21. Victoria Cross

Private James Cooper V.C. and Sergeant Albert Gill V.C.

The Church of England Cemetery (Warstone Lane)

As is quite well known, Warstone Lane is the proud resting place of an early recipient of the Victoria Cross which was made in 1867 to Private James Cooper who, with a party of others ‘gallantly’ assisted the rescue of a landing party from the ship “Assam Valley” who were missing on the Little Andaman Island. Sadly James Cooper’s resting place is in section P number 1428, a public grave which means a memorial is not allowed so a plaque has been placed at the rear of the former cemetery offices in Warstone Lane, close to the war memorial. James Cooper V.C. died 1882 in what was described at the time as "extreme poverty" and the following notice appeared in the Birmingham Daily Mail:


To the Editor of the Birmingham Daily Mail.

Sir, - A gallant soldier, who for distinguished bravery was awarded the Victoria Cross, has just died at Hockley, after a lingering illness there of two years, leaving a widow and three children, aged ten, five, and two years, utterly destitute. The poor fellow contracted the disease (consumption) whilst serving in India. Extreme poverty and anxiety soon completed the work.
I therefore venture, through you, to appeal to some of your generous and sympathising readers to assist the poor destitute widow and orphans; and I shall be glad to receive the smallest contribution in stamps or otherwise.

I am, sir, yours faithfully,

ARTHUR TINKLAR, Captain R.N., Governor of H.M. Prison,

H. M. Prison, Birmingham, November 16 1882

However, work on the transcription project has brought to light a reference to yet another holder of the Victoria Cross who (JQRG eBooks No 6), while not actually buried in the cemetery, is recorded along with members of his wider family in Section I. The memorial inscription reads:

In loving memory of my dear husband Harry GILL who died
December 8th 1947 aged 69.

Also brother Sergeant Albert Gill V.C., killed in action July 27th 1916.

Also son H A GILL died January 29th 1951 cremated aged 44.
Also Selina Sophia Gill who died April 28th 1920 aged 5.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission “Debt of Honour” website provides a few more details:

Sgt. Albert Gill 2815 1st Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps.

Son of Harry & Sophia Gill of Birmingham;
husband of Rosetta Gill (nee Smith).

Buried Delville Wood Cemetery, Longeval, France.

An extract from "The London Gazette" dated 24th Oct., 1916, sets out in detail the events which led to the award of the medal: -

"For most conspicuous bravery: The enemy made a very strong counter-attack on the right flank of the battalion, and rushed the bombing post after killing all the company bombers. Sergeant Gill at once rallied the remnants of his platoon, none of whom were skilled bombers, and reorganised his defences, a most difficult and dangerous task, the trench being very shallow and much damaged. Soon afterwards the enemy nearly surrounded his men by creeping up through the thick undergrowth, and commenced sniping at about twenty yards' range. Although it was almost certain death, Sergeant Gill stood boldly up in order to direct the fire of his men. He was killed almost at once, but not before he had shown his men where the enemy were, and thus enabled them to hold up their advance. By his supreme devotion to duty and self-sacrifice he saved a very dangerous situation.”

The memorial is easily located. It lies to the left (two rows in), of the vehicle entrance gate on Pitsford Street – off the path leading across the top of the catacombs to the former cemetery offices in Warstone Lane.

The medal itself can also be seen. It forms part of the magnificent collection of 164 Victoria Crosses in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at the Imperial War Museum in London.