b. 19/04/1911 Warrington, Cheshire. d. 19/05/1941 Mediterranean Sea.
Alfred Edward Sephton (1911-1941) was born on 19th April 1911 at 30 Collier Street, Warrington, Lancashire (now Cheshire), the son of Alfred Joseph Sephton (1875-1948), a general blacksmith, and his wife Annie (nee Ryder), who hailed from Sandbach, Cheshire. Alfred was one of six children in all, with sisters Eva, Fanny, Annie Lomas and Norha and a brother, Gilbert. Within a year of Alfred’s birth, the family had moved south to Wolverhampton, Staffordshire. Alfred attended Dudley Road Council School.
Sephton always had a fascination with sailing and his sister recalled many hours as children when she would take him to West Park in Wolverhampton to see the boats on the lake. A member of the choir at Wolverhampton’s St John’s Church, he was eventually to sign up with the Royal Navy in 1927 as a Boy. He was rated as a Petty Officer on 1st May 1939 and was a diver, footballer, a well-liked and respected shipmate, and a very competent and conscientious rating.
It was as a 30-year-old Petty Officer serving on the HMS Coventry that Sephton showed the gallantry that would secure his place in history. On May 17th 1941, the Coventry was patrolling with another cruiser, the Pheobe, when an SOS was received from a hospital ship called Aba and a large group of bombers attacked all three ships. The Coventry sank, killing 67 men. During the attack a bullet passed through Sephton before hitting another man and, though bleeding heavily and partially blinded, he carried on his duties as director-layer until he collapsed on deck, only to die from his wounds the next day. As in keeping with naval tradition, Alfred was buried at sea, off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt. He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
His posthumous VC was gazetted on 2nd December 1941, and was formally presented to his parents at Buckingham Palace by King George VI on 23rd June 1942. In 1971, Alfred’s sister presented the medal to Coventry Cathedral, where it was proudly displayed until 1990. Sadly, it was stolen from the display that year, and has yet to be discovered. An official replacement was issued to the family following the theft, but it was sold at Cuttlestone’s Auction House, Wolverhampton in November 2011 for £1,200 to a private buyer.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: STOLEN FROM COVENTRY CATHEDRAL IN 1990.
BURIAL PLACE: BODY LOST OR DESTROYED. PORTSMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL PANEL 46.
Thomas Stewart – Image of Sephton VC’s name on Portsmouth Naval Memorial.