b. 30/09/1828 Glasgow, Scotland. d. 08/01/1897 Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.
John Simpson Knox (1828-1897) was born in King Street, Calton, Glasgow, Scotland on 30th September 1828. He was a member of a yeoman family, and his father (also called John) was a military man serving in the 90th Light Infantry from 1794-1802, when he joined the 28th, a Stirlingshire Regiment of Militia and served for over 11 years before being discharged in 1814. He married twice, with John junior being a child of the second marriage.
Sadly, John Simpson Knox’s childhood was not a happy one, and at the age of 14 and half, he ran away from home, and enlisted in Glasgow with the Scots Fusilier Guards, passing through the inspection due to being very tall for his age. He was quickly through the ranks from Corporal, Drill Corporal, Acting Sergeant and finally Drill Sergeant by July 1853.
The Crimean War broke out the following year, and British and French forces landed on the peninsula on 14th September 1854. On 19th September the combined forces moved towards Sebastopol and on the following day, the first major battle of the War took place at Alma.
It was during this battle that Knox was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation for the Victoria Cross includes two actions. At the Battle of Alma, Sergeant Knox was conspicuous in his exertions in reforming the ranks of Guards. The second action mentioned in his citation occurred the following year, after Knox had transferred into the Rifle Brigade and was promoted to Lieutenant. On the 18th June 1855, he volunteered to lead a ladder party in the unsuccessful attack on the Redan. Knox describes what happened in his own words…”my rifle was aimed at a Russian when I was struck in the left arm, the weapon falling to the ground, upon which Captain Foreman commented ‘you are wounded’. I replied ‘I fancy I am’. He offered me brandy, which I declined.” Foreman bound up Knox’s wound when some grapeshot hit and killed Foreman. Knox then decided to retire, and on his return, more grapeshot caught his broken arm and lodged in it. Knox continued on towards his trenches before collapsing from loss of blood. He again declined brandy when being stretchered to the medical tent, where his left arm was amputated under chloroform.
Knox was one of 62 servicemen who attended the first investiture of the Victoria Cross at Hyde Park on 26th June 1857. His action at Alma was the earliest for which a VC was awarded to a member of the British Army – earlier actions leading to the VC were performed by members of the Royal Navy. Despite the loss of his left arm, he remained in the Army, and was appointed Inspector of Musketry on 7th January 1858, and promoted to Captain in April 1858. He then became Inspector of Musketry at Gibraltar on 2nd February 1862.
On 30th July 1862, Knox was married at Holy Trinity Church, Winchester to Harriet Louisa Gale. The couple went on to have seven children: Lucy (who died as an infant), Harriet Margaret, Emily Louisa, John Abercromby (who died aged 11), Edith Mary, Gladys Fairfield, and Winifred. Sadly, Knox’s wife died on 4th January 1890 after nearly 28 years of marriage. In later life, Knox became a prison governor, first at Cardiff Prison in 1872, where he was a strict disciplinarian as in keeping with his military background. He later was Governor of Kirkdale Prison in Liverpool from 1886-91, and Hull Prison from 1891-92. Sadly, he was forced to retire from the Prison Service due to ill health and moved south to live in Cheltenham. He would live in retirement at 6 Oriel Terrace with some of his children. He died on 8th January 1897 at home aged 70, and was buried on 12th January at Cheltenham Cemetery. His medals were sold at Spink’s on 22nd April 2010 along with the cannonball which caused the loss of his left arm. A fellow soldier had picked it up on the battlefield and passed it on to him. They were sold for £252,000 and were purchased by the Lord Ashcroft Collection and the medals are displayed at the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: CHELTENHAM CEMETERY, CHELTENHAM, GLOUCESTERSHIRE.
SECTION N, GRAVE 17085
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
Thomas Stewart – Image of the Knox VC Medal Group at the Imperial War Museum, London.