Alfred William Newman GC (AM exchanger)

b. 08/04/1889 Prebendal House, Empingham, Rutland. d. 01/09/1984 East Grinstead, Sussex.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 10/10/1917 Harwich.

Alfred William Newman (1889-1984) was born on the 8th April 1889, the second son of Miles William and Jessie (nee Reay). The family home, Prebendal House, where Alfred was born, was once the home of the Bishop of Lincoln. At the time of Alfred’s birth, Miles was Agent to the Earl of Ancaster at the Rutland Estate. The couple eventually had six children, but sadly Jessie died in 1892. Miles remarried to Agnes Emma Howard, and they had four children. In 1897, Miles and Agnes moved the family to The Hectorage Farm, Tonbridge, Kent.

Alfred W Newman GC

Alfred’s schooling began at Empingham School then, after the move to Kent, Andrew Judd’s Commercial School in Tonbridge. When he was 14 he won a scholarship to continue his studies with the aim of becoming a doctor, but his father was not in favour. Due to strained relations with his father and stepmother, Alfred left home and went to sea in 1902 with his first experience being on coastal colliers between the Humber and London. He then became a cabin boy on a sailing vessel to Sydney, Australia. For a short while he served on a Revenue Cutter in the Gulf of St Lawrence at Prince Edward Island until, on 7th May 1903, he commenced his formal training as a Boy on the Marine Society’s Training Ship “Warspite” moored off Greenhithe. After his training, he joined HMS Impregnable, the RN Training Ship as a Boy Second Class. On 13th January 1905 he was to join the Fleet and thereafter served on many ships.

By the outbreak of WWI, Alfred had been promoted to Petty Officer and become a specialist in gunnery and torpedo warfare and was serving on HMS Laurel attached to the Harwich Naval Force under the command of Commodore Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt. The HNF opened the Naval War on 5th August 1914 by firing the first shots. He was promoted to Warrant Rank (Gunner in His Majesty’s Fleet) on 18th November 1915.

On 10th October 1917 at Harwich, a fire alarm was sounded onboard HMS Tetrarch. Newman proceeded to the magazine as soon as he heard the alarm; seeing smoke issuing from a box of cordite, he opened the lid and passed the cartridges up to the upper deck, where they were thrown overboard. One cartridge in the middle of the box was very hot, and smoke was issuing from it. By his prompt action he saved the magazine from exploding, with the loss of many lives.

On 5th March 1918 he was awarded the Albert Medal for his gallantry. He was further promoted to Mate and joined HMS Dragon, becoming Torpedo Lieutenant during the Baltic Campaign. The period became the “roughest time in the Navy” for Alfred. He saw action in Germany, Denmark and the Baltic States, receiving several direct hits at Riga in October 1919. During August and September 1919 the Dragon was recalled and designated as escort to HRH Prince of Wales, embarked on the battle cruiser HMS Renown during his voyage to Canada. While on leave he married Alice May Barnes, and they went on to have two children – Mary and Arthur.

After three more years – partly at sea and partly based at Chatham and Rosyth – when the reductions were made in Navy personnel Alfred retired (1922) being promoted Lieutenant Commander (Retd) in June 1927.

As a civilian he settled in Lincolnshire buying and building up a poultry farm at Ruskington near Sleaford though he continued to attend specialised courses within the Royal Navy particularly in the newly proposed methods of design being designated for the construction of Boom and Harbour Defences which resulted in his recall in 1939 to undertake specific tasks related to the Harbour and Estuary at Harwich and Felixstowe.

By December 1939 he was directed by the Admiralty to provide expert naval instruction and assigned to various civilian firms throughout the UK in the manufacture of anti-submarine and torpedo nets. By 1942 he was working in West Africa based on the Gambia River where he recruited local men who became the Gambia Royal Naval Volunteer Force and whose work was to build harbour defences. Further commands took him to the Middle East and the Red Sea until in 1946 he was appointed as Boom Defence and Salvage Officer, Mediterranean and Malta. His first task was to raise and salvage the SS Ohio. Two years later, he retired and settled in East Grinstead in Sussex.

In 1971, Alfred chose to accept the offer to exchange his Albert Medal for the George Cross. In December 1973, his wife Alice passed away. Alfred passed away aged 96 on 1st September 1984 and was cremated at Sussex and Surrey Crematorium, Crawley and his ashes were scattered. His name is recorded in the Book of Remembrance. His medals including his GC, 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oakleaf are held by the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. He chose not to obtain his Second World War medals.