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Noel Godfrey VC and Bar, MC, RAMC. Chavasse

1884-1917
Britain most highly decorated serviceman in the 1914-18 World War

Noel Godfrey Chavasse was born in Oxford on 9th November 1884.  He was educated at Liverpool College and Trinity College, Oxford graduating in medicine with first class honours in 1907.   In 1909 Chavasse joined the Oxford University Officer Training Corps Medical Unit. The following year he sat and passed the examination that allowed him to join the Fellowship of the Royal College of Surgeons.   Chavasse worked in Dublin and the Royal Southern Hospital in Liverpool before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1913.  He was Medical Officer to the 1/10th Battalion (Liverpool Scottish) of the King's Liverpool Regiment.

Chavasse offered to serve in France on the outbreak of the First World War. He was transferred to the Western Front in November 1914 where he was attached to the Liverpool Scottish Regiment.   In March 1915 the regiment took part in the offensive at Ypres, where poison gas was used for the first time. By June 1915 only 142 men out of the 829 men who arrived with Chavasse remained on active duty. The rest had been killed or badly wounded.

Chavasse was promoted to captain in August 1915 and six months later was awarded the Military Cross for his actions at the Battle of Hooge. In April 1916 he was granted three days leave to receive his award from King George V.

In July 1916 Chavasse's battalion was moved to the Somme battlefield near Mametz. On the 7th August the Liverpool Scottish Regiment were ordered to attack Guillemont. Of the 620 men who took part in the offensive, 106 of the men were killed and 174 were wounded. This included Chavasse who was hit by shell splinters while rescuing men in no-mans-land. For this he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

In February 1917, he took part in the offensive at Passchendaele.  For nearly two days he went out into the battlefield rescuing and treating wounded soldiers.  During this period Noel performed the deeds that gained him his second Victoria Cross.

After being badly wounded Chavasse was sent to the Casualty Clearing Station at Brandhoek. Although operated on he died on 4th August 1917.  He was Britain's most highly decorated serviceman in the war.

His father, Francis Chavasse, became Bishop of Liverpool in 1900.  In 1908 Chavasse and his twin brother, Christopher, both represented Britain in the Olympic Games in the 400 metres.

Following his death, this poem by Canon H.D. Rawnsley was published in the Liverpool press:

Mourn for the dead we ill could spare
A man to think and do and dare
Dear Oxford’s gallant son,
His is the gain but ours the loss
Who, ere he won Victoria’s Cross,
Another Cross had won.

A statue to Chavasse is to be erected near the Anglican Cathedral.


Rob Ainsworth