21 July 2005

The Victoria Cross and campaign medals awarded to Sergeant Alfred Richards, 1st Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers, has been sold at auction by Spink of London for a hammer price of £110,000. The VC was bought on behalf of the Michael Ashcroft Trust, the holding institution for Lord Ashcroft's VC Collection.

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Sergeant Alfred Richards,
1st Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers

  • Victoria Cross
  • 1914-15 Star
  • British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
  • Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
  • Army Long Service & Good Conduct Medal ( LSGC )

The landings at Gallipoli were part of the larger campaign to drive Turkey out of the war, and more immediately to divert her troops from the Caucasian Front. The specific aim was to secure the peninsula, clear it of Turkish defences and thus allow a British fleet to enter the Sea of Marmara. The principle assault was by the British 29th Division at Cape Helles, followed by the French, and the secondary assault was by the ANZAC Corps, twelve miles north near Gaba Tepe.

At about 06:00 on 25th April 1915, following a 45-minute-long naval bombardment, the landing operations began at V and X Beaches. Off W Beach, six groups, each consisting of four ship's cutters towed by a picket boat drew away from HMS 'Euryalus' and headed for the shore in line abreast at 50-yard intervals carrying the 1st Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers. The Turkish troops, well dug in and fronted by coils of barbed wire, poured machine gun fire and rifle fire on to the Fusiliers as they landed, decimating the battalion. The survivors, however, pushed on and eventually gained their intended goal, driving the Turks off the cliffs, albeit with appalling casualties.

On the 15th May 1915 Major General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston wrote to GHQ: "The landing is a deed of heroism that has seldom been equalled and I strongly recommend that the gallantry of the deed may be recognized by the bestowal of six VCs on the two most distinguished officers and the four most distinguished NCOs and men", namely captains C. Bromley and R.R. Willis, sergeants A. Richards and E.E. Stubbs, Corporal J. Grimshaw and Private W. Keneally. The six had been nominated by the battalion's commanding officer, Major Bishop, after consulting 'the officers who happened to be with him at the time and who did not include either of the officers awarded the Cross'.

The recommendation was endorsed by the GOC, Sir Ian Hamilton, but foundered amid War Office bureaucracy and rules governing the award of the Victoria Cross. Not until August 1915 was the matter resolved, when a second recommendation was dispatched under Article 13 of the Victoria Cross warrant which allowed for the balloting of units for the award of up to four VCs. According to Hunter-Weston, a vote had been held among the surviving members of the battalion which resulted in Richard Willis being selected by the officers, Alfred Richards by the NCOs and William Keneally by the other ranks. On 24 August 1915 the 'London Gazette' announced: The King has been pleased to award the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned officers, non-commissioned officers, and men in recognition of their most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in the field.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 24 August 1915 ], W Beach, Cape Helles, Gallipoli, Turkey, 25 April 1915, 1293 Sergeant Alfred Richards, 1st Bn, Lancashire Fusiliers.

With Major Richard Willis and Private William Keneally. On the 25th April 1915, three Companies and the Headquarters of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, in effecting a landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula to the West of Cape Helles, were met by a very deadly fire from hidden machine guns which caused a great number of casualties. The survivors, however, rushed up to and cut the wire entanglements, notwithstanding the terrific fire from the enemy, and after overcoming extreme difficulties, the cliffs were gained and the position maintained.

Amongst the many very gallant officers and men engaged in this most hazardous undertaking, Captain Willis, Serjeant Richards and Private Keneally have been selected by their comrades as having performed the most signal acts of bravery and devotion to duty.

Alfred Richards was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 26th September 1915.

However, matters did not rest there. Troubled by what he considered to be an injustice done to Bromley, Stubbs and Grimshaw, Brigadier Owen Wolley-Dod, himself a Lancashire Fusilier who as Hunter-Weston's general staff officer had landed at W Beach shortly after noon on 25th April, continued to press for the case to be re-examined.

His efforts were eventually successful. On the 15th March 1917 the 'London Gazette' announced the award of VCs to all three men. The citation accompanying their awards was the same as that published for Willis, Richards and Keneally. By this time Bromley had died, Stubbs had been killed on W Beach and Grimshaw, by then a sergeant, received notification that his Distinguished Conduct Medal ( DCM ) had been cancelled and replaced by a Victoria Cross.

Richards had scarcely reached the beach when a burst of fire almost severed his right leg. Realising that to remain behind the barbed wire was to court annihilation, he callled on his men to follow him forward. Dragging his mutilated leg, he crawled through the wire and, despite the terrible pain, continued to shout encouragement as they advanced to assault the Turkish positions beyond.

A month after sustaining his terrible wounds on the peninsula, surgeons in Egypt amputated his right leg above the knee. Evacuated to England, he was discharged from the Army on 31st July 1915, as 'being no longer fit for war service ( but for civil employment )'. He had served twenty years and six days with the Colours, all of that time with the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Alfred Richards died at his home, 69 Astonville Street, Southfields, London, on 21st May 1953, after a short illness, and is buried in Putney Vale Cemetery.


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Iain Stewart, 21 July 2005