Albert Howarth GC (AM exchanger)

b. 10/05/1917 Nelson, Lancashire. d. 13/06/1976 Burnley, Lancashire.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 09/05/1941 Mediterranean Sea.

Albert Howarth (1917-1976) was born on 10th May 1917 in Nelson, Lancashire, the elder of two sons of Benjamin and Sarah Ann Barnes Howarth (nee Blacklock). His brother’s name was Harry. His father was employed in a local textile mill as a Cotton Loom Overlooker. Albert attended Bradshaw Street Junior School and then Bentley Street Senior School and was a choirboy at St Bedes Church, Nelson. Before the outbreak of World War II, Albert worked at Messrs Fergus Wilkinsons, Pendle Street Mill, Nelson as a loom oiler and was in the mills’ swimming team. He married Margaret Robinson and they had two sons Anthony Trevor and Geoffrey Gordon.

Albert Howarth GC

Albert volunteered on 19th October 1940 for the Royal Navy and became an Ordinary Seaman on HMS Raleigh, before being transferred onto HMS Foresight in the early months of 1941. One day shy of his 24th birthday, on 9th May 1941, he was aboard HMS Foresight when the SS Empire Song hit two mines, setting her on fire. The captain ordered her abandoned. Howarth was part of a boat’s crew sent to board the burning ship but as they drew near her, she blew up, throwing the boat’s crew into the water. Howarth could see near him a stoker who was badly shaken, so he held him up for 10 minutes until a lifebelt was thrown to him. This he put around the stoker. Before being hauled on board his ship himself, he made sure that his shipmate was safe. When he himself reached the deck, after nearly thirty minutes in the water, it was seen that his right foot had been blown off.

As a result of his accident, Albert was hospitalised in Malta, and gangrene set in which forced his leg to be amputated below the knee. He first learnt that he had been awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving at Sea through a children’s comic, whilst he was in hospital recovering from his injury. He received his medal on 28th October 1941 at an investiture at Buckingham Palace. The same month he was promoted to Acting Able Seaman but he never retuned to sea, and was invalided out of the Royal Navy in October 1942.

After his long convalescence and the fitting of a prosthetic leg, he worked at Courtauld’s Valley Mill, and worked in the cotton industry until the mill closed down. After its closure, he became a labourer with Greenbank Engineering Ltd, before his retirement. In 1971, following a change in the Royal Warrant, Albert accepted the opportunity to exchange his AM for a George Cross, and attended an investiture at Buckingham Palace in 1972. He donated his Albert Medal to the Townley Hall Museum in Burnley, where he lived in retirement.

Albert died on 13th June 1976 and was cremated at Burnley Crematorium, where his ashes were scattered in the Summer section of the Garden of Remembrance. Albert’s GC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star and War Medal 1939-45 are still proudly held by the Howarth family.