Noel Chavasse letters, Aug 1915 - Oct 1915

Correspondence of Captain Noel Chavasse VC and Bar MC, Aug 1915 - Oct 1915

Introduction

These letters were sent by Noel Chavasse to his family from the beginning of August 1915 to the end of October 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 Francis James and Edith Chavasse          1 Aug 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to let them know that he is leaving the trenches today after three weeks. The respite is only temporary, however, since they will be relocated to another section tomorrow night. Mentions that German activity as picked up around the [Ypres] Salient of late and the trenches taken by the British on 16 June have unfortunately been recaptured. Is nevertheless confident that the British line will hold. Describes how the flying of an insulting flag provoked from the Germans a heavy bombardment. He was called up to help with the wounded and describes the state of the various trenches following the shelling. Took the wounded away and later returned to find the trenches being re-dug and buried men being unearthed (14 in total, all but one of whom died). A few days later the Germans exploded a mine under a nearby trench. Went up to help and describes attempts to rescue two men buried in a collapsed tunnel. Mentions how while waiting the men there recognised him as "the brother of Parson Chavasse". Chris had preached to them earlier and it turned out many were his old parishioners. The first of the buried men was finally extracted at 4am. Describes his injuries and treatment of them. Noel was then fed breakfast and slept for a few hours before being relieved. Yesterday Lt Cunningham and a sergeant were shot. He fears the sergeant will die and is sorry to lose Cunningham. Hopes that his mother made it to the seaside. Sent from Advanced Dressing Station

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                          6-8 Aug 1915

Noel writes to his father to tell him that he has just received his letter. Explains that he would like to use part of the £50 [he received from John Rankin, see letter of 18 July 1915] to buy music for his band, which he describes. Mentions that he has spent some money getting potatoes for his men. Asks whether Marjorie [Chavasse] could find out about a type of cheap tinned fat that could be used for cooking. Describes his efforts to vary the men's diet while they are in the trenches. Asks whether his father could do the following: 1) ask the [Liverpool] Echo to regularly send 24 copies of the Evening Echo; 2) send a dozen 6d books each week and 3) send 2 copies of various magazines, including The Strand, Noah's Magazine and Storyteller. Is enclosing a £5 cheque for Marjorie. Asks that his father also send the prayer book he left behind. Mentions that he is currently in reserved trenches and will write more tomorrow.

Postscript 8 Aug: After only 12 hours out of trenches they are back in. Has had over a month in trenches without end. Describes health of men and their current positions. Some men are in a village that gives a clear view of where the last charge took place [see letter of 20 June 1915]. Artillery is busy and has blasted to bits the little copse where many of the wounded lay. Has been busy trying to tidy up the camp. Describes his efforts and the many problems in this regard. Talks of the central wash house he has established, where the men are able to clean, shave and wash their belongings. There are a number of these wash houses and he describes them and the men who run them. Dorothy [Chavasse's] books have arrived. Such distractions are much needed by the men whose lives exist between monotony and danger. He has not yet seen the books but will write to Dot to thank her. Is glad to hear of Bernard's new posting. Mentions that one man has been killed. Describes the manner of his death, his burial, the cemetery where he lies and the grave there of a certain Lt Eric Harrison, aged 17, marked with a brass plaque sent from home. Hopes that his mother travelled well. Sent from 10th Liverpool Scottish, Headquarters

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse         16 Aug 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to say that he is out of the trenches after more than a month there. He cannot rest, however, as he is busy looking after the men, whose treatment by the medical department he describes. He hopes to have all the men clean by tomorrow and then to turn his attention to cleaning the camp. The last billet was very quiet, although was subject to heavy shelling due to the presence of guns nearby. One man was hit in the mouth by shrapnel. Describes his wounds and his treatment of them. He was sorry to leave the camp, which he had tidied up, especially since there was an open air swimming pool close by, where the men could wash. Describes the first day that he took a bath there, with shells flying overhead. Everybody is due leave and he hopes to get six days leave in England soon. Must go now to give his daily talk to his stretcher bearers. Sent from Headquarters, Liverpool Scottish

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse         22 Aug 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to let them know he has been granted leave but does not yet know when he can take it. He has been promoted to Captain and has had his promotion pay backdated 6 months. Stresses, however, that all Lieutenants with six month's service have been thus promoted. Mentions that many medical officers have relinquished their temporary commissions due to fatigue and loss. He is now the only one to have been constantly with the Brigade since last November. Received a note yesterday informing him that he is now Senior Medical Officer in the Brigade, but downplays this promotion. The improved stretcher he designed was shown to the Divisional General who has asked that more be made.

Postscript [29 Aug]: Is back at work after six days rest. Is in the grounds of the château where Chris [Chavasse] was once based. Describes the surroundings and the Belgian farmers who live nearby, some of whose cows were recently killed by shelling. Is finishing this letter in a little dugout in a communication trench. The men are out digging and Noel is there with a first aid group. Mentions that a Presbyterian parson came to see the padre and mentioned he had met a young parson in Rouen who he felt would one day be a bishop. It turned out he had met Chris. Was deeply saddened to learn of Loxton's death. Has just received a note from one of the men who used to be in his tent, who he will try and see tomorrow. Is glad to hear that mother is doing better. Sent from Headquarters, Liverpool Scottish

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse         30 Aug 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to say he was glad to get their letters yesterday. Spent the day in the dugouts. Mentions that someone sent him a book of sermons, on which he gives his opinion. Speaks of the place of religion in war and his men's attitude towards it. Life is quiet at the moment and a bit dull. Describes the men's and his routine. Is keeping the place clean and has just had a visit from the Divisional Sanitary Officer, who seemed satisfied with the state of the camp. Mentions that he accompanies the men when they go off to dig. Is currently in a house where he has all medical comforts, and is even able to make the C[ommanding] O[fficer] a drink when he returns from his rounds. Has only had one casualty (a St Helen's man) and describes the way in which he was wounded and treated. Is enclosing some photos he took some time ago. Is going to write again to see if he can take the leave he has been granted. The Adjutant, Lt [LG] Wall, was wounded and has gone for treatment. Noel misses him and is now the only officer left who has been out since the beginning. Sent from Headquarters, Liverpool Scottish

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse         10 Sep 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to say he is sorry for not writing for so long. He is now in advanced dug outs and a long way from the rest billet. He is unable to get back to see the men there, but they are being looked after by another doctor. Got soaked by rain while moving to new quarters, but the men remained cheerful, even the one who fell into a J[ack] J[ohnson] hole. Fortunately, his medicals were able to start fires around which people were able to dry their clothes. Is able to see the German lines from the new dugouts, but is quite safe. Describes the view. The first few days were wet, but the last three have been very nice and he has managed to get the dugout in good working order. The new rest billet is also nice and located in an old coach house. Describes symptoms of men at rest billet whose nerves have been shot. Mentions that 100 new men should be arriving soon, which will help boost morale. Describes the aftermath of a German shell that hit the far end of his dugout, which kept him busy dealing with casualties. Happily, only four men were hit and only one died from his wounds. Reports that his group have not had a death for the last month. Mentions how the men are enjoying making use of the canteen he has set up, which is being run by one of his s[tretcher] b[earers], where they can buy food at cost price. Mentions that the men have a want of candles. He is writing to Chris [Chavasse] to see if they can coordinate their respective leave. Mentions that he has not seen Aidan [Chavasse] yet. Is very glad to hear that mother is better. Sent from Head Quarters, Liverpool Scottish, BEF, Belgium

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse        19 Sep 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to say he has written to Chris [Chavasse] to ask him about his leave. He does not know where Aidan [Chavasse] or his battalion are. He has been in dugouts for over a month and doesn't see any chance of getting out, although he is having a fairly easy time of it at the moment. There are three companies here at the moment and he is the only nearby doctor. Explains that he had to break off letter to go treat men hit with shell splinters. Fifty draftees came up last week to help make the dugout ready for winter. Eight of them were hit by a shrapnel burst. Describes wounds and treatment and recovery of men. The wounded then had to be carried in pitch darkness to an ambulance. The Germans have been heavily bombarding the trenches and the companies are currently at 'stand to' in case of attack. Describes British shelling of German trenches. Went with his s[tretcher] b[earers] to fetch a wounded Highland officer, who turned out to be a good friend he had not seen since February. Describes the convalescent home run by a Medical Sergeant and the excellent work of his Sanitary Sergeant, who has got the camp looking well. Also talks about his Medical Corporal, who was with him all through the Hooge charge, and the man who keeps the latrines clean. The canteen continues to be a success and he intends to put what little profit it makes into helping to lower the price of other necessities, such as petrol. The stand to is over now. He is still reading David Copperfield and Henry V, but finds Shakespeare a bit hard going. Sends love to his mother and Marjorie [Chavasse]

Postscript: Thanks his parents for their letter, which arrived while he was writing. Hopes to get home on leave so that he can equip himself for the winter. Mentions that he doesn't seem to feel the cold as much as this time last year. The men are getting cold at night, but he has a supply of blankets he distributes. Two gas shells fell in front of the trenches and Noel and the adjacent went out to try and reach the nose cap, but without success. Has received a lot of Times broadsheets from Mr Rankin, which he distributes to the men as part of their 'Culture Ration'. Sent from Head Quarters, Liverpool Scottish, B[ritish] E[xpeditionary] F[orce]

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse       19-22 Oct 1915

Noel writes to his father and mother to say he is sorry for not writing for some time. Has just spent seven days in the fire trenches, during which all went well. Is now about to leave and go to rest billets for the first time in over two months. Has been in what is considered a dangerous part of the line, but have only suffered eight casualties, of which one fatality. He has put in for leave but does not know when he will get it. Is happy men are getting the chance to rest. Division has been at it since the beginning and everyone from the top down is beginning to show the strain. Mentions that he saw Aidan about 10 days ago. Describes how the aforementioned fatality was killed. Describes how and where men are buried and the work of one of his s[tretcher] b[earers] making crosses. The canteen is still a success. Sent from Dressing Station, Liverpool Scottish

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