Victoria Cross: Able Seaman, William Charles Williams, 25/04/1915

Discussion in 'Prewar' started by CL1, Nov 4, 2012.

  1. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Remembered Stanton Lacy,Shropshire.


    Able Seaman
    Service No:
    Date of Death:
    Royal Navy

    (RFR/PO/B/3766), H.M.S. "Hussar."
    V C, Mentioned in Despatches
    Panel Reference
    Additional Information:
    Son of the late William and Elizabeth Williams, of Chepstow, Mon.

    An extract from the London Gazette, No. 29264, dated 13th Aug., 1915, records the following:-"Held on to a line in the water for over an hour under heavy fire, until killed."

    The important ‘River Clyde’ Gallipoli V.C. group awarded to Able Seaman William Charles Williams, Royal Navy, the first ever Naval Posthumous award of the Victoria Cross, and one of six V.C.’s won by the ‘River Clyde’ at V Beach during the Gallipoli landings on 25 April 1915

    Victoria Cross, the reverse of the suspension bar inscribed ‘A. Seaman W. C. Williams, O.N. 186774 (R.F.R. B.3766)’, the reverse centre of the cross dated ‘25-26 April 1915’; Queen’s South Africa 1899-1902, 2 clasps, Tugela Heights, Relief of Ladysmith (186774 Ord: W. C. Williams, H.M.S. Terrible); China 1900, no clasp (W. G. Williams, Ord., H.M.S. Terrible) the last two very fine, otherwise nearly extremely fine (3)
    See colour illustration on front cover.

    Victoria Cross London Gazette 16 August 1915. ‘Admiralty, 16 Aug. 1915. The King has been graciously pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to the undermentioned Officers and Men for the conspicuous acts of bravery mentioned in the foregoing despatch: William Charles Williams, Able Seaman, O.N. 186774 (R.F.R., B.3766). Held on to a line in the water for over an hour and under heavy fire, until killed.’

    At 6 am on the clear morning of 25 April 1915 the natural amphitheatre of ‘V’ Beach at Cape Helles looked deceptively innocent to the officers and men of the 29th Division as they were towed in shore in a flotilla of open boats. It appeared that the thundering thirty minute bombardment by the battleships standing off on the horizon was effectively crushing the Turkish defences, and that the Army Staff was not being unduly optimistic in expecting a successful landing and advance inland. In the midst of the armada of open boats there was the re-assuring presence of the specially converted Glaswegian collier the SS River Clyde, from which 2,000 men would storm ashore. Able Seaman William Williams considered himself very lucky to be aboard the River Clyde that morning. When he had first volunteered to join the specially selected crew he had been told by Commander Unwin that he was full up and that he ‘did not want any more petty officers’. Williams had protested, offering to give up his rate if it would ensure his inclusion with the salty retort, “I’ll chuck my hook if you’ll let me come.” Unwin commented many years later, ‘I did, to his cost but everlasting glory.’

    William Charles Williams was born on 15 September 1880 at Stanton Lacy, Shropshire, and joined the Navy as a Boy at Portsmouth on 17 December 1895, giving his father, William Williams, a gardener of 11 Upper Nelson Street, Chepstow, as his next-of-kin. On his eighteenth birthday he signed on for a further twelve years’ service, and, in 1899-1900, ‘was recommended for bravery,’ by his commanding officer, Captain Percy Scott R.N., as a member of H.M.S. Terrible’s Naval Brigade, which famously saw action ashore in Natal during the Boer War and in China during the Boxer Rising. On completion of his regular engagement with the Royal Navy, Williams joined Vernon as a member of the Royal Fleet Service Reserve on 19 September 1910, and on the outbreak of the First World War was recalled to active service, joining, on 24 September 1914, H.M.S. Hussar, a twenty year-old torpedo boat converted for use as the communications yacht of the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet.

    In February 1915 Hussar came under the command of Commander Edwin Unwin, a fifty-one year-old former Merchant Navy officer of ‘bluff good humour and forceful leadership’, and was employed in helping to transform the Ægean harbour of Mudros into an efficiently run base for the naval and military forces committed to forthcoming landings at the foot of the Gallipoli Peninsula. Stiff opposition was expected at ‘V’ Beach from the Turkish defences and it was vital here that the largest number of troops were landed in the shortest possible time. At ‘V’ Beach, as at the other landing places, the spearhead of the covering force would be carried in strings of open boats towed by trawlers or steam driven hoppers to the shore, where the tows would turn about to return to the waiting transports to fetch the second wave. Each tow could carry some three hundred men - but this was not nearly enough to ensure success in the first vital hour. To overcome this difficulty Unwin suggested packing the River Clyde with a further 2,000 troops and grounding her as close to ‘V’ Beach as possible in immediate support of the open boats. A flat bottomed hopper, usually used for dredging, would be towed in behind the River Clyde, and would move ahead of the collier as she neared the shore. By careful positioning beneath the River Clyde’s prow, the hopper would form a bridge over which the troops, emerging from newly cut sallyports in the collier’s sides, and dashing along specially rigged gangways to the bows, could cross before splashing ashore through the shallows. If the distance between the bows of River Clyde and the shallows was to prove greater than the length of the hopper, Unwin took the precaution of preparing three specially decked lighters to be towed behind the hopper, to fill any gaps. In theory the plan offered greater protection for the soldiers and an element of surprise - rather like the Wooden Horse of Troy.

    On the morning of the landings, a Staff Officer stood on River Clyde’s bridge making minute by minute jottings in his note book. He recorded: ‘6.10 a.m. Within half a mile of the shore. We are far ahead of the tows. It must cause a mix-up if we, 2nd line arrive before the 1st line. With difficulty I get Unwin to swerve off and await the tows.’ ‘6.22 a.m. Ran smoothly ashore without a tremor. No opposition. We shall land unopposed.’ And then at 6.25, ‘Tows within a few yards of the shore. Hell burst loose on them. One boat drifting to north, all killed. Others almost equally helpless. Our hopper gone away.’ The defenders, consisting of two companies of Turks with a pom-pom and four machine guns, were wholly unscathed by the naval bombardment, and were slaughtering the men in the open boats at will. The hopper, lashed with bullets, had swung broadside on and was wallowing helpless in the shallows. With considerable difficuty the unwieldy lighters were edged into position in front of River Clyde’s bow, but they soon started to drift away from the beach as men of the Royal Munster Fusiliers, Royal Dublin Fusiliers and the Hampshires, pouring out the sallyports and unable to cross the incomplete bridge were shot down in droves, their bodies choking the gangways and lighters alike. Troops jumping out of the open boats found themselves caught on wire entanglements in the shallows, and numbers of them weighed down by their equipment simply drowned.

    Under a hail of fire Commander Unwin and Williams dived into the sea and securing a rope to the drifting end of the bridge of lighters heaved it towards a spit of rock that gave direct access to the shore, but the rope was too short to tie around the rocks and they were obliged to hold it. For the moment the bridge was complete and small bodies of men started to reach the shelter of a sandy bank on the beach, from where they looked back in horror at the majority of their comrades being cut down in swathes. Midshipman Drewry who was in the water trying to wade ashore with another tow rope, stumbled into a wounded man. ‘I and another soldier from a boat tried to carry him but he was again shot in our arms, his neck in two pieces nearly, so we left him and I ran along the beach towards the spit. I threw away my revolver, coat and hat and waded out to the captain. He was in the water with a man named Williams, wading and towing the lighters towards the spit. I gave a pull for a few minutes and then climbed aboard the lighters ... The captain sang out for more rope, so I went on board and brought a rope down with a man called Ellard.’

    By the time Drewry returned nearly an hour had passed since Williams had entered the water, and through practically the whole of that time he had been standing chest-deep in the sea under a murderous fire. Eventually he was hit by a shell though not killed outright. Drewry recorded: ‘... the captain was wading towards us carrying Williams. We pulled him onto the lighters and Ellard carried him on board the ship on his shoulders ... Williams was dead however.’

    Drewry and Ellard saw that Unwin, in his efforts to support Williams, had dropped his line, but with the new length of rope it did not take long to make the lighter fast to the rocks, and troops began to pour across the bridge once more only to be shot down by the unceasing Turkish machine gun fire. Unwin, numbed and helpless by his long immersion, returned to the River Clyde after Williams was killed, but defying doctor’s orders, returned to work in the lighters where he was wounded three times. Drewry continued to carry line from lighter to lighter in spite of a head wound until he was too exhausted to carry on. Midshipman Wilfred Malleson took over from him, and when the securing line was shot through, he made two attempts to re-secure it. Seaman George Samson R.N.R., working in the lighters, distinguished himself throughout the day until severely wounded by machine gun fire. All four, Unwin, Drewry, Malleson and Samson, survived the day and were duly awarded the Victoria Cross. A sixth Victoria Cross was also won that day from the River Clyde by Sub-Lieutenant A.W. St. C. Tisdall of the Royal Naval Division for rescuing wounded men from the water’s edge. Finally at 9 a.m., when almost a thousand men had been lost in the attempt to disembark, it was realised that nothing more could be done until nightfall and a halt was called.

    William Williams was the first Royal Navy rating to be awarded the Victoria Cross for over fifty years, and the first ever naval posthumous award. It was presented to his father at Buckingham Palace on 16 November 1916. He was long remembered in his home town of Chepstow where a memorial painting of the River Clyde was placed in the Parish Church, and a bronze war medallion was presented in his honour by the town council to his sister Mrs F.M. Smith. To Commander Unwin’s mind William Williams’ valour was greater than that of any other River Clyde V.C. Indeed River Clyde’s doctor, Surgeon P. Burrowes-Kelly, wrote of him: ‘He was the pride of our ship’s company, and described by Commander Unwin as the bravest sailor he ever met’.

    Dix Noonan Webb: Medals: Auction Archive: Victoria Crosses Sold at Auction: WILLIAMS, Able Seaman William (SS River Clyde)

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  2. Deacs

    Deacs Well i am from Cumbria. Patron

    From Ancestry

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  3. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    WW1 Victoria Cross paving stone
    Stanton Lacey Shropshire.

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