Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1941, Petty Officer Alfred Edward Sephton V.C., the Royal Navy, was killed in action off the coast of Crete.
One of six children of a journeyman blacksmith and his wife, he attended the Dudley Road Council School in Wolverhampton and joined the choir at St. John’s Church. His long-held fascination with sailing from childhood led him to join the Royal Navy when he was seventeen years old.
By the outbreak of the second world war, he had risen to the rank of Petty Officer and earned a reputation of being conscientious and well-respected. His actions on the 18th of May, 1941, while serving aboard H.M.S. Coventry, earned him the posthumous award of the Victoria Cross, for “valour and fortitude in action against the enemy”.
That day the British hospital ship Aba had sent out an S.O.S. as she was being bombed south-east of Crete. The cruisers H.M.S. Coventry and H.M.S. Phoebe received the signal and went to her assistance. Enemy aircraft attacked all three ships, one carrying out a steep dive-bombing attack on H.M.S. Coventry, spraying the ship with gunfire. Petty Officer Sephton was wounded by two bullets, one of which passed through him and wounded Able Seaman Fisher – yet both men insisted that they could carry on. After the attack, Petty Officer Sephton refused any assistance as he climbed out of the director only to collapse on the deck.
He had extensive internal injuries and died the following day. It was reported that his courage in continuing on, and his inspiration to Able Seaman Fisher, saved both his own ship and the hospital ship, as the enemy aircraft were repelled by H.M.S. Coventry’s gunfire. He was buried at sea off the coast of Alexandria.
Petty Officer Sephton’s parents were presented with his Victoria Cross in June, 1942. In 1971 one of his sisters presented it to Coventry Cathedral, but sadly it was stolen in 1990 and its whereabouts are still unknown. Petty Officer Sephton is commemorated on the Red Granite Memorial in Wolverhampton, a memorial plaque at the war memorial in Coventry, a tree at the National Memorial Arboretum, and on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
Alfred, born in Warrington, was 30 years old.