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VC for sale at Spink

Posted on Fri, 1 July 2005 by Phil Mussell - Medal News

On 21 July 2005, Spink will offer a Victoria Cross Medal Group awarded to Sergeant Alfred Joseph Richards which is expected to fetch in excess of £150,000. One of the famous “six VC’s before breakfast,” won by the Lancashire Fusiliers for the landings on W Beach on the Turkish Peninsula of Gallipoli, the Cross reflects a great story of bravery during a campaign that was ill-fated from the start.

Sergeant Richards, along with the 1,028 Lancashire Fusiliers, approached the shores of the Gallipoli Peninsula just before 4am on 25th April, 1915. One-thousand defending Turks were aware of the approaching boats and had strict orders not to open fire until the enemy was 100 metres away, therefore displaying none of their defence plans. The trenches and wire on the beach temporarily sat unscathed and the waters around the beaches remained calm and smooth.

Just before the first boat grounded, the shooting from the hills began. The wire captured many men who would never escape from its embrace. A brutal battle commenced and the hail of fire from the Turkish position inflicted over 500 casualties of the 950 officers and men. A few survivors, including Sergeant Richards, managed to overcome the wires and machine guns to secure the beach for further landings.

The troops that followed the Lancashire Fusiliers were shocked at the sight of dead and severely wounded bodies strung along the wires and sandy beaches upon the shore. One Army Chaplain recorded “One hundred corpses lay in rows in the sand, some of them so badly mauled as to be beyond recognition. All over the strip of sand, and on ledges of rock, wherever any cover could be got, men lay about wounded, cut, bleeding and dying.”

A month after sustaining his horrendous wounds on the peninsula, surgeons in Egypt amputated Richards’ right leg above the knee. Evacuated to England, he was discharged from the Army on 31 July 1915. He had served twenty years and six days with the Colours, all of that time with the Lancashire Fusiliers, and had been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.

He was living at the Princess Christian Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Home in Woking when he first received news that he was to receive a Victoria Cross. Of his award he said, “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. I don’t know how the vote was taken, but had it been a comrade selected instead of myself I should feel just as proud.”

Sergeant Richards was born on 21 June 1879, into a military family; his father had served twenty-one years with the 2nd Battalion, rising to the rank of Colour Sergeant. On 6 July 1895, he followed his father’s lead and joined the Lancashire Fusiliers as a Band Boy. He served with 1st Battalion in Ireland and was soon appointed a full Drummer. He reserved in England, Egypt, Crete and Gibraltar. During these years Richards 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, Richards, at the end of his period of engagement, took his discharge. He was still a Lance Corporal. Two months later he re-enlisted and was sent with a draft back to his old battalion, then stationed in India. He remained there, serving at a variety of Army stations, until the outbreak of war. By then he was a Sergeant serving in C Company, and it was with this company that he set sail with the HMS Euryalus for the landing on W Beach.

Alfred Richards died at home on 21 May 1953, after a short illness. He was seventy-three.