Christopher Feetham GC (AM exchanger)

b. 25/12/1890 Gateshead. d. 02/10/1976 Battersea, London.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 10/11/1918 Sunderland.

Christopher Feetham (1890-1976) was born on Christmas Day, 1890 in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, one of four children born to Frank and Elizabeth Feetham. His father was a gas stoker, and the family spent Christopher’s childhood either living in Bishopwearmouth or Gateshead. Little is known about Christopher’s early life and schooling, though he left school at 13 to begin work in a nut and bolt factory earning 2 shillings, 9 pence a week. He then went to work in a rail factory before joined the Merchant Navy in 1908. During his first voyage, he was involved in the Messina Earthquake, for which he received the Messina Earthquake Medal and he went on to serve on an American ship until the outbreak of war in 1914.

Christopher Feetham GC

He married Henrietta Veronica Thompson on 21st February 1914 and they went on to have five children, Henrietta, Christopher, Frances, John and Joseph. Later he left his family in Gateshead and set up in London, starting a new family with Amy Dorothy Chilman Barnett by whom he had ten children, all whom were given the name Barnett.

Christopher was torpedoed twice during the First World War before being awarded the Albert Medal in 1918. On 10th November 1918, in Sunderland Harbour, a fire broke out in the messroom and adjoining saloon aboard SS Hornsey. Given the quantity of ammunition on board, there was a great risk of explosion. The whole ship’s company helped to get the fire under control. The decisive factor, however, was Feetham, who volunteered to be lowered down into the cabin. There, waist-deep in water, he was able to direct his hose on to that part of the fire that would have caused the ammunition to explode in a very short time. As it was, some of the ammunition cases were already scorched. It was at the greatest risk to his life that he went down alone to make this last effort, and he undoubtedly saved a very large number of lives, not just on the Hornsey but in the surrounding area.

Christopher was gazetted for the Albert Medal on 18th March 1919 and collected his Great War ribbons on 19th August 1919 at Dock Street Mercantile Marine Office. The British War Medal and Mercantile Marine Medal were issued to him on 9th May 1921. Following his service, he worked on the compressor’s building of the London Underground system and then as a water diviner to a German firm. In 1935, Christopher wrote to the Board of Trade stating that he had lost his Albert Medal whilst serving on SS Ostril. The response was a firm refusal to issue a replacement medal. During World War II, he was involved in the building of Mulberry Harbours and the Thames Forts.

In 1971, following the change in the Royal Warrant, the opportunity was given to receive a George Cross. Despite Christopher’s loss of his Albert Medal, he was permitted to “exchange” and was invested with a George Cross on 30th November 1972 at Buckingham Palace. Christopher died just under four years later, on 2nd October 1976 in Wandsworth, London and was cremated at Putney Vale Crematorium. His medals including the GC, British War Medal 1914-20, Mercantile Marine Medal and Messina Earthquake Commemorative Medal were auctioned in Australia in 2005 and are now in private ownership.