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Although not from Exeter, William Oxenham spent the last days of his life in the city, as one of the earliest recipients of the Victoria Cross.
Born around about July 1823, Oxenham joined the British Army as a young man. By 1857 he was a corporal serving in the 32nd Regiment of Foot (evolved into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry). This was a busy year for the regiment, as the Indian Mutiny had broken out.
It was at Lucknow on the 30th June 1857 that Oxenham earned his medal for valour. A Bengal Civil Servant had been trapped by a falling verandah, and William Oxenham went in under heavy fire from the rebels, and rescued the hapless man, in an operation that took 45 minutes.
The London Gazette published an account of the action when his award was announced:
"32d Regiment - Corporal William Oxenham, for distinguished gallentry in saving the life of Mr. Capper, of the Bengal Civil Service, by extricating him from the ruins of a verandah which had fallen on him; Corporal Oxenham being for 10 minutes exposed to a heavy fire while doing so. Date of act of bravery, June 30, 1857."
Oxenham's Victoria Cross is on display at the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry Museum, at Bodmin, Cornwall, along with his campaign and good conduct medals. He was awarded an annual pension of £10 as a winner of the VC.
He died on 29th December 1875 and his grave is in High Cemetery.
William Oxenham's grave at Higher Cemetery
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