b. 29/09/1886 Nantyglo, Wales. d. 07/03/1953 Newport, Wales
John Henry Williams (1886-1953) was born on 29th September 1886 in Nantyglo, Wales. At the age of 12 he started working for the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company, working as a blacksmith in Cwm Colliery.
He enlisted with the South Wales Borderers in 1906, and when World War I broke out in November 1914, the Director of the company, Sir Frederick Mills, actively promoted recruitment amongst the men, and hundreds joined what was fondly referred to as ‘Mills Army’. Jack Williams was amongst them, giving up his employment as a colliery blacksmith and enlisting alongside his fellow workers in the 10th Battalion, South Wales Borderers. He was promoted to Sergeant in January 1915.
Mills Army 10th SWB: this Battalion saw service in France and Belgium; most significantly in July 1916 at Mametz Wood, and at Third Ypres in July-Aug 1917 . They attacked the 'Hammerhead' at Mametz Wood on 7th July, with terrible results, and later on the 10th and 11th July helped secure the wood. They also attacked at Pilckem Ridge on the 31st July 1917 at the commencement of Third Ypres (Passchendaele).
During the Battle of the Somme, Jack was part of the 38th (Welsh) Division sent to clear Mametz Wood. He was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for "conspicuous gallantry in action" and received the Military Medal for bravery the following year during the Battle of Passchendaele, The Third Battle of Ypres. A year later he helped a wounded comrade through a battlefield of shrapnel and bullets at the Armentieres in 1917, which saw him awarded an added bar on his Military Medal.
On the night of 7th-8th October 1918, during the attack on Villers Outreaux, when, observing that his company was suffering heavy casualties from an enemy machine gun, he ordered a Lewis Gun to engage it, and went forward, under heavy fire, to the flank of the enemy post which he rushed single handed, capturing fifteen of the enemy.
These prisoners, realising that Williams was alone, turned on him and one of them gripped his rifle. He succeeded in breaking away and bayonetting five enemy, whereupon the remainder again surrendered. By this gallant action and total disregard of personal danger, he was the means of enabling not only his own company but also those on the flanks to advance.
Leg and arm wounds led to his medical discharge from the army on October 17th 1918 and in December of that year, he was awarded the Medaille Militaire, the French equivalent of the V. C. In Buckingham Palace, on February 22nd, 1919, King George V presented CSM Williams with his four medals. It was the first time the king had presented so many medals to one person in one day. At the time of the investiture Williams had not recovered from his severe wounds, and during the presentation the wound in his arm opened up with the result that medical attention had to be given before he could leave the palace.
CSM Williams returned home and rejoined the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company, where he was given a house, coal and electricity for life. Working as the Commissionaire at the General Offices (for the EVSIC), the crimson ribbon attached to his lapel was the only clue to his heroic past and Victoria Cross. In the Second World War he served as a Captain in the Home Guard, a rather mild occupation for a man of this calibre. John Williams worked at the Ebbw Vale steel Works until his death on March 7th, 1953 and was buried at Ebbw Vale Cemetery. The medals of CSM Williams are now on display at the South Wales Borderers and Monmouthshire Regiment Museum at Brecon, Powys. He is the most decorated Welsh NCO to present.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: SOUTH WALES BORDERERS, BRECON, WALES.
BURIAL PLACE: EBBW VALE CEMETERY, EBBW VALE, WALES.
John Henry Williams' medals (across the middle) on display at the South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales
South Wales Borderers Museum
(Pic: Terry Cooling)
South Wales Borderers Roll of Honour
Nantyglo, Wales (courtesy of Memorials to Valour)