Crowd honours Ebbw Vale WWI hero

First published in News

THE family of the most decorated non-commissioned officer in Welsh history were “impressed” as more than 100 people turned out to see the unveiling of a plaque dedicated to him.

A blue plaque was unveiled on Saturday at the General Offices in Ebbw Vale in memory of the town’s most famous son.

CSM John Henry Williams VC, DCM, MM and Bar was the most decorated Welsh non-commissioned officer of all time.

His granddaughter, Ann Page, 65, travelled from Kent to see the plaque unveiled, along with her daughter, Karen, 36 and her four month old grandchild, Adriana.

She said: “I didn’t expect such a large crowd so it was very impressive that so many people turned out to honour him.”

She made a trip in 1968, with her father, Henry, known as Harry, to see the plaque, but the building was shut down.

In 2012, Blaenau Gwent council leader Hedley McCarthy found the plaque in storage at the Civic Centre in Ebbw Vale.

CSM Williams was born in Nantyglo on September 29, 1886.

At 12 he started working for the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company, as a blacksmith.

He enlisted with the South Wales Borderers in 1906, and rejoined the 10th Battalion of the South Wales Borderers as a private in 1914 at the onset of the Great War. He was promoted to sergeant in 1915.

The 10th Battalion was soon posted to the battlefront and in July 1916, in the Somme, he was part of the 38th (Welsh) Division sent to clear the Mametz Wood, for which he was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for “conspicuous gallantry in action.”

On July 31, 1917, CSM Williams was in action at Pilckem Ridge during the Battle of Passchendaele (3rd battle of Ypres). The 38th Division was again victorious in capturing the ridge and CSM Williams was awarded the Military Medal for bravery.

Then at Armentieres on October 30, 1917 he performed another act of heroism when he ignored bullets and shrapnel to bring in a wounded comrade. For this, he had a Bar added to his Military Medal.

In 1918, at Villers Outreaux, his unit were being fired at by an enemy machine gun and suffering heavy casualties. CSM Williams, with no regard for his own life, rushed the machine gun post, took 15 prisoners and secured the position. This won him the Victoria Cross.

Leg and arm wounds led to his discharge in October, 1918 and in December that year, he was awarded the Medaille Militaire, the French equivalent of the VC.

In 1919, King George V presented CSM Williams with his four medals. The king had never presented so many medals to one person in one day.

CSM Williams came home and rejoined the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company. Brigadier Philip Napier OBE, Colonel of The Royal Welsh Regiment unveiled the plaque.

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