b. 05/10/1890 Amwlch, Anglesey, Wales. d. 22/10/1965 Holyhead, Anglesey, Wales.
William Williams (1890-1965), the most highly decorated seaman of the Great War, came from a well-known Anglesey sea-faring family. He was born at 6 Well Street, Amlwch Port, Anglesey, Wales on 5th October 1890, the son of Richard Williams, a longshore fisherman, and his wife Ann nee Thomas. He was educated at Amlwch Port School, and grew up in conditions of near-poverty as his father struggled to make a living off the north coast. As soon as he was old enough, Williams, like many of his friends, found work at sea, in the Beaumaris schooners “Meyric” and “Camborne”. He was very hard working and reliable. Between August 1910 and December 1913, he made three round trips to Rio Grande in Brazil, receiving “very good” reports for his ability and conduct on each trip.
Having taken his discharge at Ellesmere Port, he enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve as a seaman/gunner on 29th September 1914, and was mobilised for service three days later. Details of his early war career are scant, but it seems he was among the early recruits to Q-ship work, joining Gordon Campbell aboard the converted tramp steamer “Loderer” in the autumn of 1915. During a little less than two years under Campbell’s command, he was serve aboard three more “mystery” ships – the “Farnborough”, “Pargust” and “Dunraven” – and would be awarded a gallantry award in each of them. In fact, his VC, DSM and Bar were all awarded in a six month period, and survived being torpedoed three times.
On 7th June 1917, HMS Pargust (one of the Q ships) was out in the Atlantic Ocean when her engine room was damaged by a torpedo fired from a U-boat. The explosion loosened the gun covers and Seaman Williams, with great presence of mind, took the whole weight on himself and physically prevented the covers from falling and betraying the ship to the enemy.
The sinking of the “Dunraven” in August 1917 marked the end of Campbell’s career in Q-ships, but Williams carried on in this hazardous service. As Campbell’s crew went their separate ways, Williams was transferred to “Eiliam”, a three-masted auxiliary schooner boasting two hidden 12-pounders, which was commissioned on 24th September 1917. One of the last three Q-ships, the “Eiliam” survived the war. Williams’ service career ended five days ended five days short of the Armistice, when he was discharged from the RNR as “medically unfit for further service.” After almost three years of unbroken service on Q-ships, it appears the strain took its toll on him.
By then he was a leading seaman, with the French Medaille Militaire (gazetted on 25th January 1918 and awarded for the same action which resulted in his VC) added to his three British bravery awards, making him the country’s most highly decorated serviceman of the war. AS such, he was feted wherever he went. Crowds turned out at Llangefni on 31st October 1918 to see him presented with £150 of War Bonds and the people of his home town saluted his heroism by giving him a gold watch and an illuminated address.
After the war, Williams returned to his humble roots, moving to Holyhead, where he worked as a seaman on the Holyhead-Greenore cross-channel ferries, before taking a shore job in the LNER docks. Later he worked at a coal merchants until ill health forced his retirement. He married twice, first in 1925 to Elizabeth Jane Wright, by whom he had a daughter, and secondly in 1946 to Annie Hanlon, a widow.
Throughout his life, he kept close ties with the British Legion. A founder member of the Holyhead branch, he was also for many years its standard bearer, regularly attending civic functions and Armistice Day parades. His long service was marked in 1963 by the award of a special certificate. Though proud of his many decorations and distinctions, William Williams, or “Will VC” as he was known on Anglesey, he rarely spoke about the war. His final years were marred by illness. After some time in hospital, he died from a combination of cancer and heart disease at his home at 31 Station Road, Holyhead, on 23rd October 1965. He was buried in Amlwch Cemetery and his medals were later put on display in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF WALES, CARDIFF.
BURIAL PLACE: AMWLCH CEMETERY, AMWLCH, GWYNNED, WALES.
William Williams' medals on display at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, Wales.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Amlwch, Anglesey, Wales
War Illustrated, 13th October 1917
War Illustrated, 11th August 1917