It is fitting that today, Remembrance Day, 11 November, that the BAC should pay tribute to the many Olympians and sportsmen and women from Great Britain and the Commonwealth who served and lost their lives during the two World Wars.
Many left lives of fame, wealth, and security, and paid the ultimate price on the battlefield. Sadly some still lie in unmarked graves and remain listed on memorials to the missing.
Some were awarded very different medals, in recognition of their bravery and service, including a small number awarded the Victoria Cross, the ultimate accolade for heroism and bravery.
There are many accounts of heroism from sportsmen and women during the two World Wars, but we have chosen to reflect on one, that of Captain Noel Chavasse, who is of particular note for being one of only three individuals to be awarded the Victoria Cross twice.
A keen rugby player and athlete, he competed in the 400m at the 1908 Olympic Games alongside his twin brother, before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps to work as a Surgeon Lieutenant.
His Victoria Cross citation reads:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. During an attack he tended the wounded in the open all day, under heavy fire, frequently in view of the enemy. During the ensuing night he searched for wounded on the ground in front of the enemy’s lines for four hours. Next day he took one stretcher-bearer to the advanced trenches, and under heavy shell fire carried an urgent case for 500 yards into safety, being wounded in the side by a shell splinter during the journey.
The same night he took up a party of twenty volunteers, rescued three wounded men from a shell hole twenty-five yards from the enemy’s trench, buried the bodies of two officers, and collected many identity discs, although fired on by bombs and machine guns. Altogether he saved the lives of some twenty badly wounded men, besides the ordinary cases which passed through his hands. His courage and self-sacrifice, were beyond praise.
Captain Chavasse’s second award was made during the period between 31 July and 2 August 1917, at Wieltje, Belguim where the full citation reads:
His Majesty the King has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of a Bar to the Victoria Cross to Capt. Noel Godfrey Chavasse, V.C., M.C., late R.A.M.C. For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action. Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the Dressing Station, Capt. Chavasse refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out. During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry in a number of badly wounded men, over heavy and difficult ground. By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example, he was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions. This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.
In recognition of Captain Noel Chavasse, and all those who have fallen in the service of their country.
We will remember them.