b. 02/10/1870 Liverpool. d. 25/08/1934 Kingsbridge, Devon.
Ernest Wright Alexander (1870-1934) was born at 4 Devonshire Road, Toxteth Park, Liverpool on 2nd October 1870. His father Robert, originally from Belfast, moved to Liverpool in the 1850s to become a shipbroker. He would set up his own business, Robert Alexander & Co, and named all his vessels after stately homes. In 1899, he would change the name to Hall Line, and sold it two years later for £434,000. His mother was Annie nee Gregg, and also hailed from Ireland. Ernest had four brothers and a sister.
Ernest was educated at Cherbourg House Preparatory School at Malvern 1876-1881, privately at home 1881-1884 and at Harrow 1884-1887, where he was a member of the Rifle Corps. He entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich in January 1888 and was commissioned the following year. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1892, and then served in India until 1900 with the 60th Battery at Barrackpore. He was promoted to Captain in 1899.
On 1st September 1903, he married Rose Newcome at her family home at Aldershot Manor. Her father was Major Henry George Newcome, Royal Artillery, who had served in Egypt in 1882 and was in the HM Bodyguard to the Royal Family. She was a first cousin once removed to Ross Lewis Mangles VC.
Ernest and Rose went on to have four children, Annie and Robert born in India in 1904 and 1905 respectively, George William born in Ireland in 1911 (sadly died in 1914) and Mary, born in 1918 in Hampshire. The family returned to India, where he served with the 79th Battery at Cawnpore, Barrackpore and Umballa from 1903-1906. He was promoted to Major in 1906 and then served in Seaforth, Lancashire. He was then given command of 119th Battery, XXVII Brigade RFA at Ballincollig, County Cork in 1911, and the family lived near the Curragh.
He embarked from Dublin with his battery on 4th August 1914 and disembarked in France on 20th August 1914, and just four days later would be involved in the incident which led to the Victoria Cross.
On 24th August 1914, the order was given to withdraw from the Mons-Conde Canal, and 119th Battery RFA, 1st Cheshire and 1st Norfolk were to occupy high ground west of Elouges. Major Alexander, commanding the 119th Battery, got his men into a hollow while he sought permission to withdraw. He returned with the authority to pull back, but due to the close proximity of the enemy, it was not possible to use horse teams in the hollow. The only option was to run the guns back into cover by hand. Alexander led the men under heavy fire over 300 metres of open ground to manhandle the guns into cover of the embankment. Only one wagon and a limber was lost, but 119th Battery suffered 46 casualties including ten killed, and lost 43 horses.
Alexander’s VC was gazetted on 18th February 1915, and he received the medal from King George V at Buckingham Palace on 12th July 1915. He was then appointed Commander of XXII Brigade RFA in the 7th Division and promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on 30th October 1914. He rose through the ranks during the rest of the War, finishing as Temporary Major General. He received the Companion of Bath in 1919, the Croix de Guerre, Cavalier of the Military Order of Savoy 5th Class, and Grand Officer of the Military Order of Aviz 2nd Class for his service. He was also mentioned in despatches ten times.
At the end of the War, he reverted to Lieutenant Colonel on 24th March 1919. He was promoted to Colonel two months later, and was appointed to command Royal Artillery 2nd Division, Southern Area, Aldershot Command. His wife, Rose, was also appointed OBE for her work as Chairman and Honorary Organiser of the Aldershot War Hospital Supply Depot. He retired on 1st October 1920 as Honorary Major General and settled at Horswell House, South Milton, Kingsbridge, Devon where he employed three men on the estate who served with him at Elouges. He became a JP in 1922, and was appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Devon in 1931.
He died following an operation at The South Hams Hospital, Kingsbridge on 25th August 1934. He was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium and his ashes were placed in the family grave at Putney Vale Cemetery. In addition to his VC and decorations already mentioned, he received the 1914 Star with Mons clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf and the King Edward VII Coronation Medal of 1902. His medals passed to his son Robert with the understanding they would be given to the Royal Artillery in his will. This did not happen and on Robert’s death someone outside the family claimed the medals were promised to them. The claim failed legally and the medals were sold to an unknown buyer. In February 1999, they were sold at Dix Noonan and Webb for £92,000 and purchased by the Ashcroft Trust, and displayed at the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL:LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: PUTNEY VALE CREMATORIUM, SOUTH WEST LONDON.
Ernest Wright Alexander's medal collection including VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London. (Aug 2014).
Ernest Alexander VC's commemorative paving stone laid in Liverpool in August 2014).
A portrait of Ernest Alexander in the Royal Artillery Museum (Jan 2015)
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
SECTION AB, GRAVE 149 (ASHES INTERRED)
Wandsworth Town Hall
RA Chapel, Woolwich
Abercromby Square, Liverpool
Toxteth Park, Liverpool (Brian Drummond)