Article – Noel Chavasse

We Shan’t Remember Them

(first published in TVS magazine – date unknown)

Most city centres have at least some area of greenery to relieve the monotony of the urban sprawl, and until recently Liverpool was no exception. Chavasse Park, lying between the law courts and Albert Dock was Liverpool’s Central Park, used as a getaway by office workers and as the main focus of the Mathew Street Festival. It also has some special significance as a memorial to a rather incredible, but unjustly all-but-forgotten man.

Chavasse Park was named after Noel Chavasse, a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the First World War who became one of only three people to ever win two Victoria Crosses. By all accounts, Chavasse was a remarkable man. Although born in Oxford, his family moved to Liverpool when Chavasse’s father was appointed Bishop. After studying medicine at university, Chavasse helped out at Grafton Street Industrial School (an institution for homeless boys) as well as representing Britain in the 1908 Olympic Games in the 400 metres.

In 1913, Noel continued his medical studies and joined the RAMC, seconded to the 10th Battalion of the Kings (Liverpool) Regiment. Although only a territorial post to begin with, all that changed when war broke out.

Noel used his family connections to get a front line post near Ypres. Although at first more concerned with the general levels of filth and with ensuring that everyone under his care received Tetanus jabs (he was one of the first doctors to administer them) he pretty soon became embroiled in the true horrors of the not-so Great War.

During the Battle of Hooge in 1915, the battalion lost a large proportion of its men. However, Chavasse had already built a reputation of being exceptionally brave in trying to rescue fallen comrades from the battlefield and was recommended for a Military Cross which was finally awarded in 1916.

Although he was promoted to Captain in the same year, he never rose any higher, mostly because he was an outspoken critic of the RAMC’s outdated views which typified the war as a whole, and also because he was sympathetic to those who suffered from shellshock, a still unknown condition in those days.

In 1916, the battalion was moved to the human meat-grinder that was the Somme. After a botched attack, Chavasse and some stretcher bearers spent the night out in No-Man’s Land attempting to gather in the wounded whilst under constant sniper fire. This despite Chavasse being wounded by shrapnel earlier in the day. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions, the highest military honour.

Word got back to Britain of his heroism and the honour he was to receive, but Chavasse soon returned to action after a short period of sick leave. He used his new-found status to make criticisms of the RAMC’s treatment of patients, which caused a lot of ill-feeling amongst his superiors.

In 1917 came the Third Battle of Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele. In hideously muddy conditions, Chavasse stationed his Aid post as close to the battle as possible, under heavy German fire. He was wounded in the back of the head but continued his unrelenting work for two days without sleep. Again, he spent the night after the battle combing the churned-up battlefield searching for wounded. At one point he teamed up with a captured German medic and the two of them worked together treating the wounded.

Despite further wounds, he refused to return with the serious cases he was sending back for proper surgery and continued his front line work. Then the dug-out took a direct hit from a shell and Chavasse was mortally wounded. He died on 4th August 1917.

He received his second VC posthumously. In his time, Chavasse was a national hero, and his legend in Liverpool especially can still be seen in many places. There is a bronze bust of Noel in the Anglican Cathedral, a building his father had helped commission.

And there is the park. Or rather, was. Already being built over as part of the Duke of Westminster’s extensive scheme to put more shops (and luxury apartments) in the city centre, it is notable that the name given for this project is ‘Paradise’, after the street next to it, rather than the name of the park that is its main location.

No doubt this was a decision taken because ‘Paradise’ has nice and fluffy connotations that help deflect the fact that the city has been turned into a building site. But it’s an absolute crime that the marketing bods did not decide to keep the name of a man who was voted Third Greatest Liverpudlian in a Radio Merseyside poll. In (slightly) happier times, we should always remember those who gave their lives for a better world. Perhaps all that churned-up earth on the building site would have bad connotations with a genuine local hero of the First World War.

But if the Duke of Westminster and his helpers wish to truly be a part of this city, then they might want to name at least a part of this project after the man whose name they have dessicrated by ignoring it for commerce.

For more information on Noel Chavasse, please visit http://www.chavasse.u-net.com/chavasse.html

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About klausjoynson
I'm a writer, editor, musician, DJ and cartoonist. Contact me at: klausjoynson(at)gmail.com or follow me on Twitter: @KlausJoynson

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