In arduis fidelis
Remember golden summers of haymaking and a
great peace of heart? Old Boys, twins, Olympians.
Tennis lawns and bicycling.
Now all ease and carelessness is gone
Creating the Centena
Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse, VC & Bar, MC lived from 9 November 1884 until 4 August 1917.
Noel was a British medical doctor and a captain with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). The RAMC lost 6,873 men in the First World War, many of them killed in action while treating the wounded.
Noel rescued wounded men from no-man’s land under heavy fire, even when he was himself mortally wounded. He saved many lives. Noel was awarded the Military Cross in 1915 and his first Victoria Cross in 1916. His second VC was awarded posthumously in 1917. Captain Chavasse is one of only three people to be awarded a Victoria Cross twice. He is the only man to receive two Victoria Crosses during the Great War.
Although originally from Oxford, Noel and his family are closely associated with my home city of Liverpool. During the First World War, Noel was attached to the Liverpool Scottish regiment. One of the first territorial battalions to arrive on the Western Front when it deployed in November 1914, the Liverpool Scottish gave extensive service in the Great War, losing around 1,000 of its 10,000 men.
Noel’s father was the second Bishop of Liverpool and played an important role in commissioning Liverpool Cathedral, which bookends Hope Street with Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. The Chavasse family lived in the Bishop’s Palace at 19 Abercromby Square.
Noel was one of seven children and a twin to his brother Christopher. There is a photograph in Ann Clayton’s wonderful biography, Chavasse Double VC, of Noel and Christopher as boys. They are nine or ten years old. Serious and beautiful. Dressed in striped jerseys, breeches and boaters, they sit with tennis racquets against a floral studio backdrop.
It was this photograph and Noel’s letter to his mother describing the golden summer after he had qualified as a doctor that inspired my centena. I wanted to contrast an idyllic Edwardian childhood and the “great peace of heart” this young man felt during the summer of 1912 with the brutality of war. I also wanted to recognise Noel’s devotion to duty and service to his fellow men.
My centena is stitched together with Noel’s own words. He wrote many letters home to his family, vividly depicting life on the front. Fragments from his letters gave my centena its shape and overall form.
There is a beautiful memorial to the Liverpool Heroes on the edge of Abercromby Square. Designed by local sculptor Tom Murphy, this bronze statue – larger than life – depicts Captain Chavasse and a Liverpool Scottish stretcher bearer attending a wounded solider. I have walked past this memorial often. This project made me stop, look closely and find out more about this local hero.
Poignantly, the statue depicts Noel facing towards 19 Abercromby Square. He didn’t make it home. Aged 32, Noel died of his wounds at Brandhoek and is buried at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery in Belgium.
Noel’s medals and private papers are held and cared for by the Imperial War Museum.
Lives of the First World War
You can find out more about Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse here at Lives of the First World War
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