Many of you will know about the most highly decorated soldier of World War One, William Harold Coltman VC, DCM & Bar, MM & Bar. In turn, many have joined me as we have stood at the grave of the most highly decorated officer, Captain Noel Chavasse VC & Bar, MC, near Ypres in Belgium whilst reading the citation to what many have said is one of the bravest men to have ever lived.
Captain Noel Chavasse is one of only three men to have been awarded the Victoria Cross twice, and the only soldier, or officer, to have been awarded it twice during World War One and like William Coltman he did this without firing a shot in anger, the award being for his actions as a Regimental Medical Officer, or Doctor.
Noel Chavasse was the son of The Bishop of Liverpool, born on 9th November 1884 just twenty minutes after his twin brother Christopher. He was one of seven children to grow up in Liverpool including his twin sisters. Along with Christopher, Noel competed in the 1908 London Olympic Games finishing third in his heat while Christopher finished second, sadly only the heat winner progressed to the finals.
Along with Christopher, they both studied at Trinity College Oxford, before Noel went on to study medicine, he joined the Oxford University Officers Training Corps in 1909 and was promoted to lance-sergeant the following year. In January 1912 Noel passed his final exams and in July was registered as a Doctor.
Just a year later Noel was accepted for a commission in the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) attached to 10th Battalion of The King’s Regiment (The Liverpool Scottish) as the Regimental Medical Officer, the battalion being a Territorial Force Battalion following the Haldane Reforms.
In November 1914, along with his battalion, he arrived in Le Harve after the outbreak of the war. Then in June 1915, he was awarded the Military Cross for tending the wounded near Hooge, close to Ypres in Belgium and in November 1915 was Mentioned in Despatches (MID).
Captain Noel Chavasse was awarded his Victoria Cross for attending and treating the wounded often close to the German trenches near Guillemont, France during The Battle of The Somme in August 1916. Then a year later The Bar to his VC for his actions during the early days at the Battle of Passchendaele in 1917, again attending the wounded who had fallen in No Man’s Land, but Captain Chavasse was soon badly wounded from shell fire and evacuated from the battlefield.
Captain Chavasse died of his wounds in the early afternoon of 4 August 1917, he was aged just 32, it was the third anniversary of the outbreak of the war.
The medals, including the Victoria Cross and Bar, of Captain Noel Chavasse are totally unique and were purchased by Lord Ashcroft some years ago as part of his collection of gallantry medals, which can be seen at The Lord Ashcroft Gallery as part of The Imperial War Museum London.
I was delighted to be in Belgium, with Lord Ashcroft, as we explored the actions of Captain Noel Chavasse, on The Somme Battlefield and around the town of Ypres, just prior to the 100th anniversary of his death, which included attendance at The Last Post Ceremony at the Menin Gate.
The visit to Belgium and France with Lord Ashcroft was to film a short video on Captain’s Chavasse’s heroic actions, the video was filmed and edited by the award-winning photographer Julian Simmonds – Click Here to watch the video
The Medal Group of Captain Noel Chavassse
The Victoria Cross and Bar, The Military Cross, The 1914-15 Star, The British War Medal (1914-1920) & The Victory Medal
Photography: Colour photography with thanks to Julian Simmonds