b. 09/11/1884 Oxford. d. 04/08/1917 Brandhoek, Belgium.
Noel Godfrey Chavasse (1884-1917) was born at 36 New Inn Hall Street, St Peter-le-Bailey Rectory, Oxford on 9th November 1884. He was the younger twin with Christopher. They were very frail at birth and contracted a form of typhoid fever as infants. Their father was Francis James Chavasse, who had graduated from Corpus Christi, Oxford with a First in Law and Modern History in 1869. He was ordained in the Church of England at Manchester in 1870 and was curate at St Paul’s, Preston until 1873. He was then Vicar of St Paul’s, Upper Holloway until 1877, then Rector at St Peter-le-Bailey until 1889. He was consecrated the second Bishop of Liverpool on 25th April 1900, and the family lived at 19 Abercromby Square. Noel and Christopher’s mother was Edith Jane nee Maude and she married Francis at Overton-on-Dee near Wrexham on 27th September 1881. Noel had six siblings – Dorothea (born 1883), Christopher Maude (his twin born 1884), Edith Marjorie (born 1886), Mary Laeta (Edith’s twin also born 1886), Francis Bernard (born 1889) and Aidan (born 1891). Aidan would also be killed in action in 1917 and is commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres.
Until he was 12, Noel and his twin brother were educated by their governess and a tutor. They then went to Magdalen College School in Oxford 1896-1900, were they won numerous athletics trophies. In 1900 they moved to Liverpool College, where Noel won the Earl of Derby’s History Prize in 1901 and the Routhwaite Prize for Reading and Recitation in 1902. At Trinity College, Oxford from 1904-1909 (BA 1907, MA 1909), the twins shared rooms in Kettle Hall. Noel was a member of the Oxford University Officer Training Corps from January to May 1909 as a Lance Sergeant, but gave it up due to his studies. Both Noel and Christopher gained their blues for running against Cambridge. Noel gained a first in Physiology in 1909, but Christopher failed his exams. Noel was awarded a post-graduate exhibition in medicine, but deferred until his brother passed his exams. He decided to take a course at Liverpool University (Royal Southern Hospital) to be at home and help his brother.
At Liverpool University from 1910-1912, he qualified as MBChB MRCS LRCP. The placement part of his course was at the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin in the summer of 1911. On 15th March 1912 the committee of the University’s Medical Faculty awarded him their premier prize, the Derby Exhibition. He was registered as a doctor with the General Medical Council on 22nd July 1912. As a talented athlete, he was invited to trials for the British team for the 1908 Olympics in London. Noel was injured and couldn’t take part. His time was good enough to qualify, and they entered the 400 metres. Noel came third in his Heat, and Christopher was second in his, but neither qualified for the next round.
After university, Noel researched blood plasma at Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, and became house physician and house surgeon to Mr Douglas Crawford at the Royal Southern Hospital in Liverpool from October 1912 to March 1913. He specialised in orthopaedics under Sir Robert Jones, the leading surgeon in his field. On 2nd June 1913, he was commissioned in the Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force) and was attached to 10th King’s as its medical officer.
On 2nd August 1914, the Battalion went to Hornby Camp, Lancashire for annual training camp, but Noel went to London to volunteer for immediate services overseas. He embarked with the battalion on SS Maidan on 1st November, and arrived at Le Havre on 3rd November. It arrived at St Omer on the 5th and then did two weeks training at Blendecques. The battalion moved to the front line on 27th November, and Noel’s first patient was Captain Arthur Twentyman, who was hit in the chest by a bullet, and died of his wounds on 29th November.
In the early months of 1915, Noel’s dressing station was in the infantry barracks in Ypres, and on 16th June, the Battalion took part in the Second Army’s attack at Bellewaarde as part of 9th Brigade. Noel was very busy in scouring the ground between the lines to provide aid to the wounded. In his search for one officer he visited all hospitals in the area by bicycle in the hope of finding him. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions during this attack at Hooge (LG 14th January 1916). Noel missing the announcement at parade of his award when he was found weeping in a wood.
The Battalion was transferred to 166th Brigade, 55th (West Lancashire) Division under Major General Jeudwine on 1st January 1916. Noel was arrested as a spy by a vigilant MP because his uniform was unusual; he was wearing a RAMC uniform with Corps insignia and Glengarry cap with the Liverpool Scottish badge, but the Battalion wore the khaki Balmoral. Early in April 1916, he was selected to receive his MC from the King, but leave was postponed. He was not decorated with the MC until 7th June, almost a year after the action.
On 9th August 1916, at Guillemont, The Somme, during an attack, Noel attended the wounded in the open throughout the day. During the night, he scoured no man’s land for wounded in front of the enemy’s lines for over four hours. Next day, he took a stretcher bearer to the advanced trenches, and under heavy shell fire carried a badly wounded man over 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter in the process. The same night he took twenty volunteers to rescue three wounded men from a shell hole 25 yards from the enemy’s trench, buried the bodies of two Officers, and collected many identity discs, although fired upon by bombs and machine gun fire.
He was promoted to Captain, and in November 1916, transferred temporarily to a field hospital. He was granted fourteen days leave to attend his VC investiture at Buckingham Palace on 5th February 1917. The medal was taken back to Liverpool in the keeping of his sister, Marjorie. A miniature version was kept by Noel. On 20th July 1917 the Battalion left St Omer and moved by train to Poperinghe for a short rest before marching up to the lines in front of Wieltje. Up to 24th July, the Battalion suffered 145 casualties from a mustard gas attack, combined with heavy shelling.
During the period 31st July to 2nd August 1917 at Wieltje, Noel would be involved in the action that would lead to the posthumous award of a Bar to his VC. Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to a Dressing Station, Captain Chavasse refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but went out repeatedly under heavy enemy fire to search for and attend to the wounded. During these searches, although 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.
He was very seriously wounded by a shell exploding in his dugout at 3am on 2nd August and he was taken to No 32 Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek. On the way the ambulance was stopped briefly at 46th Field Ambulance, commanded by Lt Colonel Arthur Martin-Leake VC and Bar. Despite a successful operation to remove shell fragments, his condition worsened on 4th August and he died of his wounds at 1pm. He was buried the following day in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, near Ypres. His headstone is unique in that it carried two Victoria Crosses.
The Bar to his VC was presented privately to his father by Lt General Sir William Pitcairn Campbell KCB, GOC Western District, in late 1917. He was engaged at the time of his death to his cousin, Frances Gladys Ryland Chavasse (since April 1916). She would marry after the War to Reverend James “Pud” Ferguson Colquhoun in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, with Christopher officiating the service. She would die in September 1962 when knocked over by a car in France.
In addition to his VC & Bar, and MC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf. The VC passed to his brother, Christopher, who left it in his will to the trustees of St Peter’s College, Oxford in the 1930s. It was displayed on the main staircase, but insurance concerns led to a replica replacing the original on display. They were presented on a permanent loan to the Imperial War Museum on 22nd February 1990 in the presence of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother. In November 2009, the medals were purchased by Michael Ashcroft for a reputed £1.5 million. They are now held by the Ashcroft Trust and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum. They are currently, until January 5th 2018, on a short term loan to the Museum of Liverpool.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: BRANDHOEK NEW MILITARY CEMETERY, BELGIUM.
Note the uniqueness of Noel Chavasse's CWGC grave with two VC's on the headstone. (April 2017)
Noel Chavasse's medals including his VC plus Bar and MC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).
Medals at the Museum of Liverpool 31st July 2017 where they are on loan until January 5th 2018
National Memorial Arboretum
Liverpool College, Mossley Hill
Anglican Cathedral, Liverpool
Abercromby Square, Liverpool
Bromsgrove Cemetery Memorial
War Illustrated, 11th November 1916
War Illustrated, 8th September 1917
Union Jack Club
Laid in Oxford on 9th August 2016
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
PLOT III, ROW E, GRAVE 15
Chavasse Park, Liverpool
Museum of Liverpool
Chavasse family stained glass window (Museum of Liverpool)
His twin brother Christopher's medals in the IWM
Courtesy of James O'Hanlon - stone in Abercromby Square, Liverpool laid on 29th August 2017
Liverpool Cricket Club (James O'Hanlon)