Local people of courage, self-sacrifice
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.
Ensign Charles Ewart
Charles Ewart 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 pave d over. In 1936 the Scots Greys had his body
removed to Edinburgh Castle, where it now lies buried.
This photographic image courtesy of
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
Horace Taylor GC MBE
William Horace Taylor.
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: https://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
On 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 and had happily survived the tragedy.
In 1988, Sharon Ford and Jacqueline Urbanski (posthumously),
as well as Joanna, 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.
Joanna is currently stil involved in aviation but mostly in
training. She is married and lives in Singapore and develops
courses for schools, crew and the public – mostly safety stuff.
She appeared on the National Geographic Air Crash Investigations
but apart from that have never spoken in public about the
She was not only awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal, but
also the Ross McWhirter Award , the Flight Safety Foundation
Heroism Award (https://flightsafety.org/aviation-awards/archived-aviation-awards/fsf-heroism-award),
and the Graviner Sword,
We are grateful to Terry Hissey
for providing additional information on Joanna Toff, as well
as other Military heroes contained on these web pages.
as well as updated information from Joanna herself.