The Chavasse family left a notable mark on public life in the city of Liverpool and beyond in the first half of the twentieth century. Their contribution to the war effort was remarkable and one of their number, Captain Noel Chavasse, has gone down in history as the only man to win two Victoria Crosses during the First World War.
Noel Chavasse VC
Francis Chavasse was the second bishop of the newly created see of Liverpool, and decided that the city needed a cathedral to reflect the increased status it had gained during the nineteenth century. Today that cathedral stands as a testament to his vision, and to the importance of the Christian faith in that distinctive city.
His four sons; Noel, Christopher, Bernard and Aidan, all had splendid war records.
Christopher served as an army chaplain, being awarded the Military Cross for outstanding and consistent devotion to duty. In particular, his work in bringing in wounded men from the battlefield gave a lie to the post-war myth that Anglican chaplains were content to preach to their men only from the safety of backward positions. In later years he served as Bishop of Rochester.
Bernard served as a doctor in the 1st King’s Liverpool Regiment and, like Christopher, was awarded the Military Cross for persistently bringing in wounded men from the battlefield whilst under heavy fire. After the war he became an eminent ophthalmic surgeon.
Aidan was killed in 1917 and never found, despite Bernard leading a party to try and locate him. His name is one of the 55,000 missing inscribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres.
Noel, along with his twin brother Christopher, had represented Britain in the 1908 Olympic Games in the 440 yards dash. He had gone on, fuelled by earnest Christian endeavour, to work with underprivileged boys in Liverpool, teaching them proficiency in various sports and running Bible classes. He trained as a surgeon, and on the outbreak of war volunteered for service with the RAMC.
The action which won him his first VC occurred at the Battle of Guillemont in 1916, where he advanced as far as twenty-five yards from the German line to rescue the wounded. He carried around men to safety, some on his back, at a distance of some 500 yards, an act of heroism commemorated in Liverpool’s Victoria Cross memorial, situated outside the house where the Chavasse family had grown up.
VC Memorial, Abercromby Square, Livepool
At the Battle of Passchendale in 1917, he performed similar heroics to win a unique second VC, the citation reading:-
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.
Today his resting place is a poignant reminder of this most brave of Christian men from the most notable of families. As well as the two VCs, it contains the words from John 15:13, Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends.
Detail from Noel Chavasse’s grave at Brandhoek New Cemetery No. 2
The story of the Chavasse family is told in greater detail in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War. In addition it features the stories of twenty-two other Christian individuals and families, and offers an insight into the many ways in which Christianity permeated British and other societies in that time. It contains a foreword by the respected MP, Dan Jarvis, himself a former army major and Labour’s spokesman on First World War commemorations.
This is the link to the publisher’s website. Alternatively I can sign a copy and post it directly to you.