b. 16/02/1893 Norwich, Norfolk. d. 02/01/1972 Leeds, Yorkshire.
Wilfrid Claude Edwards (1893-1972) was born at 76 Vauxhall Street, Heigham, near Norwich, Norfolk on 16th February 1893 as Wilfrid Claude Fox. His father, Charles Edward Fox was a tailor’s improver, boarding with Arthur Taylor at Arborfield Street, Wokingham, Berkshire by 1891. By 1893 he was a master tailor. Charles married Kate Mary Kelter, a tailoress in January 1892, at St Clement’s Chapel, Norwich. Charles and Kate had five children, but two did not survive infancy and as a result Wilfrid was left with two sisters: Kate Louisa and Amy Lilian.
By 1901, Kate was living in Leeds, West Yorkshire with her children, but not her husband, and her surname was now Edwards. In 1911, her name had reverted to Fox and she was a housekeeper. It is believed Charles ran into financial problems, changed his surname to Edwards and moved to Tunbridge Wells, Kent without his family to start a new business. By the 1911 Census, he was living in Keighley, Yorkshire with his “wife” Clarice and two sons. He would marry Clarice in 1917, stating he was a widower. He and Clarice had four children in total.
Wilfrid was educated at Park Lane Council School, Leeds. He was employed as a tailor and from the summer of 1914 as a miner at Waterloo Main Colliery, Leeds. He enlisted on 4th September 1914 and carried out basic training at Albuhera Barracks, Aldershot. He went to France on 26th August 1915, was wounded in October and was evacuated to Hoddesdon Military Hospital, Rose Hill, Hertfordshire. Having returned to the front in February 1916, he was wounded again in July and sent to convalesce in Colchester, Essex. He rejoined his unit in January 1917.
On 16th August 1917 at Langemarck, Belgium, Private Edwards, without hesitation and under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from a strong concrete fort, dashed forward at great personal risk, bombed through the loopholes, surmounted the fort and waved to his company to advance. Three officers and 30 other ranks were taken prisoner by him in the fort. Later he did most valuable work as a runner and eventually guided most of the battalion out through very difficult ground.
He received a card from his Commanding Officer congratulating him on his “fine behaviour” but he wrote to his wife in frustration: “Men in my battalion keep getting honours, but I have not heard a word about mine.” His wife was besieged by reporters following the announcement of his VC, but insisted she knew no details of his action. The VC was presented to him by King George V in the forecourt of Buckingham Palace on 26th September 1917. He was nervous about meeting the King, and forgot to salute, which caused the King some amusement. On 10th October 1917, he received a hero’s welcome in Victoria Square, Leeds and was handed a cheque for £200 raised by public subscription. He was also given a silver watch by his old school.
Wilfrid returned to Britain in December 1917 for officer training and was entertained at the Town Hall, Leeds with Private William Boynton Butler VC. He was commissioned into 4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry on 31st July 1918, but relinquished his commission on 17th June 1919 due to ill health caused by war wounds. He married Belinda Timlin at Mount St Mary’s Church, Leeds on 20th February 1915. She was a press feeder in a printing firm and a munitions worker during the war. Due to his war wounds, Wilfrid was unable to have children, and he and Belinda adopted two daughters – Winifred Joan (born 1922, adopted 1927), and Valerie Blodwen (born 1926, adopted 1936).
After the war, Wilfrid returned to mining, although assessed as 60% disabled. He then worked for Leeds Gas Department showrooms in Leeds, as did William Butler VC. On 16th November 1929 he attended the funeral of John Raynes VC with ten other Yorkshire VCs. Wilfrid was granted a Regular Army Emergency Commission in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps as a Lieutenant on 2nd January 1941. He was promoted to Temporary Captain in 1944. Immediately after the war he ran a Ford factory in Germany and after demobilisation he worked for a firm of accountants and later at David Brown’s factory at Farsley, near Pudsey, Yorkshire. He was granted the Freedom of Leeds in 1950.
Wilfrid died at St James’ Hospital, Leeds on 2nd January 1972, the last surviving KOYLI VC. He was buried in Upper and Lower Wortley Cemetery, Leeds. In addition to his VC, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, George VI Coronation Medal 1937 and Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953. In his will he left the VC to York Castle Museum, but the other medals are on loan to the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Museum, Doncaster.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: YORK CASTLE MUSEUM, YORK.
BURIAL PLACE: UPPER AND LOWER WORTLEY CEMETERY, LEEDS, YORKSHIRE.
SECTION M GRAVE 42
War Illustrated, 6th October 1917
War Illustrated, 6th October 1917
VC Memorial Stone unveiled on 26th August 2017 (Phil Curme)
KOYLI Museum, Doncaster (Terry Hissey)