Gallantry on the Somme: Chavasse VC & Bar, MC

Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC and Bar, MC. “The Bronze Cross”, page 20.

Noel Godfrey Chavasse VC and Bar, MC
Royal Army Medical Corps attached 1/10th The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment

For several years I have visited the exhibits of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London, England. There is much to see, with artifacts (both large and small), documents, and artworks sharing the exhibition space in a rich context. Here in their building we will also hear the sounds of war including the shattering cacophony of the frontlines, musical scores and renditions, and most heartfelt of all life stories by the participants themselves.

For many years the IWM had a Victoria Cross – George Cross Gallery, the latter the highest award for gallantry not in the face of the enemy. After many years this was changed when the collection of Victoria Crosses owned by the Ashcroft Trust were placed on exhibition with those of the IWM and turned into an interactive presentation in the Ashcroft Gallery. This exhibition of valour currently features 172 Victoria Crosses held by the Trust and the collection of 46 Victoria Crosses held by the IWM.

Amongst the Victoria Crosses on exhibit are the awards of Noel Godfrey Chavasse born in Oxford, England, 1884. Chavasse, an officer with the Royal Army Medical Corps, was attached to the 1/10th  The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment also known as the Liverpool Scottish. Noel Chavasse was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions of August 9, 1916 at Guillemont, Somme, France.

In 1917 during the action for which he would be posthumously awarded a Bar to the Victoria Cross Chavasse was wounded several times, one of which was a horrific and gaping abdominal wound. Noel Chavasse died of his wounds received in action August 4, 1917 at a Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek, Belgium. His burial at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery is frequently visited and where several remembrances are often placed.

Noel Chavasse’s final place of rest. Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, Belgium.

Citation for the award of the Victoria Cross to Noel Godfrey Chavasse

Announced in the London Gazette: 26 October 1916 (Fourth Supplement)

“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.”

Noel Chavasse was, as previously mentioned, posthumously awarded a Bar to the Victoria Cross (for Wieltje 31 July/2 August 1917). Prior to being awarded the Victoria Cross he was also a recipient of the Military Cross and was mentioned in despatches. His older twin brother, Christopher Maude Chavasse, was a chaplain during the Great War and was also awarded the Military Cross, and made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (Military Division). Christopher also received the French Croix de Guerre. He later became the Bishop of Rochester, and like his brother Noel was a British Olympic athlete participating in the 1908 Summer Olympics in London.

Two other brothers, Aidan and Bernard also served during the First World War. Aidan Chavasse was killed as a Lieutenant with the 17th King’s (Liverpool) Regiment and, having no known grave, is recorded on the Menin Gate War Memorial. Francis Bernard Chavasse, like his brothers Noel and Christopher, was also awarded the Military Cross. Their sister, May Chavasse, was mentioned in despatches as a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment.

Did you know?
Noel Godfrey Chavasse is one of three soldiers to have ever become the recipient of a Bar to the Victoria Cross. The others were Arthur Martin-Leake and Charles Hazlitt Upham.

Surgeon Captain Arthur Martin-Leake was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Vlakfontein February 8, 1902, when serving with the South African Constabulary attached to the 5th Field Ambulance during the Second Boer War. He was awarded a Bar to the Victoria Cross near Zonnebeke, Belgium October 29/November 8, 1914 at the time serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps. During the Second World War he was involved with Air Raid Precautions. He died June 22, 1953.

Charles Hazlitt Upham served with the 20th Battalion, 2nd New Zealand Expeditionary Force (The Canterbury Regiment) during the Second World War. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Crete, 22/30 May 1941. At El Ruweisat Ridge in Egypt’s western desert, during the First Battle of El Alamein, Upham was awarded a Bar to the Victoria Cross for his actions on 14/15 July 1942. Subsequently captured Upham, as a prisoner of war, was held in Colditz Castle. He died November 22, 1994. Of some interest is that the Upham and Chavasse families are related.


About The Author

pferguson
Paul has worked with the Paradigm Motion Picture Company since 2009 as producer, historian and research specialist. Paul first met Casey and Ian WIlliams of Paradigm in April 2007 at Ieper (Ypres), Belgium when ceremonies were being held for the re-dedication of the Vimy Memorial, France. Paul's sensitivity to film was developed at an early age seeing his first films at RCAF Zweibrucken, Germany and in Sardinia. Paul returned to Canada in 1967 and was further amazed by David Lean's "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bridge on the River Kwai". Film captivated Paul and with time he became increasingly interested in storytelling, content development, character, direction, cinematography and soundtracks. At the University of Victoria, Paul studied and compared Japanese and Australian film and became interested in Australian film maker Peter Weir and his film "Gallipoli" (1981). Paul was entranced when he learned Weir had visited the beaches, ridges and ravines of the peninsula. The film "Gallipoli" alone led Paul on many journeys to sites of conflict in England, France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Malta, Hawaii and Gallipoli. It was, however, when Paul watched documentary filmmaker Ken Burns, "The Civil War", that Paul understood how his own experience and insight could be effective and perhaps influential in film-making. Combining his knowledge of Museums and Archives, exhibitions and idea strategies with his film interests would be a natural progression. Paul thinks like a film-maker. His passion for history and storytelling brings to Paradigm an eye (and ear) to the keen and sensitive interests of; content development, the understanding of successful and relational use of collections, imagery and voice. Like Paul's favorite actor, Peter O'Toole, he believes in the adage “To deepen not broaden.” While on this path Paul always remembers his grandmother whose father did not return from the Great War and how his loss shaped her life and how her experience continues to guide him.

Comments

2 Responses to “Gallantry on the Somme: Chavasse VC & Bar, MC”

  1. Hello,

    I design exhibitions for the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock.

    I am designing a Centenary Exhibition for 2017.

    I would like to include something about Noel Chavasse in the exhibition and am writing to ask if it would be possible to use the image used on your website.

    Appropriate acknowledgement would be given to you and the site.

    Thank you

    Stephen

  2. pferguson says:

    Hi Stephen,
    Thank you for contacting us. I have forwarded an email to you.

    All the best with your project,
    Paul

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