The service and the ceremony to commemorate the centenary of Noel’s death was held on 4 August at the Chapel of Brandhoek, and afterwards at Noel’s grave in the cemetery nearby. It was beautifully arranged by the Friends of the Flanders Field Museum, the City of Ypres and the Belgian authorities. The British Ambassador to the Kingdom of Belgium paid tribute to Noel and laid one of the many wreaths.
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.
Thank you to everyone who has taken the trouble to email in reply to my posts about Noel Chavasse; we’ve had scores of messages and some fascinating stories and connections. I’ve reproduced, with their permission, one of these brief but extraordinary email dialogues below. In case you missed the posts, Noel was a doctor and the only man to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice in WW1, for saving the wounded. He was my first cousin (twice removed).
We have just returned from a fascinating few days in Ypres and last Friday’s moving ceremony to remember Noel on the 100th anniversary of his death. There has been a tremendous amount of coverage about the Battle of Passchendaele, and Noel’s extraordinary achievement of winning his second Victoria Cross has also featured quite prominently: there’s a detailed tribute, for example, to ’the First World War’s bravest soldier’ by Lord Ashcroft in The Sunday Times Magazine (the online version is behind a paywall but you can read it here free for up to a week) and the Royal Mint have announced that there will be a five pound coin bearing a picture of Noel.
Even so, I wanted to complete these (very long) posts of Noel’s actions from a family perspective.
The Somme is infamous for the carnage on the first day of the battle: the 1st of July 1916 was the worst day in the history of the British Army in terms of casualties, with over 57,000 dead or wounded. Yet it was a battle that dragged on until November, with staggering loss of life on both sides. (The picture is a view from the Thiepval Memorial.)
Noel’s Liverpool Scottish regiment, to which he was attached as a doctor from the Royal Army Medical Corps, wasn’t involved until the end of July. Sadly, following on from (my great uncle) Arthur’s death in March, news came through that another of his cousins had been lost: 2nd Lieutenant Louis Maude, Noel’s first cousin on his mother’s side, had been missing and then reported killed on that first day of the battle.