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.
As this week's blog fell on the anniversary of the action that saw Alfred Wilcox awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918, we reproduce details from an obituary printed in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Journal No. 129 (November, 1954) and from The Victoria Cross (General Sir O'Moore Creagh VC GCB GCSI (1925) alongside photos from the museum collection. Unlike past blogs, Wilcox's medals are not actually part of the SOFO Museum collection - his medals, including the Victoria Cross, are held by the Imperial War Museum, London.
Cpl. Alfred Wilcox VC
Alfred Wilcox VC, No. 285242 2/4th Battalion, died at his home, the Prince Arthur, 31 Arthur Street, Small Heath, Birmingham, on March 30th, 1954, aged 69 years.
He was buried in the family grave, at Aston Old Church on Saturday, April 8th. Serjeant Hooker, from Regimental Headquarters, represented the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry at the funeral and a bugler also attended and sounded Last Post and Reveille. Wreaths were sent from the Regimental Old Comrades Association and the Old Comrades Association of the 2/4th Battalion.
Corporal Wilcox gained the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous bravery, with the following citation (taken from the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regimental Chronicle 1917-18, page 210):
During a local operation on the morning of September 12th, 1918, in front of Laventie, the flank platoon of A Company, 2/4th Battalion, was held up by heavy and persistent machine-gun fire from a trench about 70 yards distant. Finding it impossible to advance, Lance-Corporal Wilcox crawled towards the trench with four men, bombed it, and finally rushed the gun nearest to him, disposed of the gunner, and, being unable to take the gun along with him, put it out of action.
He then worked his way up the trench, bombed the next gun position (during which action two of his section were wounded), and himself again rushed the gun, killed the gunner in a hand-to-hand struggle and put the gun out of action. In spite of the reduced number of his party, this N.C.O. continued his advance up the trench. Bombing the gun-positions he killed one gunner, wounded another, and put two more guns out of action (it still being impossible to dispose of them otherwise), and successfully reached his objective.
Having by this time only one man with him, Lance-Corporal Wilcox was obliged to withdraw when the Germans counter-attacked in strength. Besides being so extremely outnumbered, he was without fire weapons, rifles being damaged up with mud, owing to the fact that the heavy weather during and before the operations was very bad. In spite of the very superior numbers against him, he withdrew successfully.
Later he was severely wounded by machine-gun fire and evacuated to England.
Alfred Wilcox was born in Aston, Birmingham. For a number of years after leaving school he was a diamond mounter with a firm of jewellers there. He first joined as a volunteer in the 1st Royal Warwickshire Vol. Battalion, serving with them for four years. His business took him to Liverpool, but he continued to serve as a Territorial for 3 more years more before the onset of the Great War.
Once the war began he first joined the Royal Bucks Hussars on the 25th March, 1915, but was later 'dismounted' and joined the Buckinghamshire Battalion of the Oxf. & Bucks LI in December 1917, when he first went to the front. By April 1918 he was transferred to the 2/4th Battalion, the battalion he would serve with during the action that saw him awarded his Victoria Cross.
After the war he took a great interest in the work of the British Legion and was President of the Birmingham Council of the British Legion during the years 1926 and 1927. In 1923 he founded the Bromford Branch in which he maintained his interest until his death. When he died he left a widow and two sons, both of whom served in the Second World War.
Medals: Victoria Cross, British War and Victory Medals.