Fred Birks was born on 16th August 1894 at Garden Cottage, Lane End Buckley , the 7th child (and 3rd son) of Samuel and Mary Birks (nee Williams). Both of his parents were from local families. Fred emigrated to Australia in 1913 but he enlisted in August 1914 and served in Egypt, Gallipoli and Flanders. He was awarded the Military Medal for bravery on the Somme, and he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions at Glencorse Wood near Ypres in 1917.
Fred Birks was just twenty three years old when he was killed at his post by a shell while endeavouring to extricate some of his men who had been buried by a previous shell. On seeing that these men had been buried Fred left the relative security of the trench and led forward a number of men in an effort to extricate the trapped men. Devoid of any shelter Fred stood over the injured men and supervised attempts to dig them out. The German shell then exploded nearby and Fred was one of those killed.
For his actions on the 20th and 21st September 1917 Fred Birks was nominated for the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry, by Maj. Gen. W. R. Birdwood Commanding the 1st Australian. Division whose recommendation is dated 27th September 1917. The copy of the recommendation in the Australian Army records reads.
“During the advance on Glencorse Wood East of Ypres on 20th Sept, 1917 this officer accompanied only by a Cpl. rushed a strong point which was holding up the advance. The Cpl. was wounded by a bomb but 2/Lt Birks went on himself, killed the remaining Germans and captured a machine gun. Shortly afterwards he organised a small party and attacked another strong point which was occupied by about 25 Germans; after killing a number of these they captured an Officer and 15 men. During the consolidation this Officer did magnificent work in reorganising parties of other units who had been disorganised owing to getting too close to our own barrage. By his wonderful coolness and personal bravery he kept his men in splendid spirits through-out. 2/Lt Birks was killed at his post by a shell on the morning of 21st Sept. whilst standing exposed endeavouring to extricate some of his men who had been buried by a shell.”
The award of the Victoria Cross was noted in the London Gazette on 8th November 1; this was the only Victoria Cross awarded to 6 Battalion. The Victoria Cross was presented by King George V to Fred’s brother, Sgt. Samuel Birks Royal Field Artillery (1888-1960) at Buckingham Palace on 19th December 1917.
Fred was buried initially where he fell. His body was later exhumed and reburied in Perth China Wall (Zillebeke) Cemetery. A memorial was placed at St. Matthew’s School in 1921 and later moved to a prominent position in the churchyard.
Additional biographical details will be added to this site.
A new account of Frederick Birks’ life has been written by his grand-niece, Janet Tildesley and published by The Buckley Society as part of their commemoration of the WWI Centenary.
Fred is also remembered on the family grave at St. Matthews.
In loving memory of
Who died November 10th 1895
aged 47 years
Also Mary Birks
Who died December 25th 1917
Aged 59 years
Also their son
Lieut. Fred Birks VC MM
6th Australian Batt
Was killed in action, France
September 21st 1917
Aged 23 years
Greater love that no man than this
That he lay down his life for his friends
Also John Birks
Who died December 21st 1959
Aged 69 years