Oliver Brooks VC was Somerset born and bred; born in Paulton on 31 May 1889 and raised in Midsomer Norton. At the age of 26 on 8 October 1915 he was awarded the Victoria Cross for action near Loos, whilst serving with the Coldstream Guards.
The parish return for Midsomer Norton gives an insight into how Somerset welcomed him home.
The first part of the return details the parish’s war effort: how thirty-two Belgian refugees set up home in the town; that hundreds of the Army Service Corps found billets there; the forming of a volunteer force; cultivation of allotments to provide food; and the waging of a war on wasps to stop them ‘degrading’ certain crops.
The return then moves on to the tale of Oliver Brooks. It first describes the award of his medal by King George V:
The presentation of the medal was a very pathetic but stunning incident. His Majesty the King though lying helpless in bed in a hospital train in France as a result of an accident whilst visiting the army there, pluckily determined to personally invest the gallant soldier… the soldier knelt on the floor of the saloon and bent over the prostrate monarch…His Majesty found that he had over rated his strength, and could not manage to get the pin through the thick khaki, and assistance had to be given.
His background and career are next noted:
Lance Sergt Brooks is the sixth son of Mr Joseph Brooks…He was born at Gladstone Street, Paulton…he was brought up by his father or in the home of one of his elder married brothers. He joined the Coldstream Guards in 1905 and…was on the reserve when the war broke out.
Before joining the army Lance Sergt Brooks was employed at Norton Hill Colliery, Midsomer Norton, and on leaving the service he resumed his occupation at the Colliery as a coal miner…He was called up for service with the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards as a Private on August 12th 1914 and arrived in France on the following day.
Following this are details of his bravery and how the news was received in Midsomer Norton. The remainder of the return, running to over 1000 words, describes Brooks’ reception when returning to Midsomer Norton on leave:
On arrival accorded an enthusiastic reception. The streets of the town were decorated with flags and bunting and the bells of the Parish church pealed out…A crowd estimated 1000 gathered outside the station and a salvo of fog signals heralded the hero’s arrival.
There was a rush along the platform and in the dim light the smart young Coldsteamer in Khaki descended from the carriage to be immediately surrounded by his friends. Then ensued a touching incident. Someone said: “Here is Oliver’s father”. The crowd stood back as a sturdy looking working man with the bent back of the collier came forward and father and son embraced the onlookers were moved by the sight of the proud father kissing his gallant son.
Rousing cheers went up at the V.C. hero came into the booking office, and he was made to…display the simple looking cross pinned on his tunic. A chair had been rigged up sedan wise. On this Sergt Brooks was seated and a procession having been formed, he was carried in triumph to the strains of “Here the conquering hero comes”…down the hill to the Market Square.
This was followed by speeches by members of the local council and Brooks himself. It was decided that an oil painting of Brooks should be commissioned and hung in the Midsomer Norton Council Chamber and that Brooks should be presented with a gold watch, with a suitable engraving.
Brook also visited the parish of Paulton:
On his arrival there the horse was taken from the wagonette in which he travelled, and the vehicle was pulled around amid scenes of great enthusiasm the entire length of the village.
The return ends with a description of Brooks’ family:
Sergeant Brooks comes from a family who have earned distinction on the battle fields of the Empire and in that most perilous of our home industries the winning of coal from the bowels of the earth.
An elder brother…Alfred James Brookes served in the 1st Coldstream Guards throughout the Boer War…Another brother…Private Stanley Brookes…was in the Dardanelles Campaign and having been poisoned through drinking bad water he was invalided home…Another brother Andrew Brooks, lost his life in a colliery explosion at Norton Hill on which occasion the elder brother Alfred James Brooks formed one of the rescue party who descended the mine…The father of the family is himself a miner and, with two other of his sons, was employed in the pits at the time Oliver won the most coveted of all British military decorations.
Oliver Brooks survived the war and moved to Windsor where he married and raised his family. He died in October 1940.