During World War One Sefton’s citizens flocked to help the war effort, the borough’s young men joined the armed forces and bravely went off to fight on land, at sea, and in the air.

The newspapers of the day record that there were many individual acts of gallantry in the face of the enemy, resulting in a plethora of Military Medal and Military Cross awards.

However, seven men, each with strong Sefton links, were awarded this country’s highest decoration for ‘outstanding valour in the face of the enemy’ – the Victoria Cross. These men were Captain Eric Bell, Private Arthur Proctor, Major Alexander Lafone, Lieutenant Gabriel Coury, Lance-Sergeant Arthur Evans, Captain Harold Ackroyd and Private Richard Masters. Here we highlight their stories.

Captain Eric Norman Frankland Bell VC

Before World War One, Eric Norman Frankland Bell lived with his parents in Seaforth and then at 22 University Road, Bootle. He attended St Margaret’s School, the Liverpool Institute, and then the School of Architecture at Liverpool University where he worked as an office boy.

In September 1914 Eric was commissioned into the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, later transferring to the Ulster Division. In October 1915 he travelled with his unit to France, there becoming commander of a mortar battery.

Captain Bell was awarded his VC for gallantry and supreme courage, when on three occasions on July 1st 1916 he bravely helped trench bombing parties to advance, throwing bombs among the enemy and when he had no more, coolly using a rifle to great effect on the enemy.

Sadly, he was killed shortly afterwards before receiving his medal, while rallying and re-organising leaderless infantry.

Captain Bell is commemorated on several Bootle and Seaforth memorials, including Christ Church C of E, Bedford Road School, and St Thomas Church of England School.

Private Arthur Herbert Proctor VC

Arthur Herbert Procter was born in Church Street, Bootle, in 1890. Arthur was educated at St Mary’s Church of England Primary School.

As a young boy he went to live with relatives in Exeter, returning to Merseyside as a young man. He became a clerk with Wilson Brothers and Company, fruit wholesalers. In his spare time Arthur attended bible class at his church, and taught children Scripture at the Sunday School.

In November 1914 Arthur enlisted in the 1/5th Battalion, the King’s Liverpool Regiment. On 4th June 1916 near Ficheux, France, Private Procter was recommended for the Victoria Cross. His citation for the award stated that he noticed two wounded men moving; they were lying in ‘no man’s land’, approximately 75 yards in front of the trenches. Under fire, he at once went to the aid of the soldiers, got them into cover, dressed their wounds and promised that they would be rescued after dark. He then left them with warm clothing and returned to the British trenches. The men were rescued as light was failing.

Arthur received his VC from King George V in France. On his return to Liverpool, Proctor had a hero’s welcome and was given a gold watch, a cheque for a hundred guineas, and a £100 4% War Loan voucher. Arthur was ordained in 1927 and in World War Two he served as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force. After the war he served as vicar in several parishes including St Peters Church in Claybrook, Leicester. He finally moved to Sheffield where he died in January 1973 aged 82.

Major Alexander Lafone VC

Alexander Lafone was born at Crosby Road South, and lived there until he was four years old, when his family moved to London. He attended Dulwich College, where he excelled at athletics. Alexander graduated from the College in 1889 and then studied for two years at the Electrical Engineering Institute.

After working in several technical roles, in 1899 Lafone joined the newly formed Imperial Yeomanry as a private, and was promoted to sergeant prior to leaving to fight in the Boer War in 1900.

He then went on to fight in World War One, serving with the County of London Middlesex Yeomanry, and was awarded the Victoria Cross for his courage on 27th October 1917 at the Battle of El Buggar Ridge in Palestine.

His citation from the London Gazette reads:

“Major Alexander Malius Lafone, late Imperial Yeomanry. For most conspicuous bravery, leadership and self-sacrifice. For holding a position for over seven hours against vastly superior enemy forces. When all his men, with the exception of three, had been hit and the trench which he was holding was so full of wounded that it was difficult to move and fire, he ordered those who could walk to move to a rear trench, and from his own position maintained a most heroic resistance.

When finally surrounded and charged by the enemy, he stepped into the open and continued the fight until he was mortally wounded. His cheerfulness and courage were a splendid inspiration to his men”.

Lieutenant Gabriel Coury VC

2nd Lieutenant (later Captain) Gabriel Coury was born in Liverpool in 1896 to immigrant parents, middle-class citizens of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Gabriel lived as a boy in Waterloo Park off Haigh Road, in Crosby, was educated at Stonyhurst College, and after graduating, gained an apprenticeship in the cotton industry in Liverpool. By then, Gabriel and his family were living at 22 The Esplanade, Waterloo. When the First World War broke out, he enlisted as a private in the 6th Battalion Kings Liverpool Regiment and became a Lieutenant in 1915.

Gabriel then transferred to the 1/4th Battalion, South Lancashire Regiment, a Pioneer unit. Coury was awarded his Victoria Cross for his actions on 8th August 1916 whilst serving in France at Arrow Head Copse.

Lieutenant Coury’s citation reads:

“During an advance, he was in command of two platoons ordered to dig a communication trench from the firing line to the position won. By his fine example and utter contempt of danger he kept up the spirits of his men and completed his task under intense fire. Later, after his battalion had suffered severe casualties and the Commanding Officer had been wounded, he went out in front of the advanced position in broad daylight and in full view of the enemy found his Commanding Officer, and brought him back to the new advanced trench over ground swept by machine-gun fire.”

After this Gabriel transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. Injured in a bad crash, he returned to flying duties, but then nearly died of influenza in 1919. After demobilization, he returned to live at Merton Grove in Bootle, and then Southport. He served his country again, in the army during World War Two.

Post-war, the ever-cheerful and popular Gabriel founded and developed a successful chip-shop business in Liverpool. He died in February 1956 and is buried in St Peter and Paul churchyard in Crosby.

Lance-Sergeant Arthur Evans VC DCM

Arthur Evans was born in Seaforth on 8th April 1891, and attended St Thomas Church of England School there. He joined the 1st Battalion of the Kings Liverpool Regiment in 1914, later transferring to the 6th Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, under the alias of Walter Simpson.

Arthur (Walter, as he was known at the time) was awarded the Victoria Cross, for Gallantry on 2nd September 1918. South-West of Etaing in France, a patrol spotted a German machine gun across the river. Lance-Sergeant Simpson swam across through deep water and attacked the gun crew, shooting the sentry and another soldier, and forcing four others to surrender.

Following this, a British officer and another soldier also crossed the river. This was spotted by the enemy who directed heavy rifle and machine gun fire onto them, wounding the officer. Lance-Sergeant Simpson then covered the withdrawal of the wounded officer under continuing heavy fire.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross, which was presented by King George V at Buckingham Palace.

Arthur survived the war and emigrated to Australia, joining the Australian Tank Corps. He died in Sydney on 1st November 1936, aged just 45.

Captain Harold Ackroyd VC MC

Harold Ackroyd was born in Southport in 1877, the son of a successful wool merchant. He qualified as a doctor and after war was declared in 1914, Harold joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and was attached to the Royal Berkshire Regiment, embarking for France with them in 1915.

In July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, the regiment was involved with the taking of Delvill Wood . Harold was kept very busy, tending casualties, (including German soldiers), and bringing in wounded men, under continuous sniping and machine gun fire. For his actions, Ackroyd was awarded a Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.

Between July 31 and August 1st 1917, at Passchendaele, Captain Ackroyd again came to the fore, working continuously in the open under very heavy fire, calmly tending the wounded and saving the lives of officers and men. When the battle was over, he received twenty-three nominations for the Victoria Cross. Sadly Harold Ackroyd was killed eleven days later, the victim of a sniper.

On 6th September 1917 the award of the Victoria Cross was announced in the London Gazette.

Captain Harold Ackroyd VC MC is buried at Birr Cross Roads Cemetery near the Menin Gate.

Private Richard George Masters VC

Richard George Masters was born in Southport on March 30th 1877, and before joining the army, worked as a chauffeur. Masters was 41 when he was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1918.

On 9th April 1918, near Bethune in France, a German attack cut the communication lines, meaning that wounded soldiers could not be evacuated. Private Masters, an army ambulance driver attached to the 141st Ambulance, volunteered to try and help, and went forward to an advanced dressing station. After clearing the road of battle debris, he succeeded in driving his vehicle, journey after journey, to carry the injured soldiers back to safety. The journeys Private Masters made were very dangerous as the area was being shelled and the road swept by machine-gun fire; at one stage his ambulance was bombed by a German aircraft.

Masters became Life President of the Southport Branch of the Royal Army Service Corps, and died on 4th April 1963 at the age of 86. He was buried at St Cuthbert’s parish church in Churchtown, Southport.

On 7th May 2009, the Duke of Gloucester opened the RG Masters VC Territorial Army and Volunteer Reserve Centre at Bootle.

Introduced 1856 by Queen Victoria, The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest award of the United Kingdom honours system. It is awarded for gallantry “in the presence of the enemy” to members of the British armed forces.