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Remembering them - a doctor in the trenches

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Captain Noel Chavasse

After reading the post Big little man, Roger Kuin responded, "I was in Oxford a week or two ago and discovered that the school of which my daughter is now Chaplain (the first woman in 500 years) had a plaque for a former pupil, Noel Chavasse, one of only three people ever to have a VC and bar. We need to remember them."

Yes.

Roger sent a link to a file which describes Noel's life in detail. The son of the Bishop of Liverpool, Noel was a good athlete, running and playing rugby in school, a talent he would use during the first three years of the First World War. He studied medicine, helped homeless boys at the Grafton Street Industrial School, then became Medical Officer of the 10th (Liverpool Scottish) Battalion, the King's (Liverpool) Regiment.

Tetanus, trench foot, mud and death

When Noel arrived with his battalion in France he immediately identified his enemies - tetanus, trench foot and filth. He "obtained and was one of the first doctors to use anti-tetanus serum on wounded men. This serum was a great success - over eleven million doses were administered during the war and very few men developed tetanus as a result."

Instead they died of pneumonia, from camping in trenches full of standing water, and from wounds received under constant bombardment and machine gun fire. The history of the First World War should forever have put paid to the idea that the leaders of developed nations have anything much to recommend them. The people of Europe did not want war, but their leaders, in particular the egomaniacal Kaiser of Germany, gave them death and destruction.

A VC

On July 30th 1916, Noel moved with his battalion into the Somme battlefield. It was as cruel a battle as any recorded in history.

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.

So read the citation for the Victoria Cross awarded to Noel Godfrey Chavasse MC, RAMC.

A year later, after recovering from his wounds, and asking his childhood sweetheart to marry him, Noel went with his battalion into the Third Battle of Ypres, Passchendaele.

He had moved his aid post forward with the attack and set it up in a captured German dug out at Setques Farm. The area was subjected to intense German fire, but he stayed put. . . Noel was injured in the head by a shell splinter as he stood up and waved to indicate the position of his aid post. . .After being dressed at the Weiltje dug out, he returned, despite advice to stay put, to his aid post. His stretcher bearers had been busy and Noel was very busy until sundown. As night fell Noel picked up his torch and went searching the wrecked landscape for survivors. It was raining again by this time.

"Take another man instead"

Early the following day, Noel found a German captive who was a medic and the two of them worked hard to treat wounded men in the impossible conditions of mud, blood and water. . .Details get very confused at this point. . . The official history of the Liverpool Scottish has it that Noel was wounded twice more in the head. One stretcher bearer had been sent to the aid post to tell Noel to return. Despite intense pain, "The Doc refused to go and told us to take another man instead".

About 3 am on the morning of Thursday, August 2nd, 1917, another shell entered the aid post. . .Noel received four or five wounds, the worst being a gaping abdominal wound from which he bled profusely. He managed to crawl up the stairs and out of the dug out and crawled along the flooded, muddy "road" until he stumbled across a dugout. . .and was sent to Casualty Clearing Station No. 32. . .

He was operated on immediately and after all the shell splinters had been removed he was patched up. He regained consciousness and he spoke to a Colonel Davidson who reported "He seems very weak but spoke cheerfully". . .Noel died peacefully at 1pm on Saturday, August, 4th 1917.

He was 32.

Captain Noel Chavasse was the only man to win the British Military's highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross, twice during the Great War.

Comments (1)

Thanks, both of you. He was a great man. In case you do Commonwealth too, at some point you might remember Charles Upham, the New Zealander who was the only other man (I think) to get a VC and bar.

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