Charles Wilcox GC (EM exchanger)

b. 11/05/1919 Birmingham. d. 04/04/2006 Birmingham.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 23/08/1949 Birmingham.

Charles Wilcox (1919-2006) was born on May 11th 1919 in Birmingham, and was educated at Osler Street School, Ladywood, and Raddleburn Road School, Selly Oak. His parents were Charles and Florence Wilcox (nee Dutton). His uncle, Lance-Corporal Alfred Wilcox, was awarded the Victoria Cross while serving with 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry near Laventie, France, in September 1918.

Charles Wilcox GC

After leaving school, Charles was employed as a painter and decorator by Birmingham Corporation. He continued in this position until the outbreak of war in 1939, when he enlisted with the 1st Battalion, South Staffordshire Regiment, as a private. In 1940-41 Wilcox saw service in Palestine, Egypt and the Western Desert. For six months he was seconded to an anti-aircraft detachment on merchant ships. Then, in February 1942, the battalion embarked for India, where it was trained for a long-range penetration role. In March 1944 the battalion was air-lifted into Burma for the second Chindit expedition as part of Brigadier Mike Calvert’s 77th Indian Infantry Brigade.

Charles Wilcox married on Christmas Eve 1945 to Edith Davies. They had two sons (Edward and Robert) and two daughters (Lorraine and Debbie); one son, Edward, died when he was aged 20 in an accident when he fell down a lift shaft.

Wilcox was demobilised in March 1946 and returned to his job with Birmingham Corporation. On August 23 1949 Wilcox, a 30-year-old painter employed by Birmingham Corporation, was engaged with other workmen in painting a council house building in the centre of the city. One of his workmates, Alfred Burrows, aged 21, mounted a ladder to begin painting an outside window on the third floor.

When he reached the top of the ladder, about 45 ft above the street, he climbed on to an arched sill, about 18 in wide, sited below the window. He then discovered that the window was bricked up on the inside, and that there was nothing he could catch hold of to keep his balance. He turned around to go back to the ladder, but was unable to see it. Becoming frightened, he crouched down, trying to keep his balance on the narrow ledge.

The foreman painter, seeing Burrows’s predicament, sent another painter to his assistance. This man, after supporting Burrows for a few minutes, returned to the ground. Charles Wilcox then climbed the ladder and, by kneeling on a flat piece of masonry some 18 inches square at the end of the arch, was able to support Burrows, who was by now suffering from severe shock. Wilcox remained in this position for 45 minutes until the Fire Brigade arrived; they strapped Burrows, who was by now unconscious, into a safety harness. A fireman then brought him to the ground.

Wilcox was originally awarded the Edward Medal, but this was later translated to the George Cross, in 1971. He was invested with the GC by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on March 20th 1973. He presented his Edward Medal to the City of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

From 1965 to 1980 he was employed as a car assembler with Austin at Longbridge, but had to give up work on medical grounds. After retiring in Birmingham, his interests were gardening, carpentry and restoring old clocks. A modest, thoughtful man, Wilcox played the electric organ and enjoyed karaoke. Charles died on 4th April 2006 in Birmingham, and was cremated at Lodge Hill Crematorium in Selly Oak. Charles’ medals are proudly held by the Wilcox family.