Christopher Chavasse Letters 1914-18

Christopher Chavasse letters, 1914-1918


Christopher was the first member of the family to go to war, arriving in France in September 1914. He wrote to his father about his experiences, including his fears about his new responsibilities and the effectiveness of the Army Chaplaincy. He often asked his father to provide printed religious material for his soldiers to read and for help with sermons.

He later spent time in England training other Chaplains, but became frustrated at being so far from the front lines. He asked to be sent back to France and was stationed at Bullecort when he heard the news of Noel's death in August 1917.

The letters are presented in the order assigned to them by Bodleian Special Collections - some may be out of chronological order. Questions, corrections and enquiries about the use of images should be directed to

Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse               12 Sep 1914

Christopher Chavasse thanks his father for the news from home and for the money. He has had to buy some meals and kit. The change in campaign has prevented them from settling down. He had some exciting work in the first week but it has otherwise been quiet. He is getting used to working with soldiers and finds life at the camp interesting. He hopes to have some good services on Sunday. He is positive about the future, though he knows it will be difficult to live the life of a clergyman when amongst soldiers. Sent from No. 10 General Hospital.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse             27 Feb 1915

Christopher Chavasse was glad to receive his father’s letter. He has been busy since getting back, with 4 funerals on the second day. He is currently responsible for a convalescent home and a hospital. He has asked a Wesleyan chaplain to help him. He describes his weekly routine, including conducting services, taking choir practice and giving lectures. He is giving a service nearly every night and so feels that he is doing his job. He rides every day before breakfast and does rounds at the hospital. He asks his father to send him material to form the basis of sermons. He asks if Marjorie can supply him with picture papers for the men. He is glad that his mother is improving. He met Major William Wingfield (1873-1942). Sent from No. Clearing Hospital.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse            27 Mar 1915

Christopher Chavasse says that things are quiet, yet he feels rushed due to the changing conditions of his work. His convalescent home has been converted in to another clearing hospital. He took some of the convalescents to a concert which ended with 3 of them asking for communion. He thinks he will have more convalescents to work with now. He asks for material to be sent from Liverpool. He describes his plans for Holy Week and discusses his new horse. He lists his schedule for the week. Last Sunday 40 of his 60 convalescents stayed for communion after the service. He tells a story about being asked to speak about why God allows suffering, but being interrupted with a request to continue choir practice instead. He will take 4 boys to be confirmed by the Bishop Of London [Arthur Winnington-Ingram] on Sunday. He asks his mother to thank his aunt May for the things she sent. He asks Marjorie to send him Easter and confirmation cards. Sent from No. [?] Clearing Hospital.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse           10 Apr 1915

Christopher Chavasse thanks his father for what he sent him. He had 12 men present at his informal service this morning. He has 3 hospitals to look after now that Arrowsmith has gone home sick. Christopher wishes that they could get a replacement for Mr C., as it is too much to cover his duties when he is ill. He lists his busy schedule for tomorrow. He asks for £10 as he is running low on money and will not be able to receive any at short notice if he is moved. He is happy though rushed with work.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse           10 May 1915

Christopher Chavasse says that he is now attached to the 27th Royal Field Artillery. There is another Church of England Chaplain there, and they work together to serve the 14th Brigade and the 5th Division. He thinks his mother would be interested to know that his Brigade General is a General Maude [Maude being her maiden name]. He has been very busy, having to arrange services for different units and then carry them out the next day. He likes working with the Gunners, as it requires him to work close to the trenches when he would otherwise be 7 miles behind the lines. He asks for testaments and prayer cards for the men. He describes the kind of design he would like for the prayer cards and asks his father to make them up. He also asks for a pair of riding gloves. He thinks that Noel is near and is trying to send him a letter. He is near a ‘notorious town’ with his men on a ‘notorious hill’ that he cannot name for security reasons. He has heard from Bernard. He adds in a postscript that he has experienced being shelled.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse              2 Jul 1915

Christopher Chavasse has been busy due to the other chaplain being on leave for the last week. He thinks that Noel will now be at home, as he has not seen him for 10 days. He thanks his father for the service papers, and asks for some more in case he is unexpectedly asked to take a brigade service. He gave a service to men in the trenches, who asked to keep the service papers, which he felt he could not refuse. A Colonel who saw them liked them so much that he has ordered 1000 to be printed for his men. He was glad to receive a printed copy of Noel’s letter. He thinks that you can read between the lines to get a sense of what Noel did, though it is hard to understand fully if you have not seen the trenches. He gets to the front line 3 times a week to visit one of his battalions. He thinks that the men are getting to know him. They attend services well, except Holy Communion, which few of them attend or understand. He has noticed that the Territorials seem more likely to attend Holy Communion. He has run out of testaments to give out and asks for some more. The ‘Traveller’s Guides’ have also been popular. He thinks he is doing good work, but has been getting very tired and finds himself unable to speak to other officers and men. General Maude has gone home, but before leaving told Christopher that he was impressed with his work and would get him a job whenever he wanted one. He was disappointed not to be mentioned in dispatches.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                9 Jul 1915

Christopher Chavasse thanks his father for his last 2 letters and for the Dio Gazette. He is writing now as there may be a push from the Germans soon, in which case he will be very busy. He is glad that Noel got home and hopes that he told his stories. He hopes that Noel will ride over to see him soon. He is feeling positive about his work, and currently visits the trenches 3 times a week to take communion and services. The Sergeant Major and Company Sergeant Major of the Surrey’s have been helping him, which has raised the numbers of those taking Communion. However he thinks that the Officers of the Surrey’s should make more of an effort to attend. The Officers of the Durham County Light Infantry [?] could also make more of an effort to attend services, though there is a Captain and 3 Sub-Lieutenants who ask their men to come with them. He has a good Orderly who has been assisting him, and arranges for men to be excused from their duties to attend Communion. Nearly all of the Officers for the Manchester’s attend Communion, but none of the men, though some do attend his services. The Manchester’s are currently in a particularly dangerous part of the front line. His father’s prayer sheets are proving popular. His opinion of Holy Communion has risen, as he finds it gives people some peace for a while afterwards. He describes how the men use a canoe and a piano to entertain themselves, and how they are constantly threatened by shell fire. The casualties have been very heavy. He describes his own experiences of shellfire and British counter-attacks. After the shelling he was asked to give Communion to 18 men in a dugout. He thinks is it important that the men feel that Christ with them at all times.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse             19 Jul 1915

Christopher Chavasse has written to thank Mrs. Rankin for the money she has given for the soldiers. He will be moving south in a few days. He does not know exactly where he will be going, but the Divisional Headquarters will be in the French town that he was based in at the start of the war [he is not allowed to mention the name in the letter]. He will be out of contact with Noel for a while. He and Noel met on Friday by accident. He relates the story, in which he got lost and met a Liverpool Scottish soldier who used to cut his hair in St. Helens. They happened to be next to Noel’s dressing station, so the Liverpool Scottish soldier took him to the support trench where Noel was working. He notes that Noel works closer to the firing line than the other doctors. He is surprised at how many people taking part in the war are trying to get away with doing as little as possible. Noel showed him the way back, accompanied by a soldier that Noel had saved at Hooge. Christopher told the soldier that he was afraid that Noel would get killed, but the soldier felt that Noel had God on his side. He provides his timetable for Sunday. He suggests two hymns for any future editions of his father’s service sheet, which he believes will be easier to sing. The testaments are proving popular and he asks for some more. The Officers say that men are reading testaments in the trenches. He thinks it is better for them to be able to read along with him, than to simply listen to an oration. He finds that they particularly love to repeat the Prayer for Absent Friends out loud. He asks his father to send him material for sermons. Noel tells him that he has been getting the Daily Post, and Christopher asks if he could receive it also.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse              4 Aug 1915

Christopher thanks his father for the news about the family. He recalls going to Rossall to speak to Ralph Houghton [later a Tutor at St Peter's] about camps. Houghton told him that he had given his heart to God while kneeling in St. Peter-le-Bailey Church with Francis James Chavasse. He discusses the death of his cousin Frank Chavasse, which he felt deeply despite not knowing him well. He has been moved to a new position, with his infantry moved to a location 6 miles away. They will be moving again shortly. He thinks that the men look better for having a week out, and hopes that he will be able to secure a permanent recreation room for them in their new location. On Thursday he held a service for each of his 3 battalions. He does not yet know them well individually, but feels that they are beginning to recognise his face. He recalls meeting some soldiers from the East Surrey’s who showed him some pictures of their families and enjoyed his jokes. A soldier with 10 children expressed his desire to continue fighting rather than go home, explaining that he did not want what he had seen in Belgium to happen to his own family. He has been organising impromptu concerts for them, which they enjoy. Christopher has not yet received the Bibles. He thinks it is almost the fashion for the men to have a Bible. He recommends that they read a bit of Luke every day. The last soldier he buried had a testament that Christopher had given him in his pocket. The Traveller’s Guides are also popular. He is making plans for when they are settled, bearing in mind that they may have another winter to get through. He asks his father to ask his mother about the Prayer Cards and the Book of Prayers. He suggests that his father talk to Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Stanley Maude (1864-1917) if he ever has the opportunity, as he was very kind to him. The current General is also kind but doesn’t attend communion. He says some soldiers received Military Crosses for their actions at Hooge – he thinks it would be scandalous if Noel does not receive anything. Last time he saw Noel, he was working in a support trench as he felt his Dressing Station was too far from the front lines. He had also turned a stream into a bath house and made sure his men had a bath every day. Noel also intended to crawl out into no-man’s land at night to bury a dead French soldier who had been causing flies. He thanks his father for sending him the many things that he asked for, and asks in addition for weekly copies of ‘Land and Water’, which he thinks will cheer him up. It will also allow him to keep the men informed. He does not feel happy and feels overwhelmed by his responsibilities. He doesn’t think he is praying enough. He has been telling the men that God is on their side, and that the war is a righteous one.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse               25 Sep 1915

Christopher says that he is too busy to write a proper letter. He discusses the Mons Angels, a story which he does not think should be dismissed but instead approached with an open mind. His Brigade General, though not particularly devout, believes the story. He describes the story of the Mons Angels as it was told to him.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                 7 Nov 1915

Christopher Chavasse apologises for not writing sooner, but the other Chaplain has been away and therefore he has had a lot of work to do. He has been enjoying his work. All Saints Day went well, and gave him an opportunity to explain why members of the Church of England do not pray publicly for the dead. He is able to get to the front village 2 or 3 times a week to give services. The soldiers are beginning to tell him more about themselves. He recently buried a man that had one his Testaments in his possession, with a note recording that Christopher had given it to him and asking for it to be sent to his wife. He may be leaving his post soon - Bishop Llewellyn Gwynne (1863-1957) has written to say that he wants Christopher to be a Divisional Chaplain. Christopher had written back to say that he is unsure about the change. Last week, a house he was in was nearly hit by 8 shells. Christopher received very minor wounds, but some men 50 yards behind suffered one man killed and 5 wounded. A 75 year old woman was also hurt in the incident. However he thinks that he is unlikely to experience something similar again.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                6 Dec 1915

Christopher Chavasse agrees with his father. He thinks that Clergymen should stick to working as Chaplains rather than trying to take on any other role in the army. He finds that enlisted Clergy are disappointed if they think that they will be able to do any spiritual work in addition to the role they have signed up to. When they are able to do some good, it is generally no more than a layman could have done in the same position. He thinks that ordained Officers are also rarely able to do any spiritual work. Noel has spoken about how he is unable to mix with the men as he would like. It is romantic to think that a clergyman could enlist as a Private and work with the men that way, but in reality the routine of a Private is too tiring to leave energy for anything else. Privates are also much more likely to lose time to field punishments. Christopher calculates that a clergyman working as a Private could help, at most, 50 men. Since so many army volunteers are now returning home wounded or sick, it is hard for chaplains to build much of a relationship with them – he feels this is the job of the clergy at home. He suggests that doctors would not be expected both to fight and to attend to the wounded, and therefore neither should clergy be expected to carry out dual roles. He describes himself as busy, worried, but fairly happy.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                4 Mar 1916

Christopher Chavasse reports that he arrived safely and feels he did the right thing in going early. He thinks he may be the wrong man for the job and is not enjoying the administrative burden of his role. He has not felt so humble since he failed his exams. He will nonetheless try his best. He asks for the new hymn sheets with the 2 hymns that he suggested, and a new prayer. Sent from Headquarters, 62nd Division.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                25 Mar 1916

Christopher Chavasse has received the letters about Arthur Chavasse [1887-1916], and also heard the news from Esme. He thinks that the news of Arthur’s death is terrible, yet in some ways considers it a fitting end to an unselfish and innocent life. He was shocked by how sudden his death was. He is finding his feet in his new role and things are getting better organised. He gets on well with his eight chaplains, even the three Nonconformists and three Roman Catholics. He is planning a large-scale confirmation of men and has sent out slips asking for the details of those who wish to take part. He got involved with a Y.M.C.A. mission with Stephen Wingfield Digby (1872-1942). It was not a success but allowed him to meet all the men in the Division. He describes his work and timetable. He has some doubts about the work of one of the other Chaplains. He sometimes gets depressed about the scale of the job and feels he would do better working by himself amongst the men. He thinks that the year spent working as a Chaplain to his father has helped him with his current work. He laments his failure at Oxford and slackness since. He feels that he may have been born and trained for his Chaplaincy in the current war, and sees God’s hand in his life. He thinks that they would be able to convert ¾ of the men and officers if more of an effort were made. He finds that the Territorials are particularly welcome to conversion. He met Mr. Adams of Shaw Street, now working as a Chaplain at the Camp Hospital. He is speaking to the Officers of the Division on Wednesday, about the difference that a religious Officer makes to his men at the front. Sent from Headquarters 62nd Division, Lark Hill Camp, Salisbury Plain.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse               19 Jun 1916

Christopher Chavasse has heard that his father has been very busy, and that the memorial services he has read about in the Daily Post have added to his work. He took a memorial service at a Church in Bungay, where they have about 2000 troops. He preached from II Kings II.12 and used some of his father’s sermon. He thinks that the service went well. He is considering asking to be sent out to France. He is disappointed that, despite going out early, he has not had the opportunity to be mentioned in despatches. His current Division has only been used for home defence. He notes that Austen Humphrey Balleine (1885-1952) was mentioned in despatches – in Christopher’s view Balleine has mostly been building on the work that he started. He feels that his work as a Chaplain in France has produced little of lasting value. He thinks that the other men believe he was returned to England with shell shock, and they ask him if he was wounded. He asks for his father’s opinion on the prayer card that he suggested. The local Vicar is Mr. Toms, who used to be at Wycliffe Hall and knew his father when he was rector of St. Peter-le-Bailey. Sent from 62nd Division Headquarters, Hi[n]xton Hall, Bungay.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                  2 Oct 1916

Christopher Chavasse wishes his father a happy 70th birthday and apologises for not sending a present. He feels that his father is working harder than ever before, despite intending to retire this year. He wishes that the war could be over and that he could return to work under his father. He thinks that he will need some time to make up for lost study before entering parish work. He suggests that his father appoint a Suffragan Bishop to share his workload. He thinks that his father looked tired last time he saw him, and that the National Mission will be an additional strain. He does not think much of the report drawn up from the Chaplains' replies to the questions of the Bishop of Kensington [John Maud (1860-1932)]. He believes that most soldiers don’t want a High Mass, but instead prefer something simpler and informal. He is hoping to get 10 days leave, and feels stale after 2 years of work. He might get sent abroad, or to winter billets in the Midlands. He asks if he should try to get sent out again on the grounds of having been brought back under false pretences, or if he should stick out his current situation. Sent from 62nd Division Headquarters, Hi[n]xton Hall, Bungay.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse               26 Jan 1917

Christopher Chavasse thanks his father for the service paper, which he will show to the other Chaplains. He is going to meet another Chaplain, Neville Talbot (1873-1943). It is very cold, particularly in the trenches. There is a feeling that the British are doing better than the Germans, which is marked change from a year ago. He asks his father to ask Marjorie when he will receive the rubber bath and thick boots. He also asks to receive some refills for a Tommy Cooker, to have the address on the Daily Post changed and some cake to share. He asks to be told when Noel gets home, and to be sent the newspaper cuttings about him. He is not currently anywhere near Noel. He asks to be sent a Churchman’s Almanack, as he will need to know when Easter is. Sent from H.Q. 62nd Division, British Expeditionary Force.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                  2 Feb 1917

Christopher Chavasse was sorry not to meet his father on Wednesday due to the poor trains. He won’t have enough time to visit Liverpool, and provides his work timetable for the next few days. He is currently worn out with work but very happy. He describes his advent service at St. Cuthbert’s. He reports that Thornhill is with him working as a chauffeur. He feels that he has built up a good team of Chaplains. The Bible classes at the Corn Exchange have been fairly successful. The General Officer Commanding came to read the lesson on the 31st, and invited Francis James Chavasse to visit him. Christopher suggests that his father write to Mrs. Braithwaite to comfort her about her son. He had a Confirmation last Wednesday, at which one Officer and 18 men were confirmed by Bishop Hodges. The Bishop of St. Albans, Edgar Jacob (1844-1920), has written him some kind letters. On Thursday they had a farewell communion for 10,000 troops in Bedford. They anticipated that 500 would come to the service, but about 1500 came. He describes the event, and his concerns about making concessions to High Church rituals.  He had dinner with a Royal Engineers Officer named Hooper. Sent from St. Mary’s Rectory, Bedford.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James Chavasse                 14 Feb 1917

Christopher Chavasse thanks his father for his letter. Things are not currently very hard, though they are moving slowly. Thornhill has returned full of energy – his Brigade are moving up to the front line tomorrow, so Christopher may help him out. He is sorry to hear of the trouble his father has been having, but is sure that his stand will come to be appreciated. He feels that he and the other Chaplains are working well together. He has a good billet in the village, which he shares currently with Wood and previously with Thornhill. He asks Marjorie to send him blades for his razor, and some cake to share. He asks his father if he ever wrote to Mrs. Braithwaite. The General is feeling low as they may find his son’s body in the ground recently recovered from the Germans. Christopher had some important Officers attend his communion on Sunday, including a Bridgadier.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Francis James and Edith Chavasse   8 Oct 1917

Christopher Chavasse explains that the letter has taken some time to write, as they have been busy. He hopes that his parents are feeling better and awaits their book about Noel. He does not think that he will be able to help much with the book, as he was too close to Noel to notice much. He asks that they emphasise Noel’s wit, sense of fun and magnetic personality. He also mentions Noel’s heart and determination in sport. He lists some of Noel’s sporting achievements and what he believes these said about his character. Christopher thinks that Noel’s work ethic changed for the better when it came to take exams to get to Oxford.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Edith Chavasse                            14 May 1918

Christopher Chavasse apologises for not writing sooner, explaining that he has been very busy. He has been working all day and is yet to write to Itza [his future wife, Beatrice Willink (1896-1977)]. He lists his work that day. He is now feeling well after having the ‘flu. He is due leave but does not think he will get time off, as they are expecting a large attack. Bishop Llewellyn Gwynne (1863-1957) was over last Sunday, and he describes the Bishop’s work during his time with them. Christopher had all of the candidates and chaplains round his billet for coffee and cake. He had an evening service that went well, as most of them now do. He hears that his mother has not been well, though his Aunt May tells him that she must now be feeling better. He thinks that his father was wrong to miss the Easter Holiday. He isn’t really enjoying himself as he does not spend enough time with the men. He sometimes wishes he could start over again with a different job, and feels that over 2 years with the same Division is enough. He regrets that the turnover of men and officers is so high that it is difficult to make lasting friendships. He is tired but feels he still has more to give. He will write to May. He asks for money, if anybody wishes to send him any. Sent from HQ 62nd Division.

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Letter from Christopher Chavasse to Edith Chavasse                              14 Jul 1918

Christopher Chavasse tells his mother that he is unlikely to be on leave until August. He is being transported by train to an unknown location tomorrow morning. He thinks he will return after the Germans have attacked. He is sorry that he will not be able to see Itza [his future wife, Beatrice Willink (1896-1977)]. He was thankful to receive 4 letters on Thursday. He thinks he has handed his responsibilities over to a good team. Sent from HQ 62nd Division.

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