Noel Chavasse – The Double Victoria Cross Winner
Posted on March 24th, 2015
Earlier this month it was announced that Joshua Leakey, a Lance Corporal serving with the Parachute Regiment, had been awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest military decoration given “for valour” in the face of the enemy.
Not yet thirty years old, Lcpl Leakey’s award gives him entry to several interesting clubs. He is the youngest living recipient of the award, is the only recipient in UK for military action undertaken during the War in Afghanistan and he is not the first member of his family to be awarded this most prestigious military medal.
Yet, if you listened to him speaking about his award during various interviews, you would have heard a very humble young man who was keen to remind people that he was but a part of a team and that he had just done the job that he had been trained to do! Indeed, if you can think back to the award of the Victoria Cross to Lance Sergeant Johnson Beharry in 2005 – for his actions during the Iraq War – you might well recall that he too made the same observation : that he was just doing what he was trained to do.
One of my previous posts published on 22nd August 2014 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, told the story of the award of the first Victoria Cross during the opening engagement of the war. And with that, Lt Maurice Dease, of the 4th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, would be but one of 627 recipients of that medal between 1914-1918.
But, notwithstanding the incredible bravery which lies behind each and every award of the Victoria Cross, there is one even more special club within those recipients which only has one member. That is the club of those who were awarded the Victoria Cross twice during the Great War.
Captain Noel Chavasse of the Royal Army Medical Corps
Captain Noel Chavasse of the Royal Army Medical Corps had joined the Territorial Army in 1913 as Surgeon-Lieutenant to 10th (Scottish) Battalion King’s (Liverpool) Regiment – known as the Liverpool Scottish – a which role he combined with his civilian post within Royal Southern Hospital, Liverpool. Upon the declaration of war he soon found himself on the Western Front where in June 1915 he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. By November 1915 he had also been Mentioned in Despatches.
Victoria Cross #1
It was during the infamous Battle of the Somme, in August 1916, that Chavasee was awarded the Victoria Cross. During an attack and despite being in the open and under constant enemy fire, he not only tended those wounded who came to his aid post but also went out into no man’s land to treat and rescue wounded men there. He also took the time to take identity discs and bury the dead he came across. And all of this despite being wounded himself!
Victoria Cross #2
By 1917 Chavasse was back in the field in Belgium where he became swept up in the opening engagements of the Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as the Battle of Passchendaele. There, despite being injured again early in the day whilst carrying a wounded soldier away from the battlefield, he refused to leave for treatment himself.
Instead, for two more days, he continued to go out into No Man’s Land to either treat the wounded there where they lay or carry them back to his own lines. In the end, although he did eventually seek treatment for his wounds, he died of those wounds on 4th August 1917, at only 32 years of age.
Not surprisingly, for this second episode of incredible bravery and devotion to duty, Noel Chavasse received his second Victoria Cross posthumously. He is buried within Brandhoek New Military Cemetery just outside Ypres and, as you can see from the picture I took recently, his headstone is duly engraved with two Victoria Crosses.
POST SCRIPT – By co-incidence, Noel was treated at the Casualty Clearing Station in Brandhoek by one Lt Arthur Martin-Leake RAMC who, by 1917, was also a double holder of the Victoria Cross. However, Arthur – who returned to his native Hertfordshire at the end of the war and is now buried in St John’s Church, High Cross – received his first Victoria Cross during the Second Boer War in 1902, when he served as a trooper with the Imperial Yeomanry.
About the Author
Debbie Coupland is an experienced researcher and former Lieutenant of the Women’s Royal Army Corps. These days Debbie has put her passion for history into running truly bespoke WW1 battlefield tours to France and Belgium, with Great War Tours.