CHAVASSE, Noel Godfrey [1884-1917]

 Born in Oxford on 9 November 1884, Noel Godfrey Chavasse, was one of a pair of identical twins. (His brother, Christopher Maude, would follow his father into the church and become Bishop of Rochester). He came to Liverpool in 1900 when his father, Francis James, was appointed bishop of the city. The Bishop’s Palace, standing at 19 Abercromby Square L7, was to be Noel’s home for the remainder of his life. Suitably, the square was named after General Sir Ralph Abercromby, commander if the British Army in Egypt, who died of his wounds at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801.

Chavasse attended the Liverpool College and then, along with his twin brother, went up to Trinity College, Oxford. Both of the Chavasse brothers would show themselves as excellent sportsmen while at Oxford, gaining blues in athletics and both representing great Britain in the 400 metres in the 1908 Olympics. After graduating with first-class honours Chavasse spent a year researching blood plasma at Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford before reading medicine at Liverpool University and qualifying MD in 1912.

Opting to specialise on orthopaedics Chavasse was able to work under consultant Robert Jones, probably the leading surgeon in the field at the time. He also began his military connection as a territorial serving as the medical officer for the  Liverpool Scottish (10th battalion, the King's [Liverpool] regiment). Within months of the outbreak of war in 1914 Chavasse was serving on the front line. He applied himself vigorously to the discipline of military medicine, pressing superiors for changes in approach to minimise the disease which at any one time made a sizeable proportion of the army unfit for duty. In June 1915 he was awarded the Military Cross. The following year on 9 August 1916 on the Somme his first Victoria Cross, for saving the lives of at least a score of men whilst himself being under heavy and continuous fire. At Passchendaele in 1917 Chavasse was badly injured by a shell and despite making it to a field hospital and undergoing surgery he died on 4th August 1917. In the days leading up to his death he had repeatedly crossed into no man’s land in search of injured men and his bravery resulted in the award of a second Victoria Cross. He was the only man to receive two VC’s in the First World War and one of only three at any time since the award’s inception.

His younger brother, Aidan, had been killed at Ypres just some weeks before Noel Chavasse’s death. Shortly before his death Noel had become engaged to his cousin Gladys.

There are probably more commemorations to Chavasse than any other soldier. In Liverpool Chavasse Park is named in honour of the family, and Noel is depicted in a statute sited in Abercromby Square.

19 Abercromby Square L7

The Bishop's Palace as it would have been around the time that the Chavasse family took up residence.

19 Abercromby Square L7

The house as it appears today, now a part of the University of Liverpool

Chavasse's headstone at the Brandhoek Military Cemetery

Statue depicting Noel Chavasse in Abercromby Square

Bust of Chavasse in Liverpool Cathedral


The outstanding source is undoubtedly Ann  Clayton's excellent biography Chavasse Double VC [1992]. There are a host of references across the internet with the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography a good overall factual summary.