John Henry Mitchell GC BEM (AM exchanger)

b. 01/01/1917 Grimsby, Lincolnshire.  d. 12/04/1972 West Norwood, London.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 27/09/1940 Iceland.

John Henry Mitchell (1917-1972) was born on 1st January 1917 in Grimsby, Lincolnshire, the son of John Henry and Minnie Selina Mitchell (nee Parrot). When John junior was young, the family moved to Fleetwood, Lancashire, where John senior continued his career as a trawler skipper. After a basic primary education, John junior left school early and joined his father on the trawlers. He trained as a radio operator and mate for six years. His work with his father was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, and he decided to “do his bit” and joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

John H Mitchell GC BEM

He began service on aircraft carriers and cruisers, and at the time of his action he was in Iceland. On 27th September 1940, Chief Engineman Wedderburn fell into the harbour between two trawlers. He could not swim himself, and was soon unconscious. A seaman who jumped in to save him was soon in difficulties himself. Mitchell, hearing shouting, clambered over a vessel to the quay, ran 100 yards. climbed across two ships and jumped into the water. He seized Wedderburn by his hair, and held up the other man until a rope was passed down. This he secured with a bowling around the now helpless seaman, using one hand, while he supported both men and himself by gripping the rope with his teeth. The seaman was then hauled out of the water by the men in a trawler. Mitchell, although fully clad and wearing sea boots, supported Wedderburn by treading water until a pilot ladder could be lowered. He made the rope fast around Wedderburn, and steadied him as he was hauled out, Mitchell had been in the very cold water for 35 minutes, and was unconscious when rescued.

Mitchell recovered from the incident, and on 25th April 1941, the London Gazette announced that he had been awarded the Albert Medal in Bronze for gallantry in saving life at sea. Soon afterwards, he transferred to the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Gunnery Officer. On 29th May 1941 he married Evelyn Sparks and they had a son and a daughter. On being demobbed in April 1946, he joined the Metropolitan Police as Probationer No 12844. On 9th April 1948 his appointment as a Constable was confirmed and he rose rapidly up the ranks reaching Detective Inspector on 3rd December 1965. At that time he was appointed to the Stolen Motor Vehicle Investigation Branch, a role he held until his death.

While with the Metropolitan Police, he was commended three times for various actions, firstly in 1957 for “ability and initiative in a case of shopbreaking”, secondly for “valuable assistance in a murder investigation in 1965 in Antigua”, and the third in 1970 led to the award of the British Empire Medal. In 1971, following a change in the Royal Warrant, John chose to exchange his Albert Medal for George Cross, and donated his AM to the Imperial War Museum.

John Mitchell died suddenly on 12th April 1972 in Wandsworth, London, though sadly his final resting place is not known. His medal group including his GC, BEM, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, War Medal 1939-45 and Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal are privately held.