The Albert Medal (AM) was instituted in 1866 and awarded for saving life at sea. Before being combined with the Edward Medal in 1971 to become the equivalent of the George Cross, only 216 bronze Albert Medals had been awarded. Morris Richard Ellis of Holyhead was awarded his postumously. It was presented to his family by Queen Elizabeth II at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 27 February 1952.
Morris Richard Ellis was born in Preston on 18 July 1926. His father, Samuel Hugh Ellis, was from Holyhead and had served with the Cheshire Regiment during WW1. He married Annie Miller from Preston in 1922. Sadly Morris Richard’s mother died during his birth and he was then brought up by his paternal grandparents, Hugh and Ellen Ellis, at 1 Arthur Street, Holyhead. From that time he was known locally as Richie. His older sister, Catherine Megan (b. 1924) went to live with her maternal grandmother in Preston.
Richie went to school at Holyhead, Kingsland Primary and Cybi Secondary. He left school in 1943 and was employed in the Post Office in Holyhead. He had been a member of the Holyhead Sea Cadets and in 1944 joined the Merchant Navy. By 1950 he was an Able Seaman serving on the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Oil Tanker, Wave Commander.
The Wave Commander was on a voyage from Heysham to the Persian Gulf. On 4 July 1950 the vessel was off the coast of Portugal when during tank cleaning the Bosun entered the tank to complete the cleaning by hose. The nozzle dropped from the hose into the tank and the Bosun descended to try and locate it. He was three-quarters of the way up the ladder when he was overcome by gas.
Able Seaman Ellis went to his assistance and managed to lash the Bosun to the ladder with a rope passed down to him. In doing this he must have been well aware of the danger and risk to his own life. Unfortunately he was overcome by the gas and having lost his grip on the ladder, fell to the bottom of the tank and was killed.
The vessel put in to Gibraltar and his body was taken ashore. He was buried on 6 July 1950 in the North Front Cemetery in Gibraltar. The grave in Gibraltar has been tended by members of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary for many years whenever their vessels were in Gibraltar. Members of Richie’s family in Preston visited the Cemetery in 2012, and arranged for a plaque to be added to the grave. They also placed some stones collected from Rhoscolyn beach, as the Ellis family can be traced to that area.
As regards the medal – In 2002 the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Association Historical Society made enquiries through the local press in Anglesey to see if any of the family were living locally. No useful information came to light at this time although the Medal itself was in the care of relatives of Richie in Holyhead. Further enquiries were made by Chris White of the RFA Historical Society in the Preston area in 2005. This drew a response from family members of Catherine Megan Swarbrick (nee Ellis), Richie’s sister. They in turn made contact with the relatives in Holyhead and the Medal was rightly handed to them as his sister, although by then deceased, was the actual next of kin. The medal is now in the care of this side of the family.
The Royal Navy continue to pay their respects – https://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2016/may/24/160524-rfa-sailors-honour-brave-comrade-in-gibraltar
Editor note – With thanks to David Winckle for the family research and also the RFA Historical Society and particularly Chris White for the free use of images and information.
Contributed by Peter Scott Roberts and David Winckle
This is part of a collection of posts telling the sometimes overlooked stories of some of Holyhead’s brave heroes.
© Holyhead Maritime Museum.