Medal presented to Walter Willis following Newport Dock Disaster

Item reference number: 167

Bronze Life Saving Medal of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem (St John's Ambulance Association bronze medal) awarded to Walter Willis 'for service in the cause of humanity' following the Newport Dock Disaster.


The circular, bronze medal is 37mm in diameter. (There was also a silver version and from 1907 a gold version was authorised.)
Obverse: In the centre the eight pointed cross of the Order embellished with two lions and two unicorns in the interstices. Within a circular border the words 'FOR SERVICE IN THE CAUSE OF HUMANITY' in seriffed capitals.
Reverse: A sprig of St John's wort bound with a ribbon bearing the words 'JERUSALEM ENGLAND'. Within a circular border the words 'AWARDED BY THE GRAND PRIORY OF THE ORDER OF THE HOSPITAL OF ST. JOHN OF JERUSALEM'.
Ribbon: Watered black of 32mm suspended from a small ring. Later watered black of 39mm.

The Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News (Saturday March 19, 1910) reported:

The Prince of Wales, Grand Prior of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem Ambulance, has awarded the bronze medal of the Order for gallantry in saving or attempting to save life on land at imminent personal risk to the following men:- James Andrews, Charles Crogan, George Bradford, Anthony Kinsella, and Walter Willis, in the employ of Messrs Easton, Gibb, and Son, Alexandra Dock Extension Works, Newport, and John Alddridge, dock gateman; Daniel McCarthy, dock constable and George Osborne, inspector in the employ of the Alexandra (Newport and South Wales) Docks and Railway Co., for conspicuous bravery on the occasion of the Newport Dock disaster.
An official notification of this has been sent to Viscount Tredegar, who signed the petition on their behalf. The men will be required to attend at Marlborough House on a day to be fixed by his Royal Highness for the presentation of the medals. The men to whom this honour has been awarded were in the rescue parties at work immediately the disaster occurred, and at great risk to themselves went down among the large timbers, which every moment threatened to close in upon them, for the purpose of endeavouring to rescue the unfortunate men imprisoned beneath. As a result of their efforts a number of men were brought out alive.

Information obtained from 'The Museum of the Order of St John':

Walter Willis was employed as a Timber Man in Newport. He received a Life Saving Medal in Bronze (medal number 229) for his part in the 1909 Newport Docks Disaster.
From archival records, it can be found that the recommendation for awarding the medal to Willis and others who assisted at the time was brought before the Chapter General on 22.02.1910, and the formal award date was in November 1910. The ceremony honouring the efforts of Willis and others was held on 19th July 1910.

This was the text of the report regarding Willis' commendation:

"Soon after 5.00pm on Friday, 2nd July 1909 at the Alexandra Dock Extension Works, Newport, Mon. a trench about 238ft long, 50ft deep and 35ft wide, which was being excavated for the lock walls and was situated inside a temporary embankment on the foreshore of the River Usk, (the said trench being heavily timbered), suddenly collapsed, the sides fell in and about seventy-five of the workmen who were in the trench were buried. Although there was great risk of the dam bursting, praiseworthy and determined efforts were immediately made by workmen and others to rescue the survivors from their peril and these efforts were continued throughout the night. Thirty-six men were taken out slightly or seriously injured and five were taken out dead, by the rescue parties who had to find a way down amongst the creaking and moving timbers which threatened to close in upon them at any moment, while the banks of clay and sand were settling and slipping all the time.
The above named men showed a remarkable coolness in gallantry throughout the night and repeatedly risked their lives in their endeavours to rescue their unfortunate comrades.
Presented by Field-Marshall HRH the Duke of Connaught, KG, Grand Prior in the Chapter Hall of the Order, St John?s Gate, Clerkenwell, London, EC, on Tuesday, 19th July 1910."

Images kindly sent to us by Michael and Bruce Willis, great nephew and grandson of Walter Willis.

See also the certificate presented to Walter Willis.

The Certificate awarded to Walter Willis

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