b. 21/06/1879 Plymouth, Devon. d. 21/05/1953 Southfields, London.
Alfred Joseph Richards (1879-1953) was born in Plymouth, Devon on 21st June 1879, one of six children of Charles and Bridget Richards. His father was a veteran of the Lancashire Fusiliers, having served for twenty-one years with the 2nd Battalion, rising to the rank of Colour Sergeant.
Brought up as a Catholic, Alfred was educated at St Dominic’s Priory School, near Byker Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne. On 6th July 1895 he followed his father into the Lancashire Fusiliers as a bandboy, giving as his trade musician. He served with the 1st Battalion in Ireland and was appointed a full drummer. In 1899 the battalion embarked for Crete where he undertook training as a mounted infantryman in the hope of being accepted for service in South Africa, where the conflict with the Boers was raging. He passed the course, but did not reach South Africa as he noted “the adjutant kept me for my musical abilities and made me Lance Corporal, my first step.”
The battalion’s Mediterranean service continued, with spells in Malta, Gibraltar and Alexandria in Egypt. During these years he gained a reputation as one of the battalion’s best footballers and helped his team win the Gibraltar Garrison Cup in 1904. When the battalion returned to England in 1907 at the end of his period of engagement, he took his discharge. He was still a lance corporal, but civilian life did not appeal, and two months later, he re-enlisted and was sent with a draft back to his old battalion which was now in India. He remained there, serving in a variety of places until war broke out in 1914. He was now a Sergeant in C Company, and it would be with this company that he would disembark from HMS Euryalus for the landing at W Beach.
On 25th April 1915 west of Cape Helles, Gallipoli, Turkey, three companies and the Headquarters of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, when landing on W Beach, were met by a very deadly fire from hidden machine-guns which caused a large number of casualties. The survivors, however, rushed up and cut the wire entanglements, notwithstanding the terrific fire from the enemy and, after overcoming supreme difficulties, the cliffs were gained and the position maintained.
Richards suffered horrific wounds in the landing, and a month after the landings, surgeons in Egypt amputated his right leg above the knee. He was evacuated back to England, and discharged from service on 31st July 1915. He had served for twenty years, and had been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.
He was living at the Princess Christian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Woking, Surrey when news reached him of his VC award. He told journalists that he could remember very little about the landings. Of his award, he was quoted as saying “I am proud to learn that my comrades chose me as one of three of the bravest, but we all did our duty even though luck may have helped some to more noticeable acts.” Newspapers referred to him as the “Lonely VC”. His parents had emigrated to Australia and two of his brothers were serving with the Anzacs.
A year after he received his VC at Buckingham Palace, he married Miss Dora Coombs at Weybridge on 30th September 1916. They had met while he was recovering from his wounds at a nearby hospital. Throughout the remainder of his life he maintained strong ties with his old regiment. A leading member of the Southern Branch, Old Comrades Association, he was also connected for many years with the Lord Roberts memorial scheme for the employment of disabled soldiers. During WWII, he joined the Home Guard and served as a provost sergeant of the 28th County of London Battalion at Wandsworth. His son, Harold, saw service in Western Europe and the Middle East.
Alfred died at his home, 69 Astonville Street, Southfields, London on 21st May 1953 after a short illness. He was 73. He was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery and fourteen years later, when it was reported that his grave was in a neglected state, the trustees of the Lancashire Fusiliers paid for a new headstone to be placed. His medals in addition to his VC were the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and the Meritorious Service Medal were auctioned twice since his death. They were purchased by the Ashcroft Trust and are displayed in the Imperial War Museum alongside two fellow VCs of the Gallipoli landings.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: PUTNEY VALE CEMETERY, LONDON.
Alfred Richards' medals including VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Richards' medals when loaned to the Fusiliers Museum, Bury in April 2015
Wandsworth Town Hall
War Illustrated, 18th September 1915
War Illustrated, 20th November 1915
Plymouth Hoe (Dawn Green)