‘There’s a story behind every poppy’ says a current ‘Royal British Legion’ advertisement in advance of Remembrance Sunday.
In one poster we are also informed that Captain Noel Chavasse lost his life in the battle of Passchendaele, where 60,000 British soldiers fought and died 100 years ago.
But who was Captain Noel Chavasse? He was one of only three men who won two Victoria Crosses during the First World War and whose achievement is all the more remarkable because he never fired a shot in anger.
Noel Chavasse was the son of the Rev. Frank Chavasse, Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, In the stability, love and faith of the Bishop’s home, his twin sons Christopher and Noel grew to manhood. Having qualified as a surgeon, Noel soon joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and in October 1914 was in France with his regiment, known as the Liverpool Scottish. As he set out, his letter home ended with these words, “Goodbye, my dear father. I am going to do my best to be a faithful soldier of Jesus Christ and King George. Ever your loving son, Noel.”
His care for his troops was legendary; ensuring vaccination and tending to their wounds. Often he scoured ‘No man’s land’ looking for wounded soldiers whom he could bring back to the dressing station. Having already been ‘mentioned in despatches’, and awarded the Military Cross, his exploits earned further recognition.
In an assault on the town of Guillemont, his actions led to the award of the Victoria Cross. It was estimated that he had managed to save 20 badly-wounded soldiers as he tended them in open ground, in full view of the enemy.
At about this time, a friend in England encouraged him to apply for the post of surgeon in a large Liverpool hospital. He resisted the temptation, writing, ‘Such jobs are for the elder men. young fellows like myself ought to be with the fighting men.’
During the opening salvoes of Passchendaele, he received shrapnel wounds in the head, but still continued his ministrations, until receiving an abdominal wound which claimed his life after hours of suffering. News came shortly afterwards of the award of a bar to his Victoria Cross.
This Remembrance Day let’s salute the courage of all who suffered in war, and vow not to squander or misuse the freedom they won at such tremendous cost.