Centenary commemoration for Captain Noel Chavasse, double VC – Part Five. Epilogue.

In this piece, I wanted to mention what happened to Noel’s loved ones who survived the war.

As we have seen, Noel and his brothers’ journey through the war is extraordinary. The four of them were in the army from the start and survived unscathed for almost three years until July 1917. Then, in the space of a few weeks, Noel was killed winning a second Victoria Cross at Passchendaele, brother Aidan was wounded and missing close by (and, tragically, never seen again), their brother Bernard, a doctor like Noel, was wounded and awarded the Military Cross just a few miles away, and Noel’s twin brother Christopher, a padre, was awarded a Military Cross for his actions earlier near the Somme. All three medals, like Noel’s first VC and MC before that, were for saving wounded men under fire.

The summer of a hundred years ago must have been a true test of faith for Noel’s mother and father, who was the Bishop of Liverpool, and for his three sisters. They were a close family, and in age too – Dorothy had been born in 1883, twin boys Christopher and Noel in 1884, twin girls Marjorie and May in 1886, Bernard in 1888 and Aidan in 1891.

So what happened to Noel’s closest and dearest? Noel’s death was, of course, heartbreaking for his fiancé Gladys Chavasse, his first cousin. She and her sister Esme (my grandmother) were about to set off for Paris to be closer to Noel and prepare for the wedding, possibly under a special licence. After the war, Gladys, whom we all referred to as Aunt Gaggy, married the Reverend ’Uncle Pud’ Colquhoun whom she met in the Rhineland while working with the Church Army. They had no children and, after Pud died in 1937, Gladys continued her voluntary work and was both evacuated from Dunkirk in 1940 and was ’Mentioned in Despatches’ for ’gallant and distinguished services in Italy’ at Monte Cassino in 1945, would you believe, while in her fifties. Aunt Gaggy, who placed an ’In memoriam’ notice in The Times each year on the anniversary of Noel’s death, became quite deaf in later life and didn’t hear an oncoming car as she stepped off a pavement while on holiday in France in 1962. She was buried in the family crypt at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire.

Noel’s parents finally accepted that their son Aidan had, in fact, been killed. His mother Edith, who had doted on her youngest child, died peacefully in her sleep on the tenth anniversary of Aidan being reported as ’missing and wounded’. The Bishop died the following year in 1928 and they were both buried in the Founders’ Plot at Liverpool Cathedral, which had been consecrated in 1922. Close by are simple memorials to their sons Noel and Aidan ’who lie in Flanders’.

Noel’s twin brother Christopher was 80 miles away on the Somme but knew the moment Noel died, he always maintained, even though he wasn’t given the awful news until a week later. Christopher remained in the Church after the war and he and his wife Beatrice had five children, three boys and two girls. He returned to Oxford where he and Noel had been born and attended Magdelen College school, and later their University years as well, and he established St. Peter’s Hall in 1928. Christopher became Bishop of Rochester in 1942 and later officiated at the marriage of my parents. Christopher died, like Noel’s fiancé and their cousin Gladys, in 1962, the year after St. Peter’s had become a full Oxford college.

Bernard, the third son, became a leading ophthalmic surgeon in Liverpool and stayed on as the medical officer for the Liverpool Scottish in the Territorial Army. He married Anita (’Nita’) in 1923 and they had two sons and a daughter. When the Second World War broke out Bernard was offered a post supervising all ophthalmic work in the Middle East with the rank of Colonel, but he was dissuaded from doing this because of the need for services at home. Sadly, in July 1941, he was driving back from London with an RAF man, and was killed when he overturned his car near Warwick. His passenger survived.

Noel’s older sister Dorothea had married the Reverend George Foster-Carter before the war and they had four children, a boy and three girls. ‘Dot’ died in 1938 at the age of just 52. Her husband lived until he was 90, but even he was outlived by his sisters-in-law, Marjorie and May.

Marjorie carried on from her Red Cross work at the Worcestershire hospital run by her Aunt Frances (Lady Chavasse, my great grandmother), in addition to helping both her parents, by having a successful career with Dr. Barnardo’s Homes for many years. As we’ve seen, her twin sister May had been ’Mentioned in Despatches’ for her work at a base hospital at Etaples behind the front line in France. According to the ’Chavasse Family History 1669-2006’, “other members of the family may have more decorations for gallantry but her campaign and other medals outstrip everyone else’s by a large margin”. Serving as a nurse in both the First and Second World Wars, and in between, May notched up no less than nine medals.

Marjorie and May celebrated their hundredth birthday in 1986 and while Noel and his twin brother were remarkable for their efforts, their younger twin sisters also made a huge contribution, and were recipients of a rare double telegram from Her Majesty The Queen. Marjorie passed away peacefully at Windsor the following year, and May at Gerrards Cross in 1989, aged 103.

As for our side of the Chavasse family, Bishop Francis’s older brother Sir Thomas Chavasse, a surgeon, had four children with his wife, Lady Frances – Gwendoline, Arthur, Gladys (Noel’s future fiancé) and Esme. The Chavasse cousins, as we’ve seen, were very close. Poor Arthur, my great uncle and another Chavasse doctor, died at Le Havre in 1916. (Likewise, the only surviving son on the Bishop’s wife’s side of the family, Louis Maude, was killed in action on the first day of the Somme.) Great aunt Gwen Chavasse (1885-1976) married Alfred Holder before the Great War and they had two girls, who both married, and three boys, one of whom died young and another aged just 22 in the Second World War.

My grandmother Esme’s first husband died soon after their wedding in 1920 and she married Alden Quinney in 1924. She was to outlive grandfather Quinney by nearly twenty years, dying in 1980 at the age of 85. They had three boys – my uncle John, now in his nineties, late uncle Robin and my father Jeremy Chavasse Alden Quinney, who died aged 76 in 2007. With his first wife, Diana, they had Lucinda and Rosanagh, with me, Gavin Charles Chavasse Quinney, sandwiched in the middle, and then with my stepmother Geraldine, my father had two more girls, Anabelle and Emily.

Rosanagh’s third son, Bertie (Wilson), and Emily’s son Johnny (Doherty – pictured at the top of the page with little sister Tabby) both have Chavasse as a middle name – and, as it happens, me as a Godfather. Also with Chavasse as a middle name are Angela’s and my third daughter Amelia and our son, Tom. Tom also shares his first name with his great, great grandfather and his great, great, great grandfather – Noel Chavasse’s grandfather.