Commemorations to honour Captain Noel Chavasse

A commemorative paving stone and a centenary service will be held in August as part of a series of events marking the centenary of the death of Noel Chavasse – the only soldier to be awarded two Victoria Cross medals during World War One.

Noel Godfrey Chavasse was born in Oxford in 1884 and moved to the Bishop’s Palace at 19 Abercomby Square in Liverpool in 1900 when his father, the Right Reverend Francis Chavasse, took up the post of Bishop of Liverpool.

He attended Liverpool College where he excelled at sport and represented Great Britain in the 400 metres at the Olympics in 1908, before becoming a doctor serving as a medical officer with the British Army attached to the 1/10th Battalion of the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, a kilted territorial battalion known as the Liverpool Scottish.

Despite not even being a frontline soldier, he was responsible for some of the bravest and most unselfish acts of the entire four year conflict and became the most decorated soldier of the war for his actions.

He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions in June 1915 at Hooge near Ypres, where he continually went into no man’s land for nearly 48 hours until he was satisfied there were no more wounded needing treatment.

He was first awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions in August 1916 at Guillemont in France on the Somme when he attended to the wounded all day under heavy fire. He carried a critically injured man 500 yards to safety under heavy shellfire and rescued three wounded men from a shell-hole just 25 yards from enemy trenches. It is estimated he saved the lives of some 20 seriously injured men as well as treating countless others.

His second Victoria Cross was awarded for his action in July and August 1917 in Wieltje, Belgium, when, despite being severely wounded in his skull, he refused to leave his post and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out. He was instrumental in rescuing many who would otherwise have undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions. On August 2nd, he was finally taking a rest at his first-aid post when it was struck by a shell, but despite this he crawled for half a mile to get help for the others. He died on 4 August, but not before dictating a letter to his fiancée Gladys in which he explained he carried on working because “duty called and called me to obey”.

The citation for his Bar in the London Gazette reads:

“For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action (Wieltje, Flanders).Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the Dressing Station, Captain 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.”

To mark the 100 years since his death, a Commemorative Paving Stone is being unveiled at Abercromby Square Gardens on Tuesday 29 August at 11am, attended by his family, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, military representatives from the Royal Army Medical Corps, the Duke of Lancashire Regiment, the Liverpool Scottish Association and civic dignitaries.

It will be followed by a re-creation of his Memorial Service at Liverpool Parish Church in the city centre at 2pm, exactly 100 years since it originally took place, which will include the original hymns he had chosen. His sword will also be on display – the first time it has been seen in public for many years.

To bring the day’s commemorations to a close, 208 (Liverpool) Field Hospital will hold a Last Light Vigil at 9pm back in Abercromby Square Gardens.

Lord Mayor of Liverpool, Cllr Malcolm Kennedy, said: “Noel Chavasse was a courageous medical doctor whose selfless actions saved many lives. He was completely devoted to his duty and in his own words as he lay dying, he wrote “Duty called and called me to obey”.

“Noel had been set for a brilliant career in medicine – but instead he became one of the most extraordinary soldiers Britain has ever seen, winning the Victoria Cross twice.

“Liverpool is incredibly proud of him and this is why the city is honouring him with this fitting ceremony.

“I am personally privileged to be able to attend and unveil this stone in his honour. It will be a permanent reminder of the incredible contribution that he made to the war effort and his role in making sure that more soldiers weren’t lost.”

Thomas Aidan Chavasse – nephew to Noel Chavasse, Son of Bernard Chavasse (Noel’s brother), and oldest surviving relative of Noel said: “On this centennial anniversary, the Chavasse family are grateful to the City of Liverpool for commemorating the courage and sacrifice of Noel Chavasse, and indeed all the citizens of Liverpool who died in the Great War.

“Noel’s life was characterized by duty, service, and above all a deep sense of compassion and care for both the citizens of Liverpool, and for his brothers in arms in the Liverpool Scottish Regiment.

“This August, we both mourn and celebrate his extraordinary life and death, and in particular his supreme acts of bravery and courage in saving so many lives on the battlefield.”

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Right Reverend Paul Bayes, said: “My predecessor, Bishop Francis Chavasse, was devastated at the loss of his son, but also knew the tremendous example that Noel had set for others.

“Noel’s heroism was in his care for others at the front, and his distinguished service in the Medical Corps.  After his first VC, Bishop Chavasse told his son, “You have been known so far as the son of the Bishop of Liverpool: I shall be known henceforth as the father of Captain Chavasse.”

“I am proud to honour Noel’s memory exactly 100 years after the first memorial service at Liverpool Parish Church using hymns which Noel himself had chosen.  Bishop Chavasse wrote that it was a service of praise, and we continue today to give thanks and praise for the life of Noel Chavasse.

“We also remember with pride and thanksgiving those who, like him, choose to serve and to risk their lives in our Armed Forces today.”

Separately, The King’s Regiment are to hold a service at 1pm on 4 August – the day he died – at the Liverpool Heroes Memorial in Abercomby Square.

The medals of Captain Noel Chavasse are on display at the Museum of Liverpool from 31 July 2017 to 5 January 2018 – the first time this important medal group, on loan from Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC, has gone on public display in Liverpool.

Also on display at the Museum of Liverpool until 1 September are stained glass windows, commissioned by the Chavasse family in memory of ‘those who died’ and ‘those who gave their life’ during World War One.

Background to Victoria Cross Commemorative Paving Stones

627 individuals received the Victoria during the First World War, although in total 628 VCs were awarded and Noel Chavasse was awarded twice. The paving stones are made of York stone Scoutmoor, a very hard-wearing British stone that is quarried near Ramsbottom. Each stone will include the name of the individual, the rank and regiment of the individual (at the time the VC was awarded) and the date of the action for which the VC was awarded. The design was chosen through a competition open to the public. Competition entries were judged by a panel of seven judges: Sebastian Faulks, Michael Burleigh, Major General Patrick Cordingley, Dame Helen Ghosh, Diane Lees, Lord Ashcroft and L/Sgt. Johnson Beharry VC. The overall competition was won by Charlie MacKeith, an architect and the director of Research Design Architecture.

Liverpool Waterfront