Charles Henry Walker GC (AM exchanger)

b. 09/03/1914 Hartlepool, County Durham. d. 17/07/2011 Llanelli, Wales.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 13/08/1942 Mediterranean Sea.

Charles Henry Walker (1914-2011) was born on 9th March 1914 in Hartlepool, County Durham, the son of William Allen and Cecilia Walker (nee Harbron). He had a sister Elizabeth and a brother William. Sadly, when he was very young, both his parents died, and he was placed in an orphanage. After a foster placement he was eventually adopted by Mrs Ling at the age of 12. He earned some extra money being a barrow boy for a local grocer. He was then given a job as a an apprentice in a crayfish yard on the Hartlepool docks, and it was there that it was suggested to Charles that his future may lie in the Royal Navy.

Charles H Walker GC

He decided to apply for the Royal Navy, and in 1932, he enrolled at Portsmouth Barracks. After initial training on HMS Hood, he was appointed Boy 2nd Class in 1933. He moved onto the HMS Dolphin and then realised that he could make extra money by filling in positions as spare crew on submarines. In 1936, Charles met Beatrice Martin at a dance in Portsmouth, and they later married. They went on to have four children – Angela, Rebecca, Ann Louise and Charles.

In 1940, while on HMS Malaya he was torpedoed off the coast of Dakar, Senegal. The ship crawled back across the Atlantic to be repaired in Brooklyn Harbour in New York. After repairs took place, the HMS Malaya took part in the chase of the Graf Spee into Montevideo Harbour, Uruguay. Charles was now promoted to Petty Officer, and in his spare time, he was keen water polo player and rower.

By the summer of 1942, Charles had transferred to HMS Ledbury and was based in the Mediterranean in the midst of the siege of Malta. He was aboard on 13th August when the SS Waimarama was bombed and set on fire fore and aft. The Ledbury went to assist, lowering her whaler to pick up survivors. Walker then saw 16-year-old galley boy Alan Burnett thrown into the sea with many of his fellow crew members, many of whom were dead. Seeing that he was in difficulties, and without a thought for his own safety, he dived over the destroyer’s side and rescued him. The sea was on fire and the heat intense, and his ship was about to get under way but both men were picked up.

Charles was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving at Sea on 11th December 1942, and was presented with the medal by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on 13th April 1943. Following the events in Malta, he took part in the Russian Convoy PQ17 and then in 1949 he was drafted to HMS Daedelus with the Fleet Air Arm until he left the Navy in 1954. After leaving the Navy, he took a job as a Tilly driver at Portsmouth Docks for £7 a week but after 5 years, he decided to go back to sea, this time in the Merchant Navy. He did five trips on the Cunard SS Scythia taking repatriated French people back to Quebec, Canada. Following this he worked for the Post Office until retirement in 1979.

In 1971, following the change in the Royal Warrant, Charles chose to exchange his AM for a George Cross. He donated the Albert Medal to the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth. Following his retirement, he decided to return to the North East and his roots. He lived there for 20 years, but due to ill-health, he moved again to be near to his daughter Ann, who lived in South Wales. Over 60 years after the incident in Malta, he would meet up again with Alan Burnett who would joke about wanting half the medal.

Charles died on 17th July 2011 in Llanelli, Wales, aged 97, and was cremated at Llanelli Crematorium. In accordance with his wishes, his ashes were scattered at sea. Charles’ medal group including his GC, is still proudly held by the Walker family.