Case study

WW1 Australian VC recipient Frederick Birks

The story of First World War Australian Victoria Cross recipient Frederick Birks.

Frederick Birks

Credit: Australian War Memorial P0113.001

66 men from Australia received the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest gallantry award, during the First World War. As part of the Centenary Commemorations the people of the United Kingdom marked their gratitude to those courageous men by presenting a bronze memorial plaque to their home country engraved with their names. The plaque is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial. This archive tells their stories.

Name: Frederick Birks

DOB: 16 August 1894

Place of Birth: Buckley, Flintshire, Wales

Date of Action: 20 September 1917

Place of Action: Glencorse Wood, Belgium

Rank: Second Lieutenant

Regiment: 6th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force

Frederick Birks was born in North Wales on 16 August 1894, but emigrated to Australia in 1913. He held a variety of jobs before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force in August 1914. He was posted to the medical corps, and served as a stretcher-bearer at Gallipoli in 1915 and during the Battle of the Somme in France in 1916. For this, he was awarded the Military Medal for “constant good services.”

Birks was later selected for officer training and was commissioned second lieutenant in the 6th Battalion in May 1917. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous bravery in attack on 20 September 1917 at Glencorse Wood, Belgium, during the Battle of Menin Road. His citation states:

Accompanied by only a corporal, he rushed a strong point which was holding up the advance. The corporal was wounded by a bomb, but 2nd Lt. Birks went on by himself killed the remainder of the enemy occupying the position, and captured a machine gun. Shortly afterwards he organised a small party and attacked another strong point which was occupied by about twenty-five of the enemy, of whom many were killed and an officer and fifteen men captured. During the consolidation this officer did magnificent work in reorganising parties of other units which had been disorganised during the operations. By his wonderful coolness and personal bravery 2nd Lt. Birks kept his men in splendid spirits throughout.

However, the next day Second Lieutenant Birks was killed by a shell whilst trying to rescue some of his men who had been buried by an explosion. He is buried in the Perth Cemetery (China Wall), Belgium.

Published 20 June 2016