It was a retired Brigadier, a resident of Cheltenham who, whilst walking through the city's cemetery, noticed what a terrible state of disrepair the headstone and burial plot of Major John Simpson Knox, was in, a recipient of the Victoria Cross. And so began efforts to persuade the Royal Green Jackets, which incorporates Knox's old regiment, the Rifle Brigade, to refurbish his headstone.

Initially, the Administrative Trustees of the Royal Green Jackets were reluctant to get involved owing to the inability to contact any living relatives of Knox, and that Knox won his VC whilst serving in the Scots Fusilier Guards, although his citation in the London Gazette of 24th February 1857 includes his action at the storming of the Redan whilst a Lieutenant in the Rifle Brigade.

Further representation to the Adminstrative Trustees produced encouraging results and after a bit of chivying by the Brigadier and his ex-Army contacts, the grave of John Knox VC was finally refurbished by a local stonemason in late 2001. The result shows what an outstanding job the stonemason has made, and all thanks must be given for the enthusiasm and tenacity of all concerned in returning John Knox's grave to its original state.

Knox's grave:
before and after

John Simpson Knox was born in Glasgow on 30th September 1828; a member of a yeoman family. Knox's father served as an officer in the 90th Light Infantry and the 28th Stirlingshire Regiment of Militia and was a very educated man. However, John Knox found life at home unhappy, so he ran away, and, being very tall for his age, enlisted in the Scots Fusiliers Guards on the 15th May 1843 at the age of fourteen and a half. He swiftly rose through the ranks eventually reaching the rank of Drill Sergeant on 7th July 1853.

At 7 a.m. on 28th February 1854, the day on which she issued her Declaration of War against Russia, the Queen with the Prince Consort came out upon the middle balcony of Buckingham Palace to bid 'God-speed' to the Scots Fusilier Guards, John knox among them, as they marched through the courtyard before embarking for the Crimea. The regiment landed in the Crimea on the 14th September 1854 and immediately commenced a march towards Sebastopol, and on the way took part in the first battle of the campaign, at Alma on 20th September. It was mainly for his gallantry and leadership in this battle that Sergeant John Knox was recommended for the Victoria Cross. In his own words:

We started for the Alma passing over large tracts of open ground my water supply failing and I was all but done up and going to lie down when Colonel Ridley gave me a spoonful of brandy. This kept me going till we reached the ground where we had to pass the night, several of our men dying from cholera and were buried before continuing our march. Early next morning we stood to our arms and after much delay the Army moved on and came within sight of the enemy's forces posted on the high ground beyond the Alma. After some delay the division was ordered to advance to support the Light Division, the Russians firing heavily but did little execution.

At last we reached the river and on reaching the path on the opposite side running parallel with the river, the battalion still in line began to reform their ranks. Repeated and pressing requests came several times from the Light Division asking us to hurry to their support. Before the ranks were properly reformed, Sir Charles Hamilton ordered the battalion to advance, and away they went, leaving to my surprise, many of our men under the shelter of the river bank. I did all I could to clear them out and send them on to glory, before passing over myself and to my surprise found our battalion retiring, mixing up with the men of the Light Division.

Captain Scarlett was frantic, flourishing his sword and violently exerting himself to stop the retreat, asking me to help. By good fortune an old campaigner Bill Douglas was nearby and I called upon him to stand still, face the enemy, and fire. Without any hesitation the old soldier obeyed, I got others to join him and about the same time order was restored in the ranks, the line reformed, and file-firing opened on the enemy. This fire, combined with cross-fire from the left company of the Grenadier Guards quickly settled the enemy and enabled us without any loss to capture the Russian battery.

During the time our men were firing an order was passed down the line for us to retire, and some of the companies had actually faced about, when I persuaded Colonel Dalrymple we were making a serious blunder, our interests urgently requiring an advance and not to retreat. Colonel Dalrymple took my view and stopped it. After capturing the battery there was no more fighting; we remained in possession of the field, the enemy's troops retiring.

Sergeant John Knox was present with his regiment in all the Crimean engagements, and at the Siege of Sebastopol, his conduct being conspicuous for gallantry, and in every way set an example to those around him. The behaviour of the three battalions of Foot Guards, especially at Inkerman, so impressed the Prince Consort ( Prince Albert ) that he placed a commission in his own regiment, the Rifle Brigade, at the disposal of General Lord Rokeby. The selection of Sergeant John Knox for this high honour gave widespread satisfaction among his colleagues.

John Knox was discharged from the Scots Fusilier Guards on 5 November 1854 and was appointed Ensign in the Rifle Brigade in March 1855, and promoted Lieutenant in April. His Ensigncy was antedated to 5th November 1854 and Lieutenancy to 29 December 1854. His final recommendation for the Victoria Cross occurred when he was the volunteer officer in charge of the ladder-party at the unsuccessful attack on the Redan on 18 June 1855. His brother officer, Captain Foreman, was killed and Knox himself wounded twice, losing his left arm, curtailing his active army career.

For the award of the Victoria Cross.

[ London Gazette, 24 February 1857 ]. River Alma, Crimea, 20 September 1854, Sergeant John Knox, Scots ( Fusilier ) Guards.

When serving as a Serjeant in the Scots Fusilier Guards. Lieutenant Knox was conspicuous for his exertions in reforming the ranks of the Guards at the Battle of the Alma. Subsequently, when in the Rifle Brigade, he volunteered for the ladder party in the attack on the Redan, on the 18th of June, and ( in the words of Captain Blackett, under whose command he was ) behaved admirably, remaining on the field until twice wounded

John Knox was invested with his Victoria Cross by Queen Victoria at Hyde Park on the 26th June 1857.

( select to enlarge )
Medal entitlement of Major John Simpson Knox,
Scots ( Fusilier ) Guards & The Rifle Brigade

  • Victoria Cross
  • Crimea Medal ( 1854-56 )
    • 4 clasps:
    • "Alma" - "Balaclava" - "Inkermann" - "Sebastopol"
  • Knight, Legion of Honour ( France )
  • Turkish Crimea Medal ( 1855-56 )


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Iain Stewart, 25 February 2002