b. 31/05/1889 Paulton, Somerset. d. 25/10/1940 Windsor, Berkshire.
Oliver Brooks (1889-1940) was born at Paulton, near Midsomer Norton, Somerset on 31st May 1889. His father was Joseph Henry Brooks, a butcher with his own shop, who later became a pit labourer. His mother was Mercy Jane nee Snelling, and they married in 1874 in Clutton. They had seven children, including Oliver. Oliver was the youngest of the children.
Oliver was educated at Midsomer Norton Church of England Infant and Primary Schools and was then employed at Norton Hill Colliery (where his father worked) as a carting boy. He enlisted at Bath on 17th April 1906, just short of his 17th birthday, though he added two years to his age. He trained at Caterham and served at Victoria Barracks, Windsor. In December 1906 he extended his service to complete seven years. In June 1907, he was posted to the Depot. During his service he had numerous health issues and was in hospital for nine days with inflamed glands, thirteen days with tonsillitis and fifteen days with cowpox. He was transferred to the 1st Class Army Reserve on 17th April 1913.
Oliver returned to the mines for a while and then became manager of the Palladium Theatre in Peasedown, near his home. On 7th August 1914, he was recalled and went to France on 12th August on the Union Castle Mail Steamship Company’s SS Cawdor Castle. He was swiftly promoted to Lance Corporal, Corporal and finally Lance Sergeant by July 1915.
On 8th October 1915 near Loos, France, Lance-Sergeant Brooks led a party of bombers against the enemy who had captured 200 yards of Allied trenches. The regaining of this lost ground was entirely due to the bravery and presence of mind of this NCO who accomplished his task in the midst of a hail of bombs from the enemy.
Just prior to his gazetting for the VC on 28th October 1915, he was promoted to Sergeant. On the same day as he was gazetted, the King, whilst reviewing troops of I Corps at Hesdigneul on a chestnut mare lent by General Sir Douglas Haig. The horse, frightened by sudden cheering, reared, dismounted the King and landed on him. He suffered a fractured pelvis and other injuries and was taken to Chateau de la Jumelle, Aire-sur-la-Lys before boarding a hospital train for the journey back to England. The King wanted to decorate him in person before leaving. Brooks summoned to the hospital train at Aire Station on 1st November, accompanied by the CO. A private investiture was held at the King’s bedside. The King was in considerable pain and needed assistance to push the VC pin though Brooks’ tunic.
Oliver became a bombing instructor at the Guards Division HQ in France, where he trained the Prince of Wales in the use of grenades. He was wounded in the head and left shoulder at Ginchy on 15th September 1916 in the same action that his CO, Lieutenant Colonel John Vaughan Campbell, earned the VC. Oliver was evacuated to England and spent three months in the King George Hospital, London. He never returned to France because of his injuries and spent the rest of the war at Victoria Barracks, Windsor and as a bombing instructor at Aldershot. He was discharged on 27th February 1919 and remained on the Reserve until 31st March 1920.
Oliver married Marion nee Loveday on 17th August 1918 at the parish church in Aldbourne, Wiltshire. They lived at 17 Alexandra Road, Windsor and they had four children. Oliver was a member of the VC Guard at the interment of the Unknown Warrior on 11th November 1920. He became a doorman at the White Hart Hotel (now Harte and Garter Hotel) in Windsor and later at the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London. On 31st October 1929, he carried the wreath laid by Field Marshal Lord Plumer, at its commemoration ceremony at the Cenotaph. He was present with Michael O’Leary VC at the Ypres Day Service at Horse Guards Parade on 30th October 1933.
Oliver died of neoplasm of the mediastinium (a tumour in the chest) at Windsor, Berkshire on 25th October 1940 and is buried in Windsor Borough Cemetery. In addition to the VC, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 and George VI Coronation Medal 1937. The VC is owned by the Coldstream Guards at the Guards Museum in Welllington Barracks, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: COLDSTREAM GUARDS RHQ, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: WINDSOR BOROUGH CEMETERY, WINDSOR, BERKSHIRE.
SECTION GN, GRAVE 352
Kevin Brazier – Brooks VC Grave and Cemetery Map images.
Thomas Stewart – Medal Group at the Guards Museum, London.