Photograph of Alexander in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MR3/17/146
(L to R) Military Cross; British War Medal; Allied Victory Medal
Alexander was born on the 13th March 1892 in Hull, East Yorkshire. His father was called Sydney Robert and his mother was Margaret. He was their eldest child; Bernard Sydney, Constance, Harriet and Elizabeth were his siblings.
Sydney died on the 26th May 1900 aged 48. He had been a doctor with a practice at 55 Savile Street. The next year Margaret and her children had left Hull and lived at 58 Springbank Road in Lewisham, South London. Her sister Elizabeth Slater lived with the family. Ten years later they had moved to Seymour Villa, Victoria Park in Herne Bay, Kent. Only Elizabeth junior now lived with the two sisters. Alexander had moved to Brighton to become an apprentice pharmaceutical chemist. He lived at 109 St James Street with George Savage, a qualified pharmacist, so it is likely that he was training Alexander.
By 1914 Alexander was a pharmacist in his own right. He lived at 50 Sternhold Avenue in Streatham Hill, South London.
When the First World War broke out in August 1914 Alexander, along with hundreds of thousands of other men, joined the Army. He enlisted into the 3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance, part of the Territorial Force and the Royal Army Medical Corps, on the 28th October. He was given the service number 2237 and by July 1915 he held the rank of Acting Sergeant.
On the 31st July Alexander left this unit. He had been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Special Reserve of the Manchester Regiment. After he finished his training Alexander was assigned to the 21st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and crossed to France during August 1916. He joined them on the 29th whilst they were fighting on the Somme.
Shortly after he arrived the 21st Battalion took part in the Battle of Guillemont between the 3rd and 6th September. This was the last large operation they took part in during the Somme Offensive. The offensive ended in November 1916 and by January 1917 the 21st Battalion was serving by the River Ancre.
During April and May the battalion served around Croisilles and Bullecourt. During this period Alexander carried out an act of great bravery and was awarded the Military Cross. His citation was published in the London Gazette of the 18th July 1917. We don't know exactly when or where this took place:
For conspicuous gallantry in operations. He led his Company, under extreme difficulties, with bravery and skill, working day and night and regardless of danger, consolidating isolated positions and encouraging his men. He was practically unaided, his officer and most Non Commissioned Officers having become casualties.
Alexander was promoted to Acting Captain on the 24th April. He continued to serve with the 21st Battalion when they were sent north to Ypres in Belgium to join the Passchendaele Offensive.
The battalion fought at Polygon Wood in late September and then took part in the Battle of Broodseinde on the 4th October. The battalion attacked under heavy artillery fire. The battle was a success for the British, but they took a large number of casualties. One of these was Alexander.
He was admitted to the Red Cross hospital at Le Touquet on the 7th October suffering from a gunshot wound in his left hand and another in his right leg. He was evacuated back to the UK on the 14th and sent to Hospital. We don't know which hospital treated Alexander, but he was not discharged until the 10th April 1918.
Alexander was not fit to return to duty until the 3rd July. On this day he became second in command of a Reserve Battalion at the Royal Army Medical Corps Depot. We don't know anything about this unit. He held this position until the 9th December, when he was assigned to the Ministry of Labour. We don't know what job he had with them. Alexander was demobilised on the 12th July 1919.
Alexander had been politically active before the war. He was a member of the Men's Political Union for Women's Enfranchisement, supporting efforts to give women the vote. He met Victoria Simmons whilst she was selling the magazine Votes for Women on the street.
Victoria had been a suffragette, and campaigner in the Women's Social and Political Union before the First World War. She had been involved with the movement since 1907, when she was 18 and living in Bristol. On the 4th March 1912 she was part of the Pankhurst sisters' window-smashing raid on government buildings in Whitehall, London. She broke a window at the War Office and was sent to Holloway Prison for 2 months.
Alexander and Victoria married between April and June 1918 in Croydon, south London. After the end of the war they both trained as opticians and began to practice together. Victoria was one of the first female opticians. They worked together as consultants at the London Refraction Hospital in Elephant and Castle, and in 1927 she became the hospital's first female refractionist.
During the early 1920s Alexander and Victoria moved to Maidenhead in Berkshire. They lived on Grenfall Road in the town from 1923 onwards. In around 1926 they opened a consulting optician's practice at 3 King Street. They ran this business together until at least 1934.
The Second World War broke out in September 1939 and Alexander was called up from the Army Emergency Reserve of Officers on the 1st November 1940. He was assigned to the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert's) as a Lieutenant, although we don't know which battalion he joined. On the 16th December 1942 he was transferred to the Intelligence Corps, and stayed with them until he was demobilised in September 1945, after the end of the war. He ended the war with the rank of Temporary Captain. We don't know anything about where Alexander served or what he did during the war, although we believe he spent some time assigned to the War Office in London.
We don't know where Alexander and Victoria lived immediately after the war. They lived and worked in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire for a time, and in 1956 their address was 9 Havenfield Court in this town.
That December they took a holiday to the Portuguese island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean. They sailed there and back aboard the Venus, leaving the UK on the 19th December and returning to Southampton on the 18th January 1957.
By 1959 the couple had moved to Hove in Sussex. They lived at 3 Derek Avenue until 1963. In that year they moved to 1/14 Palmeira Avenue in the town. They would live here for the rest of their life together. They had no children.
On the 20th October 1961 Alexander became involved with the Federation of Manchester City Battalions. This organisation brought together the Old Comrade's Associations of the 'Pals' Battalions formed in Manchester in 1914, so that they could work more closely together. Alexander kept a notebook recording the receipts and expenses. As he noted when he took the job: 'Practically all work and expenses was at an end' for the organisation.
We don't know exactly what Alexander did in this role. He helped to 'make arrangements' for the reception held at Manchester Town Hall on the 18th September 1964, which commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Manchester City Battalions, but after this he spent and received very little money. By January 1st 1975 the Federation had received a total of £13.80 and spent £13.78 1/2 since Alexander took over. Under this entry Alexander wrote 'Call it a DAY'.
Alexander died between January and March 1975. He was 83 years old. Victoria continued to live at 14 Palmeira Avenue for the rest of her life. She campaigned for animal welfare and spent the last 10 years of her life supporting attempts to allow women to become priests. She published 2 books, 'Christianity, Faith, Love and Healing' when she was 99 and 'Animals and All Churches' when she was 100. When she died on the 3rd October 1992 she was 102 years old. Her obituary described her as 'the last living suffragette'. In 1996 a plaque commemorating her life was attached to 14 Palmeira Avenue and unveiled by Betty Boothroyd MP, the first female Speaker of the House of Commons.