The Man Behind the Medals
In this blog series, SOFO Museum’s Research volunteers look at the stories behind some of the medal sets in the museum’s collection, from those that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display, to some of those that are still tucked away in the archive.
While medals will tell you a little bit about a soldier’s service, it’s only with further research that their full story can be revealed. SOFO’s Research volunteers respond to enquiries we receive through our Research Service, helping people find out more about their relatives who served in the county regiments, and raising funds to support the museum in the process. Using a combination of the museum’s records and those available elsewhere, they piece together stories like this one.
Alfred Wilcox was born on the 16th December 1884 in Aston, Birmingham, the son of William & Sarah Wilcox. Alfred’s father William was a well-known jeweller, and it was a large family with 7 boys and 6 girls being born. By 1911, Alfred was living away from home in Leyton, Essex, and was working as a diamond mounter. In 1913 he married Ellen Louise Clarke in Aston, and the couple had two children – Leonard & Doris. Alfred was a keen sportsman, especially in cycle racing and in running, being a member of Birchfield Harriers.
At some point before the war, Alfred Wilcox served in the 1st Volunteer Bn of the Royal Warwicks (as Pte 2147), volunteering into the Royal Bucks Hussars (Pte 205762) on 25th March 1915. He subsequently transferred into the 2/1st Bucks (Pte 285242) and joined them on the Western Front in December 1917. At this stage of the war, the 2/1st Bucks had taken part in the disastrous attack on Fromelles, and then taken part in the battle of the Ancre and Langemarck in 1917. Losses had been high, and no doubt a trained soldier such as Pte Wilcox would have been very welcome
As part of the larger re-organisation of the Army, the 2/1st Bucks were disbanded in February 1918 and some 300 men were transferred to the 2/4th Ox & Bucks LI, with Alfred Wilcox being one of them. Promotion to L/Cpl in April 1918 was quickly followed with promotion to Cpl in Sept 1918. The 2/4th had suffered during the German offensive in April 1918, but retreated in good order, being moved to the Bethune sector to recover & re-train after this, with a draft of 431 men bringing the Bn up to strength.
On the 12th Sept 1918, the 2/1st were with 184 Bgd in 61 Div, serving near Laventie in France. Taking part in a local action, the flank platoon of A Coy were held up attacking a strongpoint known as Junction Post, with heavy machine gun fire pinning the attackers down. L/Cpl Wilcox with just 4 men rushed the nearest gun, killed the crew and disabled the gun. They were then counter-attacked, but Wilcox fought them off using captured German grenades.
Despite by now only having 1 man with him, and with their rifles jammed with mud, L/Cpl Wilcox worked his way up the German trench, putting four enemy machine guns out of action by bombing them and bayoneting some of the opposition. Faced with a strong German counterattack, and with no serviceable weapons, Alfred Wilcox decided on a withdrawal and safely led his only remaining man back to the British Lines. He was awarded the VC.
Following this attack, the 2/4th followed up on the retreating Germans, reaching east of Cambrai by November 1918. On the 2nd November, there was heavy fighting with the 2/4th suffering 56 casualties – one of whom was Cpl Wilcox who was shot in the right foot. He was treated in hospital in Britain and was discharged from the Army on 2nd May 1919, with a Silver War Badge and a small pension for his wound.
By 1939, Alfred & Ellen were living in Sutton Coldfield, where Alfred worked as a transport manager, but in September 1940 he was awarded a licence to run a pub – “The Small Arms” – in Muntz St, Birmingham. He died in March 1954.
Awards: Victoria Cross, British War Medal, Victory Medal, Silver War Badge