b. 19/08/1870 Liverpool. d. 27/10/1917 Palestine.
Alexander Malins Lafone (1870-1917), whose family arrived in England from France in the 1740s, was born on 19th August 1870 at Cressfield, Crosby Road South, in the Waterloo district of Liverpool. He was the eldest son of Henry Lafone, who was originally from Kent, and his second wife, Lucy, daughter of David Malins, of Birmingham. His father was a hide and leather merchant and a partner in the family business. When business interests moved from Liverpool to London, the family moved to Knockholt, Kent in the later 1870s.
Alexander was educated at Dulwich College and became a member of the 3rd XV rugby team. From Dulwich, he passed the entrance exam for Cooper’s Hill, a Royal Engineering College based at Runnymede, and attended City and Guild’s College, London. After studying engineering for two years in South Kensington, and working for 18 months at Messrs Marshall & Sons, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. In 1894 he was appointed assistant manager and engineer to the Jokai Tea Company, Assam, India. Three years later, he joined his father in business at Butler’s Wharf Ltd. He later became a director of several companies.
On 28th December 1899 he changed his career when he joined the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry with the rank of Sergeant, and in the following year, served in the Second Boer War in South Africa. He took part in operations in the Transvaal and was wounded in the right eye. He received the Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps, before returning to England on 12th December 1900. He was offered a commission when he became a member of the Middlesex Yeomanry in August 1901.
He was promoted to Captain in 1902, and in 1903, he left his father’s business to join the Colonial Service and took a job in Nigeria. Unfortunately, he was dogged by illness and his career in the Colonial Service came to an abrupt end. He was forced home to recover from malaria, and while back at the family home, his mother died suddenly in 1910. Alexander then became a partner in the firm of FA Roberts & Co.
A day before war broke out on 4th August 1914, the Middlesex Yeomanry were mobilised at Moulsford Camp in Berkshire. He was now a Major and the Middlesex Yeomanry, assembled in Churn, Wiltshire, and became part of the 2nd Mounted Division. In November, they left for further training in Norfolk, and they received orders to be posted to the Middle East. They left Avonmouth on 14th April 1915, arriving in Alexandria, Egypt two weeks later. After service in Egypt, he served in the Dardanelles, the Balkans and Palestine.
On 3rd February 1916 he left for home leave, and on 4th March, he joined the defence of the Suez Canal, after his regiment became part of the 8th Mounted Brigade. He then headed for Salonika in November 1916, then on to Egypt in early 1917. Later that year, he rejoined his comrades in Palestine, as part of the Yeomanry Mounted Division of the Desert Mounted Corps.
On 27th October 1917, at the Battle of El Buggar Ridge, Palestine, he held a position for over seven hours against vastly superior enemy forces. All this time the enemy were shelling his position heavily, making it very difficult to see. In one attack, when the enemy cavalry charged his flank, he drove them back with heavy losses. In another charge they left fifteen casualties within twenty yards of his trench, one man, who reached the trench, being bayoneted by Maj. Lafone himself. When all his men, with the exception of three, had been hit and the trench which he was holding was so full of wounded that it was difficult to move and fire, he ordered those who could walk to move to a trench slightly in the rear, and from his own position maintained a most heroic resistance. When finally surrounded and charged by the enemy, he stepped into the open and continued the fight until he was mortally wounded and fell unconscious.
Lafone died of his wounds and was buried in Beersheba War Cemetery. In his will he left over £30,000 and his brother, Henry Pownall Malins Lafone received his VC from King George V on 2nd March 1918. In addition to his VC and Queen’s South Africa Medal with three clasps, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19. His medals were eventually donated to his old school, Dulwich College, who still hold them.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: DULWICH COLLEGE, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BEERSHEBA WAR CEMETERY, BEERSHEBA, ISRAEL.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
ROW Q, GRAVE 7
War Illustrated, 9th February 1918
Lafone''s VC and Death Penny on display at Royal Signals Museum in July 2017 on loan from Dulwich College (Steve Lee)
Liverpool (Brian Drummond)