First published in the Daily Express on Wednesday, 20 December 2017.
WHEN James Adams’s mother ordered him to embark on a career in the Church, he described it as the bitterest blow of his life.
Strong, sporty and with a sense of adventure, he had hoped for a commission in the army but instead he found himself heading for Trinity College Dublin to study theology.
Little did the young man know at the time that one day he would become the recipient of Britain and the Commonwealth’s most prestigious bravery award: the Victoria Cross.
I have recently completed the private purchase of Adams’s medal group to add to my collection of VCs, the largest in the world.
His is remarkable for several reasons: the Reverend Adams was the first “ecclesiastical VC” and to this day he is also the only clergyman to receive the medal who was not an army chaplain.
He was also the fifth, and to date final, “civilian VC” (my collection, in fact, has three of the civilian VCs).
Furthermore, the medal group came with a typed and bound (but unpublished) write-up on his life penned by his only daughter Edith, which provides a unique insight into his unusual life.
James William Adams was born in Cork, Ireland, on November 24, 1839.
He was the only son of Thomas Adams, a Justice of the Peace, and his wife Elizabeth.
Little is known of James’s early life but he had at least one sister and was educated at Hamblin and Porter’s School in Cork.
He was also a fine horseman.
His father died when James was aged 11 and his mother refused to allow him to go to school, something that he regretted all his life.
Instead he was educated by a succession of tutors.
At the time, James had only one career desire – to become a soldier – but his mother chose the church and, with a sense of early Victorian obedience, her son complied.
At Trinity College he distinguished himself at boxing and athletics but was half-hearted in his commitment to his course.
However, he passed his exams and in 1863, aged nearly 24, he was ordained as a deacon and as a priest the following year.
His first curacy was in Hyde, Hampshire, from 1863 to 1865 and then at Shottesbrooke, Berkshire, from 1865 to 1867.
Initially, Adams was based in Peshawar, then Allahabad, then Peshawar again from 1871, where he remained for the next four years.
During the war Adams – despite remaining a civilian – was determined to do his bit as chaplain to the Kabul Field Force.
“During the action at Killa Kazi, on the 11th December, 1879, some men of the 9th Lancers having fallen, with their horses, into a wide and deep ‘nullah’ or ditch, and the enemy being close upon them, the Reverend JW Adams rushed into the water (which filled the ditch), dragged the horses from off the men upon whom they were lying, and extricated them, he being at the time under a heavy fire, and up to his waist in water.
“Adams however managed to support the Lancer until he was able to take him over to some of his own comrades.
“I called out to him to look after himself, but he paid no attention to my warnings until he had pulled the exhausted Lancers to the top of the slippery bank.”
The couple had wed in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire, on August 16, 1881, before moving to India where Adams worked from early 1882 as chaplain in Lucknow.
The couple went on to have one daughter, Edith, who was born in Lucknow in August 1882.
Alice Adams and daughter Edith returned to England in 1883 but Adams himself continued to work abroad for three more years.
When he returned to England he was appointed vicar of Postwick in Norfolk.
His later positions included being Chaplain in Ordinary to Queen Victoria and, after her death, he briefly fulfilled the same role for Edward VII.
He died at Ashwell Rectory near Oakham, Rutland, on October 20, 1903, aged 63.
My VC collection now totals more than 200.
I feel immensely privileged to have become the custodian of this courageous man’s gallantry and service medals.
His daughter summed him up when, in her tribute, she praised his “ceaseless kindliness and belief in his fellow men, and one can truly say that all who knew him loved him”.
Read this article online at the Express.co.uk