4 July 2017 by Karen O'Rourke
In the coming weeks, there will be much written about Captain Noel Chavasse VC, as the 100th anniversary of his death on 4 August 1917 approaches. The only man to be awarded the Victoria Cross (the highest award for bravery) twice in the First World War, and the son of the Bishop of Liverpool, Noel is a well known figure in local First World War history. Perhaps less well known is that Noel’s youngest brother Aidan died on 4 July 1917. The family had lost two brothers within a month.
At the outbreak of the War in 1914, all four Chavasse brothers had enlisted. Noel’s twin Christopher, as a Chaplain, Bernard and Noel, were Medical Officers in the Royal Army Medical Corps and Aidan joined the King’s Liverpool Regiment. Still at university, it was assumed that like Christopher, he would follow a career in the church. When War broke out, he was given a commission in the 11th (Pioneer) Battalion. The duties of a Pioneer Battalion, mostly digging and construction, perhaps didn’t offer the excitement he expected, and early in 1917 he was granted a transfer to the more combatant, 17th (Pals) Battalion of the KLR, serving alongside his brother Bernard. By summer 1917, he was a full Lieutenant and the Battalion was in the British lines a few miles outside Ypres, in Belgium.
On 4 July, just after midnight, a patrol including Aidan, was sent out to reconnoitre German lines. They were met by an enemy patrol and a fierce firefight followed. Aidan’s party withdrew, with him bringing up the rear. On reaching their own trenches, they realised he was missing. The men went back to search for him. Second-Lieutenant Peters and Lance Corporal Dixon found him in a shell hole close to enemy lines, with a wound to the thigh. Peters was killed when going for help. Dixon bandaged Aidan’s wounds and then also went off in search of help. By now it was too light to risk going back into no-mans-land and a second rescue attempt had to wait until the following evening.
This time Bernard joined the group, but they could find no sign of Aidan. Several further searches were made and it was presumed that he had been taken into German lines.
His family were informed that he was missing, thought to have been captured. Almost a month later, two letters arrived to tell them that both Bernard and Noel were wounded. Noel’s wound was to prove fatal. Still they held out hope that Aidan was also just wounded and would be returned to them.
The Bishop admitted in a letter to Christopher, in March 1918, that shortly after Aidan went missing, he had ‘come to him in a dream’. By this time he seemed to have accepted that his youngest son had died.
Aidan’s body was never recovered and he is listed on the Menin Gate, a memorial to the missing in Belgium.
Two Chavasse brothers were lost in the ‘Great War’ and two returned home. In the Museum of Liverpool we currently have a pair of stained glass windows on display. Commissioned by the Chavasse family, they commemorate both ‘those who served’ and ‘those who laid down their lives’ in 1914-1918. It is possible that the family intended them to be a reflection of their own family’s war time experience.
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