Noel Chavasse letters, Apr 1915 - Jul 1915

Correspondence of Captain Noel Chavasse VC and Bar MC, Apr 1915 - Jul 1915

Introduction

These letters were sent by Noel Chavasse to his family from the beginning of April 1915 to the end of July 1915.

The letters are presented in the order assigned to them by the Imperial War Museum - some may be out of chronological order. Questions, corrections and enquiries about the use of images should be directed to archives@spc.ox.ac.uk

Letter from Noel Chavasse to Edith Chavasse                                     5 Apr 1915

Noel writes to his mother to say that he is sorry to hear that she is ill again. Is glad she has seen Dr John Hay and encourages her to get well soon. Reports that he had been staying back in billets, but on Maundy Thursday received orders to bring all available stretchers to the trenches. Describes going up to find procession of men wounded during four hours of heavy shelling. Casualties included seven killed. Transported them and the wounded back to a nearby château and had the wounded collected by ambulance at around 2am. Also picked up two stretcher bearers who had been hit by stray bullets. Was just about to leave when word came that five men had been hit by shrapnel, so returned to trenches. Went to collect them and eventually made it to bed at 4.30am. Mentions that the next day he conducted a service for some of the dead and gives total casualties for the previous day (8 killed, 18 wounded). Describes the circumstances in which Dr Turnbull was killed helping a wounded officer. Mentions that he met Mr Fox of St Peter-le-Bailey, chaplain to the Territorial Field Ambulance, a few days ago. Spent some good time with the Ambulance and believes the Territorials do a better job than the Regulars of looking after their men. Mentions that the gramophone has just arrived and that it is already helping the men in this difficult time. Sent from Dressing Station, with L[iver]pool Scottish, Belgium

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                     19 Apr 1915

Noel writes to his father thanking him for his last letter and apologising for not writing sooner. Mentions that he has to be constantly in his dressing station, located in a house 400 yards from the trenches. During the day he rides back to rest billets for sick parade and inspection. Describes his efforts to make the men comfortable. Also talks about the men's diet and their nerves, which he feels are getting stretched. The recent weather has been good and has reduced the number of sick. Writes of his own state of mind, which is happy at the sight of birds and flowers in this most desolate of places. It has been quiet on the whole here, but the nights are often long. He is currently waiting for an engineer officer and man to be brought in. Describes explosion of German mine under trench close by and the resulting action. About eleven were killed altogether and five stretcher cases. Has lost one officer and 5 men since arriving. Talks about how the stretcher bearers have buried those killed and about how he spent the night with one of the victim's brothers, who was extremely upset. Describes British attack and its accompanying artillery bombardment. Mentions that the officer who was killed had only just arrived. Describes the circumstances in which he was fatally wounded and his efforts to save him. The gramophone is a great success and is regularly requested. He has received the books he requested and has read Richard II and a chapter of David Copperfield. Asks whether Marjorie [Chavasse] could supply candles, magazines, refills for electric lamps, and books. Sends his congratulations to Bernard on his success. Post script: Asks Marjorie to also send seeds. Sent from Dressing Station, Liverpool Scottish, Belgium

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                    2 May 1915

Noel writes to his father to apologise for not writing sooner, but he now has a quiet Sunday afternoon. Explains that by quiet he means not busy, as there is constant artillery, which he describes along with the destruction it causes. Mentions that the weather is glorious. Has spent the last month living in a shattered village 400 yards behind the trenches. Describes how nature is slowly reclaiming the ruined village. His days are very busy right now. Each morning he visits two companies who are in dugouts in a wood. Describes walk to wood which takes him within view of German trenches. Conducts sick parade and inspects the camp, which is generally clean. In the afternoon he visits about 15-20 men who are recovering from the flu. Mentions the overwork of the men and the strain upon them. In the evening the wounded from the trenches are brought to him. It has been a good time lately: only seven killed in the last month. Describes how he has been kept busy looking after two cases in particular. One is one of his stretcher bearers who was hit by a 'whizz bang' [light shell]. Writes of his treatment and the fight to save his life, which was seemingly successful. Praises the work of his orderlies in providing clean water. The second case was similarly wounded. He too was treated successfully and seemed quite lively when the ambulance took him away. He has just received news, however, that the stretcher bearer has died in hospital. Post script: A large parcel of books from Dot [Chavasse] has arrived, which have been distributed. Asks people to send records for the gramophone, which is a success. Sent from Dressing Station, L[iver]pool Scottish, Belgium

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                    16 May 1915

Noel writes to his father to apologise for not writing last Sunday. Things have ground to a halt. The push for Calais has failed. Poison gases have not been used of late, but the Germans have poisoned the streams. Feels that they must be at the end of their tether to resort to such tactics. He is still up in his dressing station. They have been lucky with casualties of late, but recounts deaths of 18-year-old lad and one of his stretcher bearers, both of whom were shot in the stomach. Describes the stretcher bearer's character ('cheeriest and coolest') and the words he spoke to Noel upon being brought to him. He mourns his passing greatly. Shortly after the stretcher bearer died a sergeant was brought in. He had been shot in the head and soon succumbed to his wounds. The men are otherwise being worked hard, but the wood were they go to rest in dug outs has been made most comfortable and the gramophone plays there every afternoon. The sick and wounded are moved about 3 miles back, since the wood is surrounded by guns that fire constantly. Met Chris [Chavasse] who addressed the men. Bemoans the fact that the brigade's own chaplain is not particularly active. Mentions that he has not been able to take Communion since Easter. Hopes that Marjorie [Chavasse] will be able to send what was requested in the last letter and also asks for some razor blades. Sent from Dressing Station, Liverpool Scottish, Belgium

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                     23 May 1915

Noel writes to his father to tell him of the last week’s events. Mentions that they are barely holding on to their trenches due to the steady stream of sick and wounded. He worries that those men who have been out all the winter are starting to show signs of cracking up. He has thus established a rest hut, with a gramophone and library, where he has about 30 men about three miles from the firing line. Mentions that he saw Chris [Chavasse] again on Whit Sunday. Visited with him and took Communion. Spent the rest of the day examining the trenches, which are being well maintained. Played a game of stump cricket versus men from the artillery on Whit Monday and managed to win. Describes how an aeroplane circled above and blew a whistle upon spotting German planes. Mentions that the wood where the men rest was shelled, but there were only two casualties. Everyone was amused to read the report of the Bishop of London [Arthur Winnington-Ingram] conducting services under shell-fire, since Noel and his men, as well as nearby Belgian civilians, are constantly under shell fire. Reports that he is due to move to another part of the line tomorrow and will be sorry to leave his dressing station, which has been home for the last two months. Asks if Marjorie [Chavasse] could send his tunic. Sends his thanks for the candles, refills for the lamp and books which have arrived. Remarks on the noise the local frogs make. Sent from Dressing Station, Liverpool Scottish, On Active Service

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                     31 May 1915

Noel writes to his father to say that he tries to write every Sunday, but yesterday was too busy. Has been moving about from camp to camp since he last wrote. The men are generally doing well, but there are still those whose nerves are close to cracking. Mentions that he is the only regimental doctor who has not broken down. The war, however, is starting to bore him and he will be glad when it is over. The men have been out of the trenches for four days, but have only had one real night's rest. The battalion has been busy digging trenches for two nights. Noel went up with two stretcher bearers and selected a central position [for his station]. Mentions that Aidan [Chavasse's] battalion passed by but that he was not with them. Describes walking through [Ypres] on his way to reserve trenches and shelling of it that took place while Noel was there. Expresses his disgust that the munition workers are striking while in the war 18-year-old boys are shot for shirking. There is a sense, however, that Germany is up against it and if the British have better munitions they will win. Asks Marjorie [Chavasse] to send the tunic. Sent from Dressing Station, ye know of what Regiment

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Edith Chavasse                                      7 June 1915

Noel writes to his mother to say that he is responding to her last letter, which arrived while he was in the trenches. This and another letter from his father, as well as one from May [Chavasse], did him the world of good. Likes to try and write on Sundays, as he did at Oxford. Has just taken Holy Communion from a visiting padre. Describes the situation of the trenches he was in when he last wrote and provides a rough diagram showing the layout. The areas behind had been completely destroyed so that even headquarters had to go into the trenches and live in dug outs. Chris [Chavasse] visited and told him about Aidan [Chavasse], while yesterday Aidan's colonel stopped by and told him more. Describes going through [Ypres] to the trenches and seeing an old dressing station and the cemetery where he buried eleven men. Came under heavy fire from the Germans and suffered one casualty. Eventually reached the dump behind the wood. Describes layout of dug outs and surrounding countryside and the singing of a nightingale. Position was under fire from a German machine gun. Five men of the regiment had already been killed. Describes treating various men hit by the machine gun, including one of his stretcher bearers who had been shot in the head and later died. He has now had three stretcher bearers killed and one wounded, while another two have gone home for medical reasons. Later had to deal with solider shot in the head. That evening took back sandbags and built a parapet in front of the dressing station. The next day was quiet. Buried four British soldiers who had been killed and whose bodies had lain out for months. Describes leaving and coming under fire from the same German machine gun. Met up with another battalion and then rode with the Major to find billets. Eventually arrived at 4am and had a little supper. He will try and see Chris [Chavasse] this afternoon. Sent from Headquarters, L[iver]pool Scottish, British Expedit[ionary] Force

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                      20 June 1915

Noel writes to his father to apologise for not writing for some time but now he has a lot to report. Had come out of trenches and had applied for leave, but soon found that all leave was cancelled and that the battalion was due to attack the German lines [at Hooge]. Describes preparations made by men, the service conducted by a parson on the Sunday prior to the attack, and the march up to the front. Mentions how he was stationed a half mile from the front and how he and his men passed the reserve battalion on the way. Talks of his emotions at being put in the rear. The bombardment started at 2am and lasted for two hours. The first wounded began arriving at 5am. Describes treating wounded, including Lt Lloyd, who got up from his treatment to take a souvenir from a passing German prisoner, and Captain [R.] Cunningham. Took wounded back to an RAMC dressing station, and then returned to the trenches to help. Describes treating wounded in trench, and rescuing those who were left wounded out in the open, including [Lt LG Wall] and those in a little coppice, which lay near where the charge had taken place. Finally rescued the last of the wounded at around 4am. Got back to the RAMC station to find his wounded still there, whom he treated and finally had carried away. Describes attack itself, which had gone so well that the men ended up being shelled by their own artillery. The right flank then gave way, while the Germans also attacked from the left. Names those taken prisoner and gives details of total casualties. The next day he tended to his wounded and then returned to the trenches to look for others who may have been missed. Describes rescue of wounded Liverpool Scottish officer from 'Jack Johnson' hole [i.e. a crater caused by a German 15-cm artillery shell, black in colour]. Went to see another part of the captured trench where the Engineers were putting up barbed wire. Was eventually assured that no man's land was clear and returned to camp at 5am, where he slept for 12 hours. Mentions that he expects to come home soon on leave. Is missing those killed or taken prisoner during the attack. Sent from ‘Ic[h]abod’ [Biblical reference meaning ‘The glory has departed’]

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                      24 June 1915

Noel writes a short letter to his father to tell him that he hopes to be granted leave in a few days. He saw Chris [Chavasse] yesterday, who is well. The men are also well and the weather is excellent, although there is still a cloud over everything. No sending address given

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                       9 July 1915

Noel writes to his father to let him know he has returned safely following his visit home. Mentions his delay in London following a change in train time. Describes his activities while waiting, including a visit to the House of Commons and Westminster Abbey, where he saw waxworks of famous individuals, which he describes. Also visited some of the wounded officers, including Major [EJ] Thin, Capt [R.] Cunningham and Capt [RFB] Dickinson, in their nursing home. Eventually made it to Victoria Station to board the train. No sending address given

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse       18 July 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to tell them he was grateful to learn of John Rankin's gift [of £50] and has written to thank him. Talks of his plan to use the money to secure for the men a regular supply of books and other literature and a primus stove for making hot drinks. Mentions that he is currently in the trenches but has had no casualties for some time. Describes how he has set up an advanced regimental aid post so as to get to the men quicker and draws rough plan showing its location. Is currently sharing a dug out with Capt Cunningham's brother. Has named his shelter for the wounded 'Cavendish Sq'. Took Communion at 7am and then saw Chris [Chavasse], who seemed very well but busy. Talks about the Presbyterian parson attached to the battalion, who is pleasant but rather too old for the job at hand. Sent from Advanced Dressing Station

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse        25 July 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to let them know he is still in the trenches. Has been in for about two weeks, of which only four days have been really bad. Spirits remain high at the prospect of leave, but he feels that keeping the men comfortable also helps morale. He has had to send very few men to the hospital, while the other complaints concern diarrhoea, which can be helped by 24 hours at the proper dressing station behind lines. Only one man has been shot and killed; he is now buried well behind the lines. Mentions that he is busy building a hospital in the trenches, which he promises to send schematics and drawings of. He saw Chris [Chavasse] who is well. Describes seeing a German plan being shot down. He is to have dinner tonight with the other officers in the front trench. Mentions that he is near a stream that has allegedly been poisoned and describes the washing place he has set up. Hopes that mother is well and will be up to travelling to the coast. [There then follow two pages of drawings showing the field hospital]. Sent from Advanced Regimental Aid Post, Ye know of what battalion, in Belgium

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