The earliest action for which a VC was awarded to a member of the British Army



2015-06-26 12:02:23

The earliest action for which a VC was awarded to a member of the British Army

The life and awards of Major John Simpson Knox, V.C.

Born in Glasgow in 1828, Major John Simpson Knox, V.C., ran away from home at the age of 14 to enlist in the Scots Fusilier Guards in May 1843. While still under-age, he was promoted to Corporal in June of 1846.

His exceptional skill and determination saw him climb the ranks in quick succession: Sergeant in July 1851; Acting Sergeant-Major and Drill Sergeant in July 1853; and senior N.C.O. at the time of the Crimean War.

The British and French Governments sent Russia an ultimatum to evacuate the Danubian principalities or face war, on 27 February 1854. Marching from Buckingham Palace, the Scots Fusilier Guards marched to Portsmouth, while awaiting a reply from Russia.

A month passed with no reply, so the combined Allied Army, some 52,000 men, set sail for the Crimea on 7th September 1854. Knox recorded his experiences in a number of personal letters.

Portrait of John Knox Portrait of John Knox

Such personal accounts include his description of the Battle of Alma (20 September 1854). Knox was promoted to Colour Sergeant by the Commanding Officer before leaving for Alma on the 18th September. There was some confusion with the army formation, but Knox was able to support the other divisions and bring about order. Without loss, the Allied Army captured the battery.

Another account by Knox details the Battle of Inkermann (5th November 1854). The battle began with a pre-emptive strike by the enemy, who secured the Sandbag Battery and nearly overpowered the Second Division. The French and part of the Fourth Division finished the battle and losses on both sides were severe.

On 26th February 1856, Knox was recommended by Colonel E.W.J. Walker for Commission into the Rifle Brigade due to his valour displayed at Inkermann. His large silver cross belt plate with Battle Honours up to Waterloo, together with the silver whistle holder and chain are included in this collection.

Silver Cross Belt Plate with Battle of Honours up to Waterloo Silver Cross Belt Plate with Battle of Honours up to Waterloo

Commissioned as Ensign in the Rifle Brigade in March 1855, Knox's position was backdated to the Battle of Inkermann and he was further promoted to Lieutenant the following month.

The Attack on the Redan (18th June 1855) was the battle where he fatefully lost his arm to a cannon-fire. A cannon-ball, reputed to be that which injured Knox, forms part of this collection. It measures 53mm in diameter and is mounted on a marble plinth, engraved with the words "Crimea, Sebastopol, Redan, June 18 1855".

Canon-Ball on marble plinth Cannon-Ball on marble plinth

For his bravery at Redan, Knox was appointed Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour, 21st June 1856. A medal commemorating this appointment is also included in this collection. Measuring 63mm in diameter including crown suspension x 40mm, the medal is made from silver, gold and enamel (with some damage to the enamel). A contemporary gilt top riband suspension buckle is attached.

The Victoria Crosses awarded for the Battle of Alma werethe first to be awarded to the British Army. Just six were awarded, four to the Scots Fusilier Guards(including Knox) and two to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

After the Crimean War, Knox served as Instructor of Musketry at Gibraltar and, later, at Portsmouth. He married Miss Louisa Harriet Gale in 1862, who bore him seven children. Knox retired from the army in 1872 to become Governor of Cardiff Gaol, then Kirkdale Gaol in Liverpool.

Knox retired from the Prison Service in April 1892. He died at home 8th January 1897 and was buried in Cheltenham Cemetery.

Crimean War Victoria Cross Group Crimean War Victoria Cross Group

Other items included in the collection are:

Crimea Medal (1854-56), four clasps, Alma, Balaklava, Inkermann, Sebastopol (colr. Sert. John S. Knox. Scots Fusr. Gds.), contemporarily engraved in large serif capitals.

Turkish Crimea Medal, British die, with contemporary silver loop and ring suspension, unnamed as issued, with original narrow riband and contemporary silver top riband suspension buckle (some contact marks).

Two glazed, framed, photograph portraits. One portrait of Knox in uniform, wearing miniature medals. One portrait of Knox's wife.

Knox's Rifle Brigade cap badge.

Knox's father's silver-topped cane, engraved "John Knox. Born 17th Nov: 1772. Died 8th Feb: 1842. Glasgow".


For further information please email or telephone +44 (0) 117 933 9500

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