In the Valleys you’ll often hear people ask, ‘Are you belonging?’ meaning are you related to a person or a place. Links to family, community and work are very strong. And nowhere is this demonstrated more heroically than by the men from the Valleys who served with the South Wales Borderers and looked out for their comrades in time of war.
Nantyglo - born John Henry Williams (or Jack as he was known) worked as a blacksmith for the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company (EVSIC). When World War I broke out this company was the first large employer in South Wales to give an allowance to the dependants of men who joined up. The allowance was paid and the promise kept, that every man should have his job back on his return. Jack signed up and in 1916 was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for ‘conspicuous gallantry in action’ at Mametz Wood on the Western Front. In 1917, he received the Military Medal (M.M) for ‘bravery in the field’, five months later adding a bar to it, as well as the Medaille Militaire (the French equivalent of the V. C.) and Croix de Guerre.
In recognition of his ‘conspicuous bravery, initiative and devotion to duty’ during the attack on Villers-Outreaux in 1918 he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Suffering heavy casualties from an enemy machine gun, Jack had ordered his company to engage it with a Lewis gun. He went forward under heavy fire to the enemy post, which he rushed, capturing 15 enemy soldiers. The prisoners, realising that Jack was alone, turned on him, but he succeeded in breaking away, bayoneting five so that the remainder surrendered.
Jack was one of the lucky ones. He returned to a job with the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron and Coal Company (who gave him a house and coal and electricity for life). Working as the Commissionaire at the General Offices (for the EVSIC), the crimson ribbon attached to his lapel was the only clue to his heroic past and Victoria Cross. More than 400 other men who had worked for the Company never returned.
Where to Visit?
The General Offices in Ebbw Vale, where Jack once worked, is now the home to Gwent Archives and the Steelworks Archive Trust, with an amazing collection of local history materials. A plaque in in memory of Jack was unveiled on 8th March 2014.
You can see Jack’s VC at the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh in Brecon.
Why not pay your respects to this most heroic of men by visiting his grave in Ebbw Vale Cemetery?
29 September 1886
07 March 1953