Hilda Elizabeth Wolsey GC (AM exchanger)

b. 26/06/1887 West Ham, London. d. 15/03/1974 Ealing, London.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 11/06/1910 Hanwell Asylum.

Hilda Elizabeth Wolsey (1887-1974) was born on 26th June 1887 in Forest Gate, West Ham, London, the elder of twin girls born to Arthur and Elizabeth Wolsey. The younger twin was named Florence, and was 10 minutes younger than Hilda. Their father was a builder’s foreman. The couple had five children in total. There were two brothers Thomas and Arthur, and another sister named Louisa. By 1901, the family were living in 38 Ernest Road, West Ham.

Hilda E Wolsey GC

Hilda was an avid reader, and was interested in medicine from a young age. In circa 1908, she began training as a nurse at the Hanwell Asylum, Middlesex, and by the time of her action she had become a second class nurse. She would later qualify as a SRN (State Registered Nurse).

On 11th June 1910, a female patient was exercising in one of the airing courts. Suddenly, the patient climbed over the wire covering one of the fire-escape staircases; reaching the roof of the laundry ward, she ran along the narrow guttering at the edge of the roof for some 60 or 70ft. Nurse Wolsey followed her, and grabbed hold of the patient before she fell, and held her there until ropes and ladders could be used to help them both down.

When Hilda was interviewed by a local newspaper following her action, she said “I didn’t stop to think. I only knew that I must keep my head clear and hold on as well as I could. The six minutes we stood there together on the roof seemed terribly long.”

On the 23rd May 1911, Hilda went to Buckingham Palace, where she was presented with the Albert Medal by King George V, and her citation had appeared in the London Gazette on 28th March 1911. Hilda continued in the nursing profession for the rest of her working life.

The final Royal Warrant relating to the Albert Medal (and Edward Medal) was dated 15th December 1971, effective 21st October 1971, which revoked all existing Royal Warrants and provided for the optional exchange for the George Cross, although all holders, whether they exchanged or not, would be regarded as recipients of the GC.

Hilda chose to exchange her Albert Medal for a George Cross. She decided to donate her Albert Medal to St Bernard’s Hospital, Hanwell (St Bernard’s had incorporated the old Hanwell Asylum). Hilda didn’t really want a fuss made of her, but the Hospital decided to display her Albert Medal and citation alongside a photograph in a prominent part of the building. The medal is no longer on display. She also turned down the chance to go to Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen to receive her GC.

Hilda only lived for three years following the exchange, passing away on 15th March 1974 in Ealing, Middlesex. She was cremated at Mortlake Crematorium, Richmond, Surrey. Her George Cross is not publicly held.