returned to the Army as a lieutenant, serving on the Western Front with the 5 th Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Arthur MARTIN-LEAKE

The Germans were retreating from the Marne and setting up strong positions in the Aisne area. They would subsequently attempt advancements across the Channel ports in the Battle of Ypres. It was for his actions at this time that Martin-Leake was awarded a second Victoria Cross.

From October 29 to November 8, 1914, Martin-Leake repeatedly ran through a rain of fire as hostilities raged at Zonnebeke, Belgium. In doing so, he rescued several wounded comrades who were lying close to enemy trenches.

In recommending the brave man for a second VC, his commanding officer wrote: “By his devotion, many lives have been saved that would otherwise undoubtedly have been lost. His behavior on three occasions when the dressing station was heavily shelled was such as to inspire confidence both with the wounded and the staff. It is not possible to quote any one specific act performed because his gallant conduct was continual.”

With the approval of these claims by the king, Arthur Martin-Leake became the first of the only three men ever to have received the VC twice.

Brave to the Core: Noel Chavasse

Formerly a medical doctor and an Olympic athlete, Noel Chavasse, just like his identical twin brother, fought in the First World War. It was during this time that he was awarded his Victoria Cross and a bar to it.

Portrait of N.G. Chavasse wearing the glengarry of the Liverpool Scottish

Born on November 9, 1884, Chavasse grew up with a number of successes in both education and sports, ending up as a surgeon by 1913. But with the outbreak of WWI, Chavasse’s medical aptitude was taken to the frontline. Having been accepted into the Royal Army Medical Corps, he served with this unit as a captain.

His unit was attached to the 1/10th (Scottish) Battalion of the King’s Regiment (Liverpool) where he made a remarkably brave display at the Battle of Hooge, consequently getting rewarded with the Military Cross.

His VC-worthy performance came during hostilities at Guillemont, France.

RAMC search packs of British dead after Battle of Guillemont 1916

During the attack, German soldiers pulled off one of the grandest displays of the war, fiercely repelling the onslaught of British and French soldiers. Death and injury marched side by side, sweeping through both positions as the two foes threw hell at each other.

Chavasse exposed himself to the showers of shells and gunfire as he worked all day in the open, taking care of the wounded. Most times he did this with the enemy in sight. When night came, he spent four hours close to enemy lines, searching for the wounded.

The next day saw the continuation of the battle, and he went to the furthest trenches with a stretcher bearer. While heavy shell fire rained around him, he carried a severely wounded comrade over 500 yards into safety. In the process, he was himself wounded in the side by a shell splinter.

Noel Chavasse Memorial on display at the Army Medical Services Museum

That night, he coordinated 20 men in a search and rescue operation in no man’s land. They succeeded in rescuing three men stuck in a shell hole that was barely 25 yards from enemy positions. Against a backdrop of bombs and machine guns, Chavasse buried two dead bodies and collected several discs.

In all, he was said to have saved over 20 badly wounded men, not to mention the several less severe cases that received his aid.

“His courage and self-sacrifice were beyond praise,” his first VC citation read.

A second VC-worthy action would come during the Battle of Passchendaele. In this event, Chavasse was involved in hostilities at Wieltje, Belgium, from 31 st July to 2 nd August. Sadly, he did not come out of this battle alive.

Chavasse’s headstone in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery.

When the engagement with the Germans began, Chavasse continued to play his role, never lacking in motivation. He had been badly injured earlier in the battle while carrying a wounded soldier to a Dressing Station. Despite this, he refused to leave his post to tend his own wounds.

For two days, he continued working, leaving his post to venture into the hostile zones to search for injured comrades. Starving, tired, and in pain, he carried a number of soldiers to safety. During this period, a rain of shells hit him while he was in his dugout, leaving him even more severely wounded.

Attempts to remove the shrapnel from the shell blast proved useless. After holding onto life for as long as he could, he gave up the ghost on the 4 th of August.

Medals of Noel and Christopher Chavasse. Noel’s medals are top row, and his brother, Christopher’s medals are bottom row.

The VC and Bar was privately presented to his father in late 1917.

His military headstone is uniquely adorned with a representation of his two Victoria Crosses.

He is effectively the first person ever to receive two Victoria Crosses for actions in the same battle.

Tough as Nails: Charles Hazlitt Upham

What sets this person apart from the other two above is the fact that this New Zealander is an actual combat soldier.

Born on September 21, 1908, in central Christchurch, New Zealand, Upham grew up as a quiet but strangely determined boy who always stood up to bullies in school.

As the years flew by, WWII came, and Upham, now aged 30, decided to take his fighting spirit to the front.

Charles Upham in NZ field uniform.

He received his first VC for actions in Crete in May 1941, while his platoon fought in the Battle for Maleme airfield. As his platoon embarked on an advance over 3,000 yards, they encountered severe resistance which held them up three times.

Upham first attacked a German machine-gun nest with a full bag of grenades, killing eight enemy paratroopers. His next stop would be a house hiding another machine gun post. Finally, he crawled, under heavy fire, to within 15 yards of an anti-aircraft gun and effectively silenced it.

After the retreat from Maleme, he helped carry an injured comrade in full view of German soldiers and motivated the other men to help their wounded comrades.

The Battle For Crete 20 – 31 May 1941

As the solid German defenses continued to flare their fury, a particular company would have been cut off if not for the intervention of Upham who ran with a corporal over 600 yards to their rescue, killing two German soldiers on the way.

In the events that followed, Upham was wounded by a mortar shell and subsequently shot in the foot, but he disregarded his injuries and continued to lead his men.

He proved himself a great terror to his enemies and offered much-needed needed motivation to his men. This was made even more remarkable by the fact that, in addition to being wounded, Upham was suffering from dysentery the whole time and was only able to eat a little food.

“He showed superb coolness, great skill, and dash and complete disregard of danger. His conduct and leadership inspired his whole platoon to fight magnificently throughout, and in fact was an inspiration to the Battalion,” his citation read.

The British Army in North Africa 1942

This was not the end, though. Upham went on to pull more spectacular performances in the North African theater. By now, Upham had already established the hand grenade as his weapon of choice. While fighting in Egypt, in the First Battle of El Alamein, Upham, who had already been wounded twice, destroyed a truckload of German soldiers with a grenade attack.

As the war progressed through a series of dramatic events, Upham was again shot through the shoulder by a machine gun, but by that point, he had already destroyed a German tank and several vehicles and guns.

New Zealand Forces in North Africa during the Second World War

When pain and excessive loss of blood began to have an effect on him, he was removed for treatment. But no sooner had he been treated than he headed back to the battle to motivate and help his men.

Unfortunately, he was injured again. This time, his injuries were even more severe, and he was captured. His company was eventually routed by the Germans, with only six survivors left by the end of the day.

For such an extraordinary show of guts and charisma, he received a bar to his VC on May 11, 1945.

Prior to his award, King George VI did question whether Upham was indeed worthy of the very rare VC a second time.

“In my respectful opinion, sir,” said Major-General Howard Kippenberger to the king, “Upham won the VC several times over.”


Noel Chavasse: the First World War doctor who braved hell for others

By Lord Ashcroft. Published Sunday, 6 October, 2013 in News, Medals.

During the four long and traumatic years of the Great War, only one individual was awarded the Victoria Cross (VC) and Bar – the equivalent of two VCs. The recipient of this exceptional double honour was not even a frontline soldier: Captain Noel Chavasse, a bishop’s son, was a medical officer but this did not stop him from being responsible for some of the bravest and most unselfish acts of the entire conflict.

Noel Chavasse, narrowly the younger of identical twin boys and one of seven children, was born in the vicarage at St Peter-le-Bailey, Oxford, on November 9, 1884. When his father became Bishop of Liverpool in 1900, Chavasse was educated at Liverpool College School, and in 1907 he graduated with a first in philosophy from Trinity College, Oxford.

While at university, he was a talented sportsman, earning blues for athletics and lacrosse. He and his twin brother, Christopher, represented Britain in the 1908 Olympics, both running the 400 metres. After qualifying as a doctor in 1912, Noel Chavasse became house physician at the Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool, and the following year he was appointed house surgeon at the same hospital.

As war loomed, Chavasse was commissioned as a lieutenant into the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and, after the outbreak of hostilities, he served in France and Belgium, where he was attached to the 10th Battalion King’s (Liverpool Regiment), known as Liverpool Scottish. This battalion saw action in June 1915 at Hooge, near Ypres, where Chavasse continually went into no man’s land for nearly 48 hours until he was satisfied there were no more wounded who needed treatment. He was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his heroic efforts and, shortly afterwards, he asked one of his sisters to buy 1,000 pairs of socks and other comforts out of his own money for the battalion.

On July 27, 1916, the battalion was moved to trenches in front of Guillemont, on the Somme. Despite being unable to reconnoitre the enemy positions, the men were still ordered to attack at 4.20am on August 9.

Not surprisingly, within a few hours they had sustained 189 casualties out of 600 men. Chavasse attended to the wounded all day under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy, while during the night he searched for injured men directly in front of enemy lines.

The next day, he recruited a stretcher-bearer and, under heavy shellfire, carried a critically injured man 500 yards to safety. On the return journey, Chavasse was wounded but it did not stop him from further sterling deeds that same night.

Helped by 20 volunteers, he rescued three more wounded men from a shell-hole just 25 yards from the enemy trenches. He also buried the bodies of two officers and collected numerous identity discs from dead soldiers. It was estimated that during those two days Chavasse saved the lives of 20 seriously wounded men as well as treating the countless “ordinary” cases that passed through his hands.

Chavasse’s parents heard through official channels that he had been wounded but, almost immediately, they received a letter from their son playing down the injury: “Don’t be in the least upset if you hear I am wounded. It is absolutely nothing. The merest particle of shell just frisked me. I did not even know about it until I undressed at night.”

Chavasse was awarded his VC “for most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty” and his citation, announced in the London Gazette on October 26, 1916, concluded: “His courage and self-sacrifice were beyond praise.”

The Liverpool Daily Post & Mercury said of the city’s local hero: “Letters from the Front have constantly told how eager he was, how ready he was to expose himself to dangers beyond those called for in the discharge of his duties, and how many a wounded soldier has brightened under the radiance of his cheery disposition… His battalion almost regard him as their mascot.”

A Canadian machine-gunner told the paper: “I was up at the line that day, and the men were talking a lot about the fine courage of Captain Chavasse… Hell would have been heaven compared to the place he was in, but he never troubled about it. It’s men like him that make one feel that the spirit of old is still alive in our midst.”

Moreover, Chavasse had particular sympathy with soldiers who had lost their nerve, some of whom even inflicted injuries on themselves in the hope of being invalided away from the front line.

This compassion was highlighted by the regimental historian who wrote of Chavasse: “The Doctor has a genius for picking out those men who were near a breakdown, either in nerve or general health, but not yet so run down as to be hospital cases.

”Rather than send them to the trenches where their collapse sooner or later was inevitable, he kept them at his aid post as light-duty men, where in comparative comfort they had a chance to rest and recover.”

By the summer of 1917, the battalion had moved to trenches near Wieltje, north-east of Ypres. Preparations were made for what was to be the third Battle of Ypres – an attempt to recapture Passchendaele Ridge. The offensive began on July 31 and the Liverpool Scottish, poorly protected against mustard gas, lost two officers and 141 other ranks.

On the first evening of the battle, Chavasse was wounded in the skull. He had his injury bandaged but refused to be evacuated. Time and again, under heavy fire and in appalling weather, he went into no man’s land to search for and attend to the wounded. With virtually no food, in great pain and desperately weary, he undoubtedly saved numerous lives until, early on August 2, he was finally taking a rest at his first-aid post when it was struck by a shell.

Everyone in the post was either killed or wounded. Chavasse suffered at least six injuries but crawled for half a mile to get help for the others. He was taken through Ypres to the 46th Field Ambulance and then on to the 32nd Casualty Clearing Station, but his face was unrecognisable and he had a serious wound to the abdomen. After an operation on the latter injury, he found the strength to dictate a letter to his fiancée (and cousin), Gladys Chavasse, in which he explained why he had carried on working in spite of his injuries, insisting that “duty called and called me to obey”. He died at around 1pm on August 4, 1917.

Gladys Chavasse was distraught when she heard the news: the couple had intended to get married later that month. A memorial service was held in his honour in the Parish Church of St Nicholas on Merseyside on August 29.

During August, Chavasse’s parents were inundated with letters praising their lost son. Brig-Gen LG Wilkinson, who commanded the 166th Brigade until April 1917, wrote: “I constantly met your son and appreciated his work. He was quite the most gallant and modest man I have ever met, and I should think the best-liked. What he did for his battalion of Liverpool Scottish was wonderful, and his loss to them is irreparable. I do not believe a man of more noble character exists.”

The Bar to his VC was announced on September 14, 1917, when the citation praised his “extraordinary energy and inspiring example”, and the posthumous decoration was later presented to his family. Chavasse is buried in the Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, Belgium, where his headstone bears a representation of two VCs. The wonderfully apt inscription in the white stone, chosen by his father, reads: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Gladys Chavasse is believed to have visited Chavasse’s grave several times and each year she marked the anniversary of his death with an “In Memoriam” notice in The Times. She also kept a photograph of him, his “Officer’s Advance Book”, his writing case and his miniature VC until her death in 1962, when she was fatally struck by a car while holidaying in France.

Christopher Chavasse, who was awarded the Military Cross (MC) for his own bravery during the Great War, gave an insight into his own loss in a letter, written in 1961, to a woman whose identical twin sister had just died.

He told her that “also as an identical twin, how truly I can sympathise with you, as I still mourn my Noel every day of my life, and have done so for 44 years, and shall do till I see him again – quite soon now.” Christopher Chavasse, who was the Bishop of Rochester for 20 years until 1960, died in March 1962, at the age of 77.

Since his death, Noel Chavasse has had at least 16 memorials dedicated to his memory, including one at Liverpool Cathedral, and this total of memorials is greater than for any other VC holder in the world.

Decades ago, Captain Chavasse’s service and gallantry medals were left by his family to St Peter’s College, Oxford. However, in 2009, after lengthy private negotiations, the college took the decision to offer his medals to me. An exclusive report in The Sunday Telegraph quoted college sources as saying the price was “close to £1.5 million”, which easily topped the previous world record for a medal, rumoured to be a private sale worth £1 million.

I was thrilled to add the Chavasse medals to my collection, which now totals more than 180 VCs, the largest collection of such decorations in the world. I was especially glad that the money I paid for the group of medals was going towards academic purposes: indeed this encouraged me to pay what some people have suggested was an “uncommercial” price for this unique group of medals.

I had long felt that my VC collection would never be truly complete until it contained one of the three VCs and Bars that have been awarded since the decoration was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1856.

In many ways, I look upon the Chavasse decorations as the ultimate group of gallantry medals. I am immensely proud to own them and to know that they are now on public display at the Imperial War Museum.


Chavasse


Chavasse, Captain Noel Godfrey, RAMC, (1888-1917). Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse V.C and Bar, MC, RAMC was Britain's most highly decorated soldier of World War I. Captain Chavasse was medical officer to the 10th (Liverpool Scottish) Battalion, The Kings (Liverpool) Regiment from 1914 to 1917.

Captain Chavasse was a member of the Territorial Army, joining up at the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914. He arrived in France on 2nd November 1914 with his battalion, and won his first medal, the Military Cross at Hooge on 17/18 June 1915. This award was gazetted on 14th January, 1916 but there was no citation due to the length of the list.

It was on the 8th August 1916 during the attack on Guillemont, that Captain Chavasse performed the deeds that won him his first Victoria Cross. The award was gazetted on 26th October 1916 on page 10394 of the London Gazette with the following citation:
During an attack he tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy's lines for four hours. Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and, under heavy fire, carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey. The same night he took up a party of trusty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell hole twenty five yards from the enemy's trench, buried the bodies of two officers and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns. Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice were beyond praise.

Captain Chavasse won his second Victoria Cross on 31st July, 1917. The award was made posthumously Captain Chavasse was so severely wounded by a shell which entered his dugout at Wieltje on 2nd August that he died of his wounds on 4th August, 1917. The citation in the London Gazette on 14 September, 1917 read:
Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the dressing station, he refused to leave his post, and for two days, not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition, went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out. During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry an number of badly wounded men over heavy and difficult ground. By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtably succumbed under the bad weather conditions. This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.

Captain Chavasse is buried in Brandhoek Military Cemetery, near Poperinghe Belgium. His headstone has two Victoria Crosses inscribed in it.

Clayton, Ann, Chavasse - Double VC , , Leo Cooper, (ISBN 0-85052-296-X)


Fallen Hero of the First World War: Noel Godfrey Chavasse

About a week ago, the final man to have seen active service during the First World War, Claude Choules, died at the age of 110. With history that is now nearly a century distant it is all too easy to forget that those involved were but human beings who happened to live through extraordinary times. Their actions during those times defined them, and defines our history, and informs how we define ourselves. One such man was Noel Godfrey Chavasse, whose honours were all but unique.

Noel Godfrey Chavasse was born, along with his twin brother Christopher, on Sunday 9 th of November, at 36 New Inn Hall Street, in Oxford. He was the son of a priest, in a family of seven children, and from 1887 to 1900, until his father was made Bishop of Liverpool, he and his twin brother Christopher were both pupils of Magdalen College School (MCS), in Oxford. Both Chavasses made their greatest impact on the sports field and on the river, both boys being very keen at rowing. Indeed, Noel Chavasse, whist not quite being the all-rounder that his brother proved, managed to set a new long jump record of 15' 2" in the 1899 Sports Day, and in both 1897 and 1898 he came in one of the three medal positions in the annual sack race, coming first in the former. He was awarded a full colours tie for his success at rowing.

After a brief recovery period at home, Chavasse was back in France, and on 1 st August 1917 he was involved in the 3 rd Battle of Ypres, where he, with a grave head injury, worked desperately for hours with a captured German medic in appalling conditions to try and save the lives of the many wounded men who were brought to them. Later that day Noel received another wound, and was given a direct order to return to the Allied base, which he ignored, refusing to leave his post.

On the 2 nd August a shell hit the aid post where Noel was working whilst he was attempting to get some sleep, killing everyone but him, leaving Noel with heavy injuries to his abdomen, which bled profusely. He was stretchered to safety, but died of his wounds in hospital two days later. For his actions in attempting to save the lives of the many wounded and dying soldiers brought to him, he was posthumously awarded a second VC, only t he second man in the history of the British Army to be accorded that honour.


Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC & Bar

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, M.C., M.B., Royal Army Medical Corps.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.

During an attack he tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy’s lines for four hours.

Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and under heavy shell fire carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey. The same night he took up a party of twenty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell hole twenty-five yards from the enemy’s trench, buried the bodies of two Officers, and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns.

Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice were beyond praise.

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of a Bar to the Victoria Cross to Capt. Noel Godfrey Chavasse, V.C., M.C., late R.A.M.C., attd. L’pool R.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action.

Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the Dressing Station, Capt. Chavasse refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out.

During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry in a number of badly wounded men, over heavy and difficult ground.

By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example, he was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions.

This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.

Other decorations: MC

Place/date of death: Near Ypres, Belgium/August 4, 1917

Burial/memorials: Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium Liverpool Scottish Regiment HQ Liverpool Cathedral Chavasse Barracks, Liverpool Liverpool Cricket Club Chavasse Park, Liverpool Chavasse House RAMC, Merseyside Liverpool Town Hall RAMC College, London Trinity College, Oxford

Origin of VC to the Lord Ashcroft collection: Purchased privately, 2009.

Current location of VC: Displayed on rotation at The Lord Ashcroft Gallery: Extraordinary Heroes exhibition, Imperial War Museum


Chavasse – that rings a bell!

After becoming interested in the Christmas Truce of 1914, I looked through my reference book ‘First World War For Family Historians’. As I said in my previous article, my grandfather was an ‘Old Contemptible’ and as such we have his medals – the three nicknamed ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ – the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal (inscribed along the edge with his name and service number), and the Victory Medal. In his memory, my father, as a young lad, wore them with pride every Remembrance Day.

I read on, engrossed with the information about medals, when suddenly a name jumped off the page – Chavasse. Having researched considerably the ministers and vicars of St Thomas’, the name rang a bell. I consulted my notes and there it was – Thomas Ludovic Chavasse, vicar 1908 to 1909.

In my reference book, under medals, it spoke about the most highly decorated soldier of the First World War – Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse (1884-1917). He was awarded the Victoria Cross twice for bravery – the first he received from King George V and the second was a rare ribbon medal bar. Noel Chavasse was our vicar’s cousin! Noel’s father was Francis James Chavasse – the celebrated Bishop of Liverpool in the huge newly built Anglican cathedral. Francis James’s brother was Charles Edward, the father of our vicar and a Midlands wine merchant in Sutton Coldfield.

Captain Noel trained as a doctor and surgeon, following in the steps of his grandfather, Thomas (1801-1884) in Wylde Green Birmingham. Noel was in fact a twin his brother Major Christopher Maude (1884-1962) followed their father into the church and became Honorary Chaplain in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. They had twin sisters, May and Marjorie who also distinguished themselves in WW2.

Noel joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was active at the front. It was at Guillemont, France in 1916 that he earned his first Victoria Cross when, during one day, he saved twenty badly injured soldiers under heavy sniper fire and bombing. His second VC was at Passchendaele, the Somme in 1917, when again he went out to rescue and save men under heavy fire. He himself was wounded and, two days later in Brandhoek, Belgium he succumed to his injuries and is buried there. His gravestone bears a rare double VC on it. Both Noel and Christopher were excellent athletes and represented Britain in the 1908 Olympic Games.

This brings me to our vicar, Thomas Ludovic Chavasse (1874-1939). He was born in Sutton Coldfield – one of six children – to Charles Edward and Frances Lucy. He was educated at Hertford College, Oxford and the Midland Clergy College, Edgbaston. Between 1900 and 1913 he held appointments at Worcester, Sutton Coldfield, Coventry and, of course Stourbridge. He did not have good health according to some accounts he went abroad to help his ailments. In 1908, after a curacy at St Michael’s Coventry he was appointed vicar at St Thomas’. But in 1909 he resigned the post through ill-health and the Rev. Gilling-Lax was appointed. Thomas continued in the church and worked extensively in the diocese of Birmingham and Lichfield before becoming a vicar in Water Orton 1929. In 1939, Thomas Ludovic Chavasse died a bachelor and is buried in Water Orton.


Military career and decorations

In early 1913, after discussions with some of his fellow doctors, Chavasse applied for and was accepted by the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) he was commissioned as a lieutenant on 2 June. [6] Thanks to one of his mentors, Dr McAlistair, who was then Surgeon-Captain of the 10th Battalion of the King's (Liverpool Regiment), the Liverpool Scottish, he was attached to the battalion as Surgeon-Lieutenant. [ citation needed ] The 10th Kings had been a Territorial battalion since the Haldane Reforms in 1909. Chavasse joined the battalion on 2 June 1913 and was welcomed by Lieutenant-Colonel W. Nicholl, the commanding officer. As an officer in a Territorial unit, Chavasse now had to attend to both his civilian and military duties.

During the First World War, Chavasse was a captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps, British Army attached to the 1/10th (Scottish) Battalion of the King's (Liverpool Regiment).

Chavasse was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry at Hooge, Belgium in June 1915, although the award was not gazetted until 14 January 1916. [7] He was promoted captain on 1 April 1915 [8] on 30 November 1915 that year he was Mentioned in Despatches.

Victoria Cross

Chavasse was first awarded the VC for his actions on 9 August 1916, at Guillemont, France when he attended to the wounded all day under heavy fire. The full citation was published on 24 October 1916 and read: [9]

Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, M.C., M.B., Royal Army Medical Corps.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty.

During an attack he tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy's lines for four hours.

Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and under heavy shell fire carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey. The same night he took up a party of twenty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell hole twenty-five yards from the enemy's trench, buried the bodies of two officers, and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns.

Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice, were beyond praise.

Bar to Victoria Cross

Chavasse's second award was made during the period 31 July to 2 August 1917, at Wieltje, Belgium the full citation was published on 14 September 1917 and read: [10]

War Office, September, 1917.

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of a Bar to the Victoria Cross to Capt. Noel Godfrey Chavasse, V.C., M.C., late R.A.M.C., attd. L'pool R.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action.

Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the Dressing Station, Capt. Chavasse refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out.

During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry in a number of badly wounded men, over heavy and difficult ground.

By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example, he was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions.

This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.

Chavasse died of his wounds in Brandhoek and is buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, Vlamertinge. [11] His military headstone carries, uniquely, a representation of two Victoria Crosses. [3]

Chavasse was the only man to be awarded both a Victoria Cross and Bar in the First World War, and one of only three men ever to have achieved this distinction. [3]


The Chavasse Family in World War I

Few British families are so intimately linked with the courage and sacrifice of the First World War as that of Francis James Chavasse and his wife, Edith. Five of their seven children served with distinction on the front lines, and between them they were awarded 21 medals for their actions, including the only double Victoria Cross of the entire conflict.

Between May 2016 and February 2017, St Peter's hosted a wide range of events to honour this service as part of the series Duty, Courage, Faith: the Chavasse Family in World War I. These events included a number of memorial lectures, two unveilings, an exhibition and an Evensong, all of which sought to commemorate the remarkable role played during the Great War by the Chavasse family, who later founded St Peter's.

The events began in May 2016 with the inaugural Chavasse lecture delivered by St Peter's alumnus and Honorary Fellow, General Sir Nicholas Houghton GCB CBE ADC Gen, then Chief of the Defence Staff. This was followed a few months later by the unveiling of a commemorative paving slab in honour of Captain Noel Chavasse, who was the only person to win the Victoria Cross twice during the conflict, and is one of only three people ever to receive the award more than once. The paving slab, which sits outside the college chapel, in which Noel was baptised, was unveiled by the Lord-Lieutenant of Oxfordshire and by members of the current Chavasse family.

October saw the renowned journalist and broadcaster, Jeremy Paxman, pack out the Sheldonian Theatre for the second Chavasse lecture, which was quickly followed by a special Chavasse Evensong marking the publication on 24 October 1916 of the full citation for Noel Chavasse's first Victoria Cross.

The chapel was also the stage throughout Michaelmas 2016 for a special exhibition relating to the Chavasse family in World War I, which was eventually visited by close to 3,000 people from all over the UK, and beyond. It also played host in November to the Rt Revd Sir James Jones, former bishop of Liverpool (1998-2013), who not only delivered the third Chavasse lecture, but also unveiled the permanent display of the Chavasse family medals, which includes 21 decorations awarded during the Great War.

The series was brought to a close in February 2017 with a lecture by Prof Mark Harrison, Director of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, which was hosted by Trinity College, where both Noel Chavasse and his brother, Christopher, had been students.


Chavasse Double VC: The Highly Acclaimed Biography of the Only Man to Win Two Victoria Crosses During the Great War

This was a fine biography of a man whose bravery and self-sacrifice were awe inspiring.

Noel&aposs hero was Gordon of Khartoum, another Christian soldier and a man defined by his dedication to duty and his love for others. Gordon had not only been a great general but had also applied a passionate zeal to his work among destitute boys in England, a further parallel with Chasse&aposs life. Noel&aposs letters to his family both before and during the war frequently reiterated the theme of duty, and this was the This was a fine biography of a man whose bravery and self-sacrifice were awe inspiring.

Noel's hero was Gordon of Khartoum, another Christian soldier and a man defined by his dedication to duty and his love for others. Gordon had not only been a great general but had also applied a passionate zeal to his work among destitute boys in England, a further parallel with Chasse's life. Noel's letters to his family both before and during the war frequently reiterated the theme of duty, and this was the keynote in his admonitions to deprived boys as well as to the men under his command in war. The combination of devotion to duty and love for others was to be seen throughout Noel’s brief life, and both were fired by his strong and vibrant Christian faith.

One story from his time as a civilian doctor before the war shows his Christian character and love for neighbour: "As a resident Noel was himself able to recommend a few patients for treatment. In 1913 he was travelling through the poorest district, adjacent to the docks, when he saw a crippled child crawling in the road. He stopped his cab, alighted and handed the boy his card, telling him to ask his mother to bring him to the Royal Southern Hospital. The boy, Robert Eager, underwent nine operations at the hands of Dr Chavasse, supervised by Robert Jones, and was finally able to walk upright and lead a full life in the Merchant Navy." Incredible.

Noel's spiritual life was undiminished by his wartime experiences, and matters of faith as well as his heartfelt concern for his men often figured in his letters home. If anything, the intense experience of war gave him pause to examine his own motives and to look for new ways of helping his fellow man. One poignant example is his sympathy for those who suffered a breakdown, due to what we would now classify as PTSD. While Noel seemed to know no fear himself, he could nevertheless understand men who felt so terrified that they were unable to carry out what he would have regarded as their duty. He was consistently able to pick out men who were near a breakdown, either in nerve or general health, but not yet so run down as to be hospital cases. Rather than send them into the trenches, where their collapse sooner or later was inevitable, he kept them at his aid post as light-duty men, where they had the comparative comfort they needed to rest and recover. This ability was neither instinct nor some kind of sixth sense, but rather a combination of sound common sense, professional competence, and a deep love and sense of responsibility for the men under his care.

As seen from his many letters to friends and family, Noel's own writing style was striking and vivid, as in this scene describing his battalion coming out of a spell in the trenches: "Our men have had a terrible experience of 72 hours in trenches, drenched through and in some places knee-deep in mud and water. To see them come out, and line up, and march off is almost terrible. They don't look like strong young men. They are muddied to the eyes. Their coats are plastered with mud and weigh an awful weight with the water which has soaked in. Their backs are bent, and they stagger and totter along with the weight of their packs. Their faces are white and haggard and their eyes glare out from mud which with short, bristly beards give them an almost beastlike look. They look like wounded or sick wild things. I have seen nothing like it. The collapse after rowing or running is nothing to it. Many, too many, who are quite beat, have to be told they must walk it. Then comes a nightmare of a march for about 2 to 4 miles, when the men walk in a trance… and in about 3 days, they are as fit as ever again."

Of course Noel is most famous for having twice won the Victoria Cross, being one of only three men to have done so. He was awarded his first Victoria Cross following the Battle of Guillemont in 1916 "for the most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty: During an attack he tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy’s lines for four hours. Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and, under heavy fire, carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey. The same night he took up a party of trusty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell-hole twenty-five yards from the enemy’s trench, buried the bodies of two officers, and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns. Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice were beyond praise."

The Posthumous Bar to his Victoria Cross was awarded following his death in action in the battle of Passchendaele in 1917. The citation read: "Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the dressing-station he refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties but in addition went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out. During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry in a number of badly wounded men over heavy and difficult ground. By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example he was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions. This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds."

The other character who stands out in this book is Noel's father Francis Chavasse, Bishop of Liverpool. He was a solid evangelical, and successor to J. C. Ryle. His four sons all served on the Western Front, two of the four being killed in action, and won two VCs and three MCs between them. After Noel's death, his father wrote to his twin brother, serving on the Western front as a chaplain: "You will have heard by this time that our dearest Noel has been called away. Our hearts are almost broken, for oh! how we loved him. Your dearest mother is pathetic in her grief, so brave and calm notwithstanding. But again and again, we keep praising and thanking God for having given us such a son. We know that he is with Christ, and that one day - perhaps soon - we shall see him again. What should we do in such a sorrow as this, if we could not rest on the character of God, on his love, and wisdom, and righteousness."

A fine tribute from a father to his son, who epitomised the famous words of Christ "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends." . more


Watch the video: The First World War: Part 3: Global War (May 2022).