Drawings by John Moss
Military & Civilian Heroes
people of courage, self-sacrifice and valour
was one of Salford's most legendary sons, famed in his lifetime
for rescuing no fewer than 50 persons from drowning in the
River Irwell. Born at the Parsonage in Blackfriars Street
in 1838, as a young lad he assisted his father in the running
of his boat hire company, so that, though he could not swim,
was no stranger to water. His first rescue was at the age
of 13, when he waded in up to his chin to drag a small boy
to safety. After 33 rescues over a period of 25 years he was
awarded the Albert Medal First Class by Queen Victoria in
1878; he had already been awarded the Bronze and Silver Medals
of the Royal Humane Society, as well as the Gold Medal of
the Royal Humane Society of the Salford Hundred. As an adult
he owned the riverside Boathouse Inn. Eventually he succumbed
to the River Irwell, when, after his last rescue he suffered
a fatal illness brought on by swallowing the heavily polluted
waters and he died on the 9th June 1890.
A pub bearing his name exists today on the Salford Bank of
the River Irwell.
Altrincham born Bill Speakman was a tall man of 6 feet 6 inches
who began a military career as a drummer boy in the local Army
Cadet Corps. He later joined the King's Own Scottish Borderers,
and went on to be awarded the Victoria Cross for Gallantry in
1951 during the Korean War. The award was given as a result
of his repeated charges against a heavily defended enemy hill
position without regard for his personal safety, and despite
being wounded and out of ammunition, pelted the enemy positions
with tin cans, stones and beer bottles. Speakman was the first
to receive the VC from Queen Elizabeth II, and was dubbed the
"Beer Bottle VC" by the press.
A shy and retiring man, he returned from the war to Altrincham
to be greeted by throngs of well-wishers and civic dignitaries.
After demobilisation, Speakman grew unhappy with civilian life,
and later after remarrying he went to South Africa in 1972 where
he worked as a Security Officer in Durban.
became a Chelsea Pensioner on the 1st November 1993 and was
among the Pensioners that marched across the Royal Albert Hall
arena at the Festival of Remembrance ceremony on 13th November
1993. He became an out pensioner the following year and returned
to South Africa. He returned to take part in the Queen's Golden
Jubilee Parade in London on the 4th of June 2002.
Bill Speakman's Victoria Cross and his other medals reside in
the National War Museum of Scotland, The Castle, Edinburgh,
formerly known as the Scottish United Services Museum. Further
details are available on the Victoria Cross Awards website at:
Our latest information is that he now goes by the name of Bill
We are indebted
to Mr Terry Hissey, who is a researcher for the Victoria Cross
Society, for providing material and verifying the information
we have here on Bill Speakman.
was known as the "Most Illustrious Grey" after he had led the
Scots Greys in a cavalry charge to capture French Eagle and
battle standard at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was born
in Kilmarnock in Scotland and grew to be almost 7 feet tall..
At the time of Waterloo, aged 46, he was a sergeant in the 2nd
Royal North British Dragoons and an excellent swordsman. As
a result of his dashing bravery he was given the King's Commission
and rank of ensign by the Prince Regent and awarded the Waterloo
Medal. He was married to Margaret Geddes from Stockport. In
1821, Ewart left the army with a £100 a year pension and moved
with his wife to live in Salford, where he taught swordsmanship
and fencing to supplement his income. In 1830 the Ewart's moved
to live in Davyhulme, where Charles was to spend the remainder
of his life. He died in 1846 at the age of 77 and is buried
beside the New Jerusalem Church in Salford. The church was later
demolished and the graves paved
over. In 1936 the Scots Greys had his body removed to Edinburgh
Castle, where it now lies buried.
photographic image courtesy of Roger Hebblethwaite
Born in a barber's shop in Manchester Road, Bury on the 5th
May 1897, Bill Peachment was one of the youngest soldiers ever
to receive the Victoria Cross in the First World War. In September
1915, at the age of 18, Rifleman Private Peachment No 11941
was enlisted in King's Royal Rifle Corps, when they were engaged
in the Battle of Loos. During the offensive at Hulluch on the
25th September, Peachment saw his commanding officer, Captain
Dubs, lying on the ground wounded a short distance from the
German trenches. Despite heavy fire, Peachment crawled towards
the officer and attempted to dress his wounds when he was hit
by shrapnel from an exploding shell nearby, and suffered a rifle
bullet to the head. Peachment died instantly, though Captain
Dubs survived to recommend him for the Award. Peachment had
been one of the youngest men in his battalion, and gave this
splendid example of courage and self-sacrifice.
Horace Taylor GC MBE
This photographic image courtesy of Roger Hebblewaite
Born on 23rd October 1908, Lieutenant Commander William Horace
Taylor, a former pupil of Manchester Grammar School was one
of several Mancunians who were awarded the George Cross. Taylor
was a bomb disposal engineer and was given the award for work
done in disposal of mines in September and October 1940. He
had worked at Manchester Docks (now Salford Quays) and had
joined the Admiralty at the outbreak of war in 1939. He suffered
from many bomb blasts, but survived them all and spent his
post-war years in the Scouting Association, and became a property
manager in Glasgow. He died on 16th January 1999 at the age
of 90. He had also been awarded the MBE. Further
information on George Cross awards can be found at the new
website at: http://www.gc-database.co.uk.
Lieutenant John Percy Walton was a member of the Royal Engineers
occupied in bomb disposal work during the Second World War.
He had just graduated from Manchester University at the outbreak
of war and immediately joined the 110th East Lancashire Company
of the Royal Engineers. He was involved in many disposals
in France and on the beaches at Dunkirk. During his short
career, he successfully defused over 100 bombs and other ordinance
from 1940 until his death while defusing a bomb on the 1st
April 1942. He was awarde the george medal for "Non-Combatant
the 22nd of August 1985 a Boeing 737 aeroplane caught fire
on the tarmac at Manchester Airport, killing 55 people. The
fire began when the Corfu bound aircraft's engine blew up
while it was taxiing to the runway. Two of the air hostesses,
Jacqueline Urbanski and Sharon Ford, died tragically while
trying to rescue trapped passengers.
A third, Joanna Toff crawled on her hands and knees down the
smoke filled aisle of the aircraft feeling her way towards
other passengers and helping them escape from the inferno.
The three hostesses were awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal,
two, of course, posthumously, and Joanna, who was highly praised
for her courage.
In 1988, Sharon Ford (posthumously), Joanna Toff and Jacqueline
Urbanski (posthumously), were the recipients of the Flight
Safety Foundation Heroism Award. The FSF Heroism Award was
established in 1968 to recognise civil aircraft crew members
and ground personnel whose heroic actions exceeded the requirements
of their jobs and, as a result, saved lives or property.
are grateful to Terry Hissey for providing additional information
on Joanna Toff, as well as other Military heroes contained
on these web pages.