Edward Brooks, like many recipients of Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, begun life with very humble beginnings, but war would thrust him into the public eye, even for a brief moment.
Born in Buckinghamshire in 1883, Edward Brooks was the sixth, out of thirteen children that his parents would go on to have. Initially following in his father’s footsteps to become a farm labourer, at the age of just thirteen he left for Reading, where he went to work in a biscuit factory.
After they discovered his real age, they had to keep him on unofficially and when he was sixteen, at the outbreak of the Boer War, he volunteered for military service, for which he was turned down. It was in 1902, just short of his 19th birthday that Brooks once again applied to join the British Army, this time being successful. Initially in the 1st Battalion, Grenadier guards, he would transfer to the 3rd Battalion by the end of 1902. According to family records, Brooks would stand guard outside Buckingham Palace for the next three years of his service.
After three years of military life, Brooks was then transfered to the Army Reserve in January, 1905, being discharged completely in January 1914.
At the outbreak of the Great War, Brooks was working as a labourer in the building industry, but had not lost the military aspect that had been a part of his earlier life. He had remained a part of the local shooting club, winning many awards for his marksmanship. It was here that he began drilling and teaching some of the younger members in preparation for their military service.
Although he was married and, at the time, had three children, Brooks volunteered to serve once again in the British Army. He joined the 2/4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Regiment in October 1914, and was subsequently promoted to Sergeant and then Company Sergeant Major in May 1915 and July 1916, respectively.
It was in April 1917, when taking part in a raid on German trenches that Edward Brooks would be recommended for Britain’s highest military honour, the VC. While waiting in the trenches as part of the second wave of attack, Brooks saw that a number of his comrades were pinned down by German machine gun fire.
Seeing this, Brooks left the second wave and charged forwards, with the sole intention of reaching the machine gun. This he did, and arriving there, killed one member of the machine gun team with his revolver, and another with his bayonet. It was at this point that the rest of the team retreated, with Brooks turning the gun around, and firing upon them. After this piece of action, Brooks then carried the weapon back to British lines.
This piece of bravery, according to his VC notice, “undoubtedly prevented many casualties and greatly added to the success of the operations.”
Brooks received his Victoria Cross from the King on 18th July and after a few days leave, which consisted mainly of receptions and speeches, he left to return to the front on 22nd July.
In December 1917, Brooks was admitted to hospital on account of Rheumatism, thought to have been contracted while in France, this hindered him in his military career, and eventually led to him being discharged in 1919.
Company Sergeant Major Edward Brooks, VC, died at home in June 1944. In 2017, 100 years since Brooks’ VC winning actions, several plaques were revealed around Oakely, his home town, commemorating his life and his actions.
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