Noel Chavasse letters, May 1917 - Jul 1917

Correspondence of Captain Noel Chavasse VC and Bar MC, May 1917 - Jul 1917

Introduction

These letters were sent by Noel Chavasse to his family from the beginning of May 1917 to the end of July 1917.

Captain Chavasse died on 4 Aug 1917 of wounds suffered during the Battle of Passchendaele. 

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 May 1917

Noel writes to his mother and father to say that all is quiet at the moment, and that the weather is much improved. They are currently away from the fighting, but he knows the men will soon have to do their part. Hopes that Chris, Bernard and Aidan [Chavasse] are all well, since he worries they are in the thick of the fighting, but he hopes the Germans will soon be broken. He has been in the trenches quite a while this time, but it is not so bad in this weather, and he has been able to make his surgery spotlessly clean. Also describes his sick billet. Read the evening service on Sunday, which he thinks the men enjoyed. Is sorry to hear that Bernard Wickham has been killed. Mentions that he is off for some training and says his parents must not worry about him for a month. Sent from In the field

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse         20 May 1917

Noel writes to his mother and father on the evening of Whit Sunday. The weather is fine today, although he has been in the trench which means he has not been able to attend a service. Read one himself, which the men, whom he describes, seemed to enjoy. Mentions that he has had an easy time of late. The battalion were in a rest camp where the men were worked hard but had the evenings to themselves. The weather was also nice, and there were various recreational activities to keep the men entertained. Describes a visit to the nearby town. Is now back in the line, but is having an easy time of it. Has heard that Bernard and Aidan [Chavasse] are now back, having been involved in the first Arras push. Worries that Chris [Chavasse] must have also had a rough time, and laments how much it hurts to see men he knows getting wounded and killed, especially when matters are not progressing offensively. Sent from In the field.

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse         30 May 1917

Noel writes to his mother and father to let them know he is having an easy time of it right now. The men are working long but regular hours, and this, combined with the good weather, means they are in good health. Mentions that he has been trying to get the battalion padre more involved, and offers his thoughts on the conduct of parsons and doctors in the war, whom he sees as being largely idle and ineffective. With regards to parsons, he feels that those back home in the parishes are doing finer work than many of their counterparts on the front. He also offers his thoughts on George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), arguing that men of his ilk would not have performed so well in the face of the Germans as the regular soldiers alongside whom he serves. Sent from Liverpool Scottish

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse            3 Jun 1917

Noel writes to his mother and father to say that he took Communion today from Canon Linton Smith, whom he found well. Mentions that Linton Smith is returning home after doing a year’s service in the war, a concept Noel finds strange. Talks about his attitude towards the war and how he can no longer remember life before it nor envisage life after it. The weather is nice and he is able to conduct his sick parades efficiently. He is trying to fulfil the role that should be played by the ever-absent padre, but he does not find it easy. Camp is near a lovely wood and bathing pool, but they will soon be moving away for Brigade training. Mentions that he spoke to Linton Smith about his attitude with regards to padres, who pointed out that men back home will not listen to a parson who has not been to the front. Worries that he is getting irritable. Sent from In the field

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse          15 Jun 1917

Noel writes to his mother and father to say that he is returning to the trenches tonight. The battalion will occupy the same trenches that were taken two years ago [during the charge on Guillemont]. Recounts the casualties suffered while coming up to the trenches, which included one of Noel’s medical orderlies, whom he describes. His loss has been felt keenly by everyone from the Commanding Officer down, such was the role he played in keeping the men happy and healthy. Mentions that he has today received a letter encouraging him to apply for a vacant surgeon’s spot at the Base Hospital [at Etaples]. He is sorely tempted by the offer, but feels that such postings are really for older men and that he cannot leave his men behind. After all, none of them want to get killed or hurt any more than he does. Says that he must go now to make sure everything is in order. Has heard that Bernard is back resting, but doesn’t know where. Sent from In the field

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse            25 Jun 1917

Noel writes to his mother and father to let them know that he and his men are now well back behind the lines, where they expect to be for a month. Describes life in the camp, including the running of the canteen and the plans for a much larger canteen and various extracurricular activities like sports and concerts. One day they hope to have an event to which they will invite the local villagers. Sent from 1/10 Liverpool Scottish, B[ritish] E[xpeditionary] F[orce]

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Letter from Noel Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse             2 Jul 1917

Noel writes to his mother and father to say that he had to break off his previous letter, as he suddenly had to move. He is working hard and has been busy establishing sanitation in the village in which they are staying. There has nevertheless been time for organising the extracurricular activities he spoke of, including a concert, which featured a face-pulling contest, which Noel describes. He also has to arrange Brigade sports, but has people to help him with this. He is feeling well, but thinks he will not be able to get leave until about September. He is thinking that if the war is still not over soon then he will make plans to be married by Christmas. Asks his parents their opinion of this plan. Mentions that he has written to the Base Hospital turning down the offer of the surgeon’s post. He felt rather depressed about it for about a quarter of an hour.

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