The Victoria Cross was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War. Today it’s the highest military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces of the United Kingdom, Commonwealth and former territories of the British Empire for courage ‘in the face of the enemy’.
During the First World War four men hailing from Plymouth and Devonport received the Victoria Cross. One of these was Sergeant Alfred Joseph Richards.
Alfred was born into a military family at Plymouth’s garrison hospital on 21 June 1879 to Charles and Bridget Richards.
During the First World War he served in the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and was one of six members of the Regiment to be elected for the Victoria Cross.
The award reflected their extreme bravery when they supported an attack on enemy machine gun positions during a hard-won beach landing west of Cape Helles, Gallipoli, Turkey on 25 April 1915.
The Allies approached the Gallipoli shores just before 4am, unaware that around 1,000 Turkish soldiers were waiting for them. The Turks had been given strict instructions not to open fire until the Allies were 100 metres away so all seemed calm. Then, just as the first boat grounded the shooting began. Barbed wire on the beach entrapped many of the men as the Turkish bullets rained down.
A few survivors, including Alfred were able to overcome the wires and guns and went on to secure the beach for further landings. Due to the time of day when the battle took place they became known as ‘the six VCs before breakfast’.
Alfred was wounded during the action. A month after the attack he sadly had to have his right leg amputated above the knee. He was discharged from the Army on 31 July 1915 but went on to serve in the Home Guard as a Provost Sergeant during the Second World War.
In 1916 he married Dora Coombs, a nurse who had been treating him. They settled in Wandsworth, London and had a son called Harold. Alfred passed away on 21 May 1953. He and Dora are buried in Putney Vale Cemetery, London. A street named ‘Richards Way’ in the same part of London is named after him.
We unveiled a commemorative paving slab dedicated to Alfred in June 2015. The slab is located near the Plymouth War Memorial, at the junction of Citadel Road and Lockyer Street on the Hoe.
The slab is part of a national initiative from the Department for Communities and Local Government to honour Victoria Cross recipients from the First World War. Between now and late 2018 commemorative paving stones will be laid in the birth places of all those who were awarded the Victoria Cross during the conflict.
We will unveil three more slabs in memory of John James Crowe, Brigadier General George Grogan and Sir Arnold Horace Santo Waters in 2018.
Find out more about how the Victoria Cross was instigated plus the location of graves, medals and more on the Victoria Cross website.
Find out what the government is doing during the WWI Centenary between 2014 and 2018 to honour our Victoria Cross heroes on the GOV.UK website.