b. 11/05/1899 South Stoneham, Hampshire. d. 24/08/1981 Wolverhampton, Staffordshire.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 14/09/1917 Horsea Island, Portsmouth.
Richard John Knowlton (1899-1981) was born in South Stoneham, Hampshire on 11th May 1899. He was one of four children born to Richard and Annie Knowlton. He had a brother Leslie and two sisters called Ethel Flora and Kathleen. His father was a railway plate layer at the time of Richard’s birth but while his children were still young, he decided to quit his job and turn to a more gentler occupation.
The family moved to a smallholding at Burlesdon, Hampshire and kept pigs and chickens and most specially grew strawberries. Their father would take the strawberries by pony and cart to the local railway station to catch the first train to London. Richard junior would help his father with this, before going to the local Village School. Following his schooling, Richard junior became a Motor Driver, a job he did until he was old enough to enlist to do his bit in World War One.
On 23rd May 1917, he quit his job and joined the Royal Navy as an Ordinary Seaman on HMS Victory I. He was promoted to Able Seaman, and less than four months later was involved in the incident which lead to his Albert Medal.
On 14th September 1917, at Hornsea Island, Portsmouth, a seaplane collided with a Poulsen mast and remained wedged in it. The pilot, Acting Flight Commander E.A. De Ville, was thrown on to the aircraft wing and rendered unconscious. Knowlton, with Deckhand George Abbott GC and Seaman Nicholas Ruth AM at once climbed 100ft up the mast, where Ruth, making use of a boatswain's chair, which moves up and down the inside of the mast, was hoisted up another 200ft to where the aircraft was lodged. He then climbed out on to the plane and secured De Ville with a masthead gantline until the other men arrived, then they lowered him to the ground. The three men were well aware of the damage to the mast and the likelihood of the seaplane falling.
Richard was awarded the Albert Medal in Bronze and attended his investiture at Buckingham Palace on 16th February 1918. He was demobbed from the Royal Navy on 4th March 1919, and joined the Southampton Fire Brigade as a fireman/driver. He married Florence Humby in 1923 and they had four children. In 1929, he was appointed Station Officer at Salisbury Fire Station in Wiltshire. He was offered promotions several times but turned them down as he didn’t want to uproot his young family.
In 1941 he became Section Leader in the National Fire Service and Sub Officer in the Wiltshire Fire Brigade until his retirement in 1954. Throughout his entire 35 year service he lived on, above or alongside a fire station. During World War II, an incendiary bomb crashed through his own home and landed in one of the children’s bedroom. Richard and his colleagues rescued the children quickly from upstairs. Sadly in 1950, Richard’s wife passed away suddenly, and with retirement four years later, he also was left without a home. He then decided to move to Wolverhampton to live with his widowed daughter Doris.
In 1971, following a change in the Royal Warrant, Richard was given the opportunity to exchange his Albert Medal for a George Cross. Richard chose to decline and lived happily in retirement. Richard died on 24th August 1981 in Wolverhampton and was cremated at Bushbury Crematorium. In accordance with his wishes, his funeral was held in Salisbury and his ashes were interred with his wife in London Road Cemetery, Salisbury. Richard’s medals including his AM, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19, King George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1936, King George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977 are held by his family. Sadly due to a theft, the two Coronation Medals and Jubilee Medals are replacements. He was entitled to the Civil Defence Medal but declined to apply for it. There is a memorial to him at Salisbury Fire Station.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: WITH RECIPIENT'S FAMILY.
BURIAL PLACE: LONDON ROAD CEMETERY, SALISBURY, WILTSHIRE.
Picture - Kevin Brazier
War Illustrated, 12th January 1918