Many of you may know of the dozen men in Highland Road cemetery, Southsea who were all awarded the Victoria Cross. But were you aware that another VC holder had a road named after him in Portsmouth?
I’m talking about Sergeant/Acting Company Sergeant-Major James Ockendon VC MM, formerly of the 1st Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, whose short time in the army was full of adventure.
It is a pity I was not taught about him in my time at school, but I’m glad to say that his son, James junior, is still with us at the age of 90.
He says his father was born on December 10, 1890 to Alfred and Mary Ockendon at 56, Alfred Street, Landport. One of nine children, he attended St Agatha’s School.
Upon leaving school, he started his working life at Chalcraft’s the drapers in Russell Street, Portsmouth. After five years he joined the Royal Dublin Fusiliers as a private.
After basic training at the Victoria Barracks in Southsea, his first service was in India, then part of the great British Empire.
In 1914 the First World war began and James found himself in Turkey at Gallipoli where, on April 24, 1915, he landed with his battalion on ‘V’ beach.
He received a bullet wound to his forehead and for the rest of his life he could pick small particles of lead from the wound!
At the end of that campaign he served in Egypt. While on leave he married his sweetheart Caroline (Carrie) Anne at St Luke’s Church, Portsmouth on August 20, 1917. They moved to Sophia Place, Portsmouth.
Not long after, he was sent to France where he was awarded the Military Medal on September 28, 1917.
On October 4, 1917 James found himself east of Langemarck, Belgium four miles north-east of Ypres. Seeing his platoon were being held up by an enemy machine-gun post, James rushed the emplacement regardless of his own safety, killing two of the gun crew.
Another ran off, but James gave chase and managed to shoot the man.
Gathering the platoon together, James then led a section in an attack. Under very heavy fire James rushed the guns and called upon the garrison to surrender but they ignored him at their peril.
James opened fire, killing four of the enemy. The remaining 16 soldiers gave in and surrendered to him. James was aged 26 at the time.
His VC award was announced in the London Gazette on November 8, 1917 and he was presented with it by King George V at Buckingham Palace on December 5, 1917. The following year he was awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre.
On November 27, while home on leave, he was feted by the people of Portsmouth.
So noble was his deed that the County Borough of Portsmouth, at a special meeting of the council on December 18, 1917, presented James with an Address of Congratulations enclosed in a silver casket. This was provided by the Portsmouth Evening News Fund.
On April 30, 1918 James was released from the army unfit for further war service.
He and his wife went on to have four children, Eileen, Irene, James and Betty.
In 1929 he attended a VC dinner given by the then Prince of Wales, (later Edward VIII). His son still has the menu autographed by the Prince of Wales.
After the war he secured employment in the dockyard as a crane driver and after retirement worked at No3 Training Battalion, Royal Army Ordnance Corps in Hilsea.
During the Second World War James served in the Portsmouth Division of the Home Guard.
In 1962 Ockendon Close was named in his honour. He died at home, 5 Yorke Street, Southsea on August 29, 1966 and his funeral took place at Portchester on September 1. His ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance.
James Ockendon Jnr also did his bit in the defence of his country. He was called up to join the Royal Navy in 1942 as an HO (Hostilities Only) rating. Serving in the North Atlantic and Pacific, he was awarded the Atlantic Star, General Service Medal, Victory Medal and, for long service in the dockyard, the Imperial Service Medal.