Emma Jose Townsend GC (EGM exchanger)

b. 19/05/1879 Leicester. d. 08/03/1965 Wimbledon, Surrey.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 07/05/1932 Kingsbridge, Devon.

Emma Jane Townsend (1879-1965) was born in Leicester on 19th May 1879, the youngest of four children born to William Henry and Mary Townsend (nee Sturgess). Emma’s siblings were named William, George and Eliza. Their father was a master painter and had 11 employees working out of premises at 49 King Street in Leicester. The family were comfortably well off, and able to employ a servant. Emma, following school, became a nurse, and by the time of the 1901 Census, she was living in Bradford, Yorkshire, working in a local hospital.

Emma J Townsend GC

In 1926, Emma decided to re-locate with her sister and moved to Portlemouth in South Devon, where she took a nursing position at South Hams Hospital at Kingsbridge. In early May 1932, a farmer, William George Jarvis Yeoman, who owned Little Sigdon Farm in Buckland Tout Saints, went beserk and killed his wife Olive, daughter Kathleen, and 15 month old son Alfred. His other son, William was in South Hams Hospital at the time suffering from a diseased leg. Mr Yeoman, following the murder of his wife and two of his children, then headed for the hospital.

Yeoman entered the hospital with a gun concealed under his overcoat. Nurse Ida Mary Croucher tried to stop him by catching hold of his coat, and as she was pulling he fired twice. Emma Townsend, who was not on duty, but visiting her sister, heard the cries of help from Nurse Croucher. She also attempted to stop Yeoman, and in the struggle she was struck over the head with the gun, causing a severe head wound.

Sadly, both Emma and Nurse Croucher’s attempts were in vain, as William Yeoman junior passed away two days later on the 9th May from his wounds. Emma who lost a good quantity of blood needed numerous stitches. William Yeoman Snr was arrested and accused of four murders and “wounding with intent to murder” Emma Townsend. He pleaded Not Guilty, and the jury returned a verdict of Guilty but Insane. He was thus detained for the rest of his life in a criminal lunatic asylum.

On 6th September 1932, Emma was announced in the London Gazette as the recipient of the Empire Gallantry Medal of the Civil Division. Eight years later, in September 1940, following the creation of the George Cross, all EGM holders including Emma were automatically entitled to exchange.

Emma, who never married, retired to Wimbledon, Surrey, where she died on 8th March 1965. Her final resting place is not known. Her GC and 1953 QEII Coronation Medal have been sold at auction at Christie’s on 23rd November 1965, Sotheby’s on 24th June 1970 and Spink’s in 1992 and are in private ownership.