Our September 2017 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty
Bill Sergeant, our speaker on 18th September, began by explaining that his 'Liverpool Heroes' were the men depicted on a sculpture group in Abercromby Square: a wounded soldier, a stretcher bearer and a doctor. The doctor was Noel Chavasse, whose father was Bishop of Liverpool, and most people refer to the sculpture as the 'Chavasse Memorial'.
The Chavasse family - including 7 children - moved from Oxford to Liverpool in 1900. The 16-year-old twins Noel and Christopher went to Liverpool College, which was regarded as the best school in the area and had a reputation for sport - in which the Chavasse twins excelled.
The two boys went on to Oxford University. On graduating, Noel decided to become a doctor, while Christopher followed his father into the Church. Noel qualified as an orthopaedic surgeon in Liverpool, and worked at the Royal Southern Hospital. He also joined the Territorial Force - predecessor of the TA. When WW1 broke out he joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, and was attached to the 10th Battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment - i.e. the Liverpool Scottish.
By June 1915, Chavasse was one of the few officers of the Liverpool Scottish not to have been killed or injured. He was on the front line, treating the wounded, but wrote to his parents "my blood is not the heroic type". He had been issued with a side gun, but never used it in his three years in the Army. At night he went out with a torch, looking for injured men. His religious background gave him the confidence that he'd survive.
In 1916, Chavasse was involved in the Battle of the Somme, and then in Guillemont. The Liverpool Scottish were almost destroyed, yet again. At the end of the battle, Chavasse was awarded the VC for treating the wounded while under gunfire, continuing through the night, and saving the lives of 20 severely wounded men while himself suffering a thigh wound.
In 1917, after collecting his VC from Buckingham Palace, Chavasse was back in France and then Flanders. In July, on the first day of the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, he was shot in the head but carried on treating the wounded. Then on 2nd August, while Chavasse was asleep, a German shell exploded and he suffered a serious wound to his stomach. Eventually he was taken to a Dressing Station - but not before crawling out and attempting to help his colleagues. Two days later he died. Chavasse was awarded a posthumous 'bar' to his VC - the first person to win two VCs in the same conflict.
Bill Sergeant was involved in the campaign to put up a public memorial to Noel Chavasse in his home city. It took two years to raise the necessary £120,000, and finding a suitable location for the sculpture was not an easy task. Eventually Liverpool University offered a site in Abercromby Square, close to the former Bishop's Palace where the family had lived. Unveiled in 2008, it is well-respected and well-used, being the venue for Liverpool Scottish Association anniversary services.
Bill's talk was followed by a lively question-and-answer session. He was warmly thanked for giving us such a vivid account of such a notable Liverpool hero, and those who served with him.