Arthur Henry Leonard Richardson enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders at the outbreak of the First World War, advising them that he had won the Victoria Cross in the Boer War. He served bravely in France, was wounded in 1917, and returned to Aberdeen to be feted a hero. On 26 June 1920 he attended a garden party for holders of the VC hosted by King George V and was introduced to royalty and Earl Haig. In 1924 he collapsed and died in the street and was buried with the full military honours due to holders of the highest award for bravery. His death was widely reported in the press and it came as a considerable shock to Mrs Caroline Richardson of Mannering Road, Liverpool who knew that her son, Arthur Herbert Lindsay Richardson was the only holder of the VC with that name and that he had died ten years earlier. It turned out that the Scottish Arthur Henderson was an imposter.
The bizarre tale had yet another twist when the ‘real’ Arthur Richardson, reading of these reports, reluctantly ‘emerged’ from his home at 144 St Domingo Vale L4 to assert that he was not dead and had been drawing his £10 per year VC pension from this address since 1908. His mother, though obviously delighted that he was not dead, would offer no explanation as to how he had been living less than two miles from her home for the past sixteen years.
Arthur Richardson was born in Southport on 23rd September 1872, the son of Irish-born William Duke Richardson and his wife Caroline (whose maiden name was also Richardson). In 1880 the family moved to 41 Rodney Street L1, where William Richardson died in 1888. His wife had received a legacy from her father and was able to continue to live in some style and see that her family received a good education. Arthur (known as Bertie in the family) attended Liverpool Institute and after school was apprenticed to a dentist in Rodney Street. However, this career came to an abrupt end in 1891 when, following a falling out with his mother, he packed his bags and sailed for Canada. He headed for the sparsely populated west, working on ranches until on 7 May 1894 he enlisted in the North West Mounted Police at Regina. He prospered in the ‘Mounties’ until, in 1900, his lie took another fateful turn.
At the outbreak of the Boer War Lord Strathcona, a Scottish born businessman, raised at his own expense a mounted regiment to serve in South Africa. The venture cost him £150,000 (about £24 million in 2023 terms). Richardson was one of the first men to volunteer and on 17 March 1900 he sailed on the SS Monterey as a member of Strathcona’s Horse. The voyage was not pleasant, heavy storms saw 120 of their horses dead and Richardson fell into the hold in rough weather and broke his leg.
After a spell in hospital he was soon in action and in an engagement on 5th July 1900 earned his Victoria Cross. His citation read
On the 5th July, 1900, at Wolve Spruit, about 15 miles north of Standerton, a party of Lord Strathcona's Corps, only 38 in number, came into contact, and was engaged at close quarters, with a force of 80 of the enemy. When the order to retire had been given, Sergeant Richardson rode back under a very heavy cross-fire and picked up a trooper whose horse had been shot and who was wounded in two places and rode with him out of fire. At the time when this act of gallantry was performed, Sergeant Richardson was within 300 yards of the enemy, and was himself riding a wounded horse.
Richardson was the first man serving in a Canadian unit to be awarded the VC.
Strathcona’s men returned to Canada in February 1901 but Richardson travelled home to Liverpool where he stayed with his sister, Mabel, at 4 Livingston Avenue L17. He was greeted by many well-wishers on his arrival and carried shoulder-high through cheering crowds. However, his mother, now living at 11 Albert Park Road L17, kept her doors closed to her son.
He returned to Canada and the Mounties but over the years, his health and fortunes suffered. He had married in 1901 and his wife was stricken with tuberculosis. Eventually, in 1908, hopeful of obtaining better care for her he returned to Liverpool, living at 81 Cantsfield Street L7 (now the site of Archbishop Blanch school). His wife Florence died on 24th May 1910. Richardson found employment with the Tramways Maintenance Department and was known as a quiet man labouring selflessly for his daughter. He later moved to 297 Queens Drive L16. He died on 15th December 1932, never having been reconciled with his mother.
He had requested a simple funeral and apart from the coffin being draped with the Union Jack there were no military honours. He was buried in St James’ Cemetery with his wife, adjacent to the Anglican Cathedral. The grave has long since been ‘lost’ but in 1994 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission erected a headstone on the grass verge by the entrance to the cathedral. His VC medal is held by the Canadian War Museum, Ottawa.
The Richardson family home when they moved to Liverpool in 1880
The home of Arthur Richardson's sister, Mabel, where he stayed after returning to Liverpool from South Africa in 1901
Richardson's final home in Liverpool.
The headstone for Richardson which stands near the entrance to the Anglican Cathedral.
© Liverpool Footprints