Chavasse – that rings a bell!

Photograph of Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse

After becoming interested in the Christmas Truce of 1914, I looked through my reference book ‘First World War For Family Historians’. As I said in my previous article, my grandfather was an ‘Old Contemptible’ and as such we have his medals – the three nicknamed ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ – the 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal (inscribed along the edge with his name and service number), and the Victory Medal. In his memory, my father, as a young lad, wore them with pride every Remembrance Day.

I read on, engrossed with the information about medals, when suddenly a name jumped off the page – Chavasse. Having researched considerably the ministers and vicars of St Thomas’, the name rang a bell. I consulted my notes and there it was – Thomas Ludovic Chavasse, vicar 1908 to 1909.

In my reference book, under medals, it spoke about the most highly decorated soldier of the First World War – Captain Noel Godfrey Chavasse (1884-1917). He was awarded the Victoria Cross twice for bravery – the first he received from King George V and the second was a rare ribbon medal bar. Noel Chavasse was our vicar’s cousin! Noel’s father was Francis James Chavasse – the celebrated Bishop of Liverpool in the huge newly built Anglican cathedral. Francis James’s brother was Charles Edward, the father of our vicar and a Midlands wine merchant in Sutton Coldfield.

Captain Noel trained as a doctor and surgeon, following in the steps of his grandfather, Thomas (1801-1884) in Wylde Green Birmingham. Noel was in fact a twin; his brother Major Christopher Maude (1884-1962) followed their father into the church and became Honorary Chaplain in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. They had twin sisters, May and Marjorie who also distinguished themselves in WW2.

Noel joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was active at the front. It was at Guillemont, France in 1916 that he earned his first Victoria Cross when, during one day, he saved twenty badly injured soldiers under heavy sniper fire and bombing. His second VC was at Passchendaele, the Somme in 1917, when again he went out to rescue and save men under heavy fire. He himself was wounded and, two days later in Brandhoek, Belgium he succumed to his injuries and is buried there. His gravestone bears a rare double VC on it. Both Noel and Christopher were excellent athletes and represented Britain in the 1908 Olympic Games.

This brings me to our vicar, Thomas Ludovic Chavasse (1874-1939). He was born in Sutton Coldfield – one of six children – to Charles Edward and Frances Lucy. He was educated at Hertford College, Oxford and the Midland Clergy College, Edgbaston. Between 1900 and 1913 he held appointments at Worcester, Sutton Coldfield, Coventry and, of course Stourbridge. He did not have good health; according to some accounts he went abroad to help his ailments. In 1908, after a curacy at St Michael’s Coventry he was appointed vicar at St Thomas’. But in 1909 he resigned the post through ill-health and the Rev. Gilling-Lax was appointed. Thomas continued in the church and worked extensively in the diocese of Birmingham and Lichfield before becoming a vicar in Water Orton 1929. In 1939, Thomas Ludovic Chavasse died a bachelor and is buried in Water Orton.


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