Photograph of Alexander in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR1/23/13
(L to R) Distinguished Service Order; Queen's South Africa Medal with clasps 'Cape Colony', 'Orange Free State', 'Transvaal'; King's South Africa Medal with clasps 'South Africa 1901', 'South Africa 1902'; 1914 Star with clasp '5th Aug.-22nd Nov. 1914'; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal; Special Constabulary Long Service Medal
Alexander was born between April and June 1876 in Brentford, west London, and baptised on the 20th August. His father was called Henry Robert and his mother was Gertrude P. C. Alexander had 4 older siblings: Gertrude, Constance, Montague and Francis Leighton; and 2 younger: Kenneth and Robert.
Henry worked as a clerk for the Admiralty, the Government department responsible for the Royal Navy. In 1881 the family lived at 235 High Street in Isleworth, west London. Ten years later they had moved to Wadsworth Villa on London Road in nearby Heston.
On the 8th December 1893 Alexander joined the Cape Mounted Rifles in what is now South Africa. His service number was 2536. We don't know whether he had been living in South Africa for a time before he enlisted. In peacetime this unit enforced the law in Cape Colony, but during conflict it acted as an army. Francis joined at the same time, his service number was 2535.
Alexander saw service during the Annexation of Pondoland in 1894, when the independent native Pondo Kingdom was brought under European rule. He also served in 1897 in what he referred to as the Le Pleut Rebellion. We don't know what this was. Both he and Francis had reached the rank of Corporal by 1899. Alexander had also leaned the Afrikaaner language spoken by Boer settlers.
The outbreak of the Boer War in October 1899 meant that British Army units began to arrive in South Africa, leaving the Cape Mounted Rifles to guard railways and other vulnerable points. Alexander applied to the Governor of Cape Colony to be recommended for a commission as an officer. The Governor agreed to nominate him, so he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment on the 5th January 1901. Francis went through the same process, and joined the South Staffordshire Regiment.
Alexander joined the 2nd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in mid June, along with Phillip Holberton, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection. He was promoted to Lieutenant on the 30th October 1901. Alexander served with the Mounted Infantry Company of the 2nd Battalion throughout the rest of the war, taking part in sweeps across the countryside aimed at restricting the movements of Boer fighters and preventing them from avoiding British forces. This strategy was eventually successful and the war ended on the 31st May 1902.
The 2nd Battalion set sail for the UK on the 27th September, and Alexander went with them, aboard the Kinfauns Castle. He would serve with them in the UK for the next 12 years.
On the 1st December 1903 Alexander was appointed Assistant Adjutant of the Battalion. The Adjutant was responsible for administration and discipline, as well managing the junior officers and being expected to assist the Commanding Officer with planning operations. He was assisting Phillip Holberton. After 3 years Phillip left the post and Alexander held it until December 1909.
During that year the 2nd Battalion had moved from England to Ireland. Alexander served with them in this country for 18 months before he was appointed Adjutant to the 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment on the 6th June 1911.
The 3rd Battalion was based at the Regimental Depot in Ashton-under-Lyne. It was a unit of the Special Reserve, made up of men who lived as civilians for most of the year and trained as soldiers annually for a short period. Alexander will have had the same responsibilities as with the 2nd Battalion, but his job will have been made more challenging by the battalion so rarely coming together.
Alexander was promoted to Captain on the 1st December 1912, and became engaged soon afterwards. He married Violet Muriel Smith on the 30th April 1913 in Churchdown, near Gloucester. He left the 3rd Battalion on the 5th June 1914 and returned to the 2nd, now at The Curragh Camp in Ireland.
The First World War broke out on the 4th August. The 2nd Battalion needed to be brought up to its full strength of around 1000 with Reservists and Special Reservists. Alexander was one of a number of officers sent to the Depot in Ashton to collect Reservists. He returned on the 8th August with 400 men. Around 680 Reservists were required in all.
Alexander was a member of C Company when he arrived in France on the 14th. He took part in the Battle of Le Cateau on the 26th, where around 350 members of the battalion were killed or wounded. After this the British Army was forced to retreat by the Germans. The retreat was ended by the Battle of the Marne, fought between the 5th and 12th September.
Casualties amongst the 30 officers of the battalion had been very high. Alexander was the only Captain still with them by the 9th. On this day Alexander was severely wounded. After being left on the battlefield all night he was recovered and taken to hospital.
We don't know what Alexander did between then and the 20th December 1915, when he was given a special appointment. We don't know anything about what he did, but the job did not last for long.
Alexander was promoted to Major on the 5th January 1916 and given the job of Brigade Major 2 weeks later. A Brigade Major was a staff officer based in a Brigade Headquarters, one step above a battalion. He was responsible for planning operations and organizing the units within the brigade. We don't know which brigade he served with at first.
On the 23rd January 1917 Alexander was assigned to the 173rd (3/1st London) Brigade, part of the 58th (2/1st London) Division. This unit had just arrived in France, so many of its soldiers will not have seen combat. Experienced officers such as Alexander will have been of vital importance.
Alexander served as Brigade Major during the fighting around the Hindenburg Line and at Bullecourt. On the 14th May he was promoted to Temporary Lieutenant Colonel and took command of the 2/6th (City of London) Battalion (Rifles) of the London Regiment. They were part of the 174th (2/2nd London) Brigade, but in the same Division, so Alexander may have known some of its officers and soldiers. They fought in the Passchendaele Offensive around Ypres in Belgium during this period. At some point during August or September Alexander led his battalion with such skill that he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. His citation was published in the London Gazette on the 27th October 1917:
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in capturing all the battalion objectives and holding them against counter attacks. His battalion had a most difficult task to perform and it was due to his power of command that they so ably carried it out.
Alexander led the 2/6th Battalion until the 20th September when he was again wounded. After he recovered from his injuries he was assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, which was based at Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire and involved in training recruits. On the 24th August 1918 he again became a Temporary Lieutenant Colonel and took the job of Commandant at the Northern Command School of Musketry at Strensall in Yorkshire. This job involved overseeing the training in rifle and machine gun shooting of recruits and soldiers.
The war ended on the 11th November, but Alexander stayed as Commandant until the 2nd May 1919, when he returned to the 3rd Battalion as a Major. With the end of the war this unit was being reduced in size. It was disbanded in July, by which time Alexander had left it.
Alexander's new job was Officer Commanding the Regimental Depot. This was where recruits for the Manchester Regiment were trained, and it was the regiment's link with the Manchester area, so this was a high -profile job. Alexander dealt with several issues. His immediate priority was to ensure soldiers were demobilised quickly and correctly. After this he dealt with the creation of the Defence Force between April and June 1921. This saw large numbers of officers and reservists report to the Depot, in case they were needed to support the police during large industrial strikes. These strikes were threatened, but never occurred.
Perhaps Alexander's most lasting legacy was the decision to name the barracks where the Depot was based Ladysmith Barracks, in memory of the battle honour earned during the Boer War. The new name was approved on the 31st December 1921.
Alexander left the Depot in August 1922, and retired from the Army on the 7th December. He would be missed by his comrades. He was described as 'always cheery, very keen on his work [and] conscientious to a fault'. They wished him the best in Cheltenham, where he and Violet went to live.
Although he had left the Army Alexander stayed heavily involved with the Manchester Regiment. He joined the Old Comrades Association (OCA) and attended many reunions and dinners. He was serving as Honorary Treasurer of the Manchester Regiment Central Committee by July 1935. This aimed to coordinate the work of the various OCAs, the Regimental Chapel the Museum, and other groups. He held this job for around 25 years.
After the Second World War age and illness meant Alexander had to slow down. He was no longer Treasurer in 1948 and as he developed increasingly serious arthritis attending Regimental events became harder. He could still enjoy fishing, and took an annual holiday to do this. Often he would go with an old comrade; his partner in 1951 was Alfred Rose, whose medals are also in the Museum of the Manchester Regiment collection.
By the late 1950s Alexander was one of only 3 Manchester Regiment officers still living who had served in the Boer War. He suffered a heart attack during 1959 that disabled him further, and he came to rely on Violet's devoted care. They lived at 'The Bryn' on Talbot Road in Cheltenham during this period.
As well as his involvement in the Regiment Alexander served as a Church Warden at Christ's Church, Cheltenham. He had served as a Special Constable for at least 9 years by the time King George V died in 1936. He also collected and presented a number of medals to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment.
Alexander died on the 31st July 1961 in Bayshill Nursing Home. He was 85 years old. His funeral was held at Christ's Church. Many of his friends and comrades paid their respects to a man they knew as 'Podge'.
Violet died on the 22nd March 1970 aged 83. We don't know whether they had any children. Alexander's medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment in 1972.