Bronze plaque to Great War hero to be restored

South Wales Argus: Council leader Hedley McCarthy with the bronze plaque Council leader Hedley McCarthy with the bronze plaque

ONE of Gwent's greatest and sometimes forgotten war heroes will be remembered when a plaque is displayed in the steel town where he lived and worked.

John Henry Williams, also known as Jack Williams, is Wales' most decorated non-commissioned soldier.

Now, 59 years after his death, a plaque commemorating the Company Sergeant Major's bravery will be installed at the General Offices in Ebbw Vale where he worked as a commissionaire after the war.

Blaenau Gwent council leader Hedley McCarthy found the plaque, which had been kept in storage at the Civic Centre in Ebbw Vale for some years following renovation work.

Cllr McCarthy said: "Now the General Offices are in the council's ownership, it seems the most appropriate and obvious place for it."

He said the bronze plaque was originally commissioned by the Ebbw Vale Urban and District Council and was displayed at its offices and must have been moved to the Civic Centre when it folded.

The council leader also wants to track down any living relatives of the distinguished soldier to invite them to a future unveiling of the plaque.

Sgt Major Williams was born in Nantyglo in 1886 and worked as a blacksmith at Cwm Colliery before joining the 10th Battalion of The South Wales Borderers (1st Gwent) in 1914.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his role in the battle at Villers Outreaux, France, in October 1918.

A citation in the London Gazette in December that year explained how he helped his own company and those on the flanks to advance in battle.

Sgt Major Williams realised his company was suffering heavy casualties from German machinegun fire and went forward under heavy fire where he captured 15 of the enemy single-handedly.

These prisoners turned on him and one gripped his rifle before he managed to break away and killed five of the enemy with the bayonet while the rest surrendered.

Company Sgt Major Williams had five sons and six daughters and is buried in Ebbw Vale Cemetery. His Victoria Cross is now on display at The Regimental Museum of The Royal Welsh in Brecon.

Anyone with information about Sgt Major Williams' family should call the leader's office on 01495 356011 or Argus reporter Alison Sanders on 01633 777252.

SGT Major Williams also received the Distinguished Conduct Medal for "conspicuous gallantry in action", the Military Medal for his bravery at the battle for Passchendaele heights in Belgium and a bar to Military Medal after bringing back a wounded comrade.

Sgt Major Williams was discharged from the army after being hit in the right arm and leg by shrapnel but later became a Captain in the Second World War.

He received his four medals from King George V at Buckingham Palace which was the first time the King had decorated the same man four times for bravery in one day. He had not recovered from his wounds and needed medical treatment before he could leave the Palace.

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