Philip Robert Stephen May GC (AM exchanger)

b. 06/08/1922 Canterbury, Kent. d. 14/12/1994 Broadstairs, Kent.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 20/06/1947 Malta.

Phillip Robert Stephen May (1922-1994) was born on 6h August 1922 at 16 St Peter’s St,  Canterbury, Kent, the only son of Frederick Arthur and Jessie May (nee Sayer). He had a sister Gloria. His father served in the Royal Navy and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1944. Phillip attended Simon Langton Grammar School in Canterbury from the autumn of 1934 after completing his primary education at Wesleyan Methodist Primary School. In 1935, he joined the Naval League Cadets and then from 1938-1939 worked as an apprentice electrical engineer in Canterbury.

Philip R S May GC

He had a keen desire to go to sea, and in 1940 he joined the Merchant Navy as a Deck Boy on MV Port Hunter and sailed around the world. On his return he joined the Royal Navy as T124 Seaman, with a specialism in degaussing mines. During the remainder of the war years, he served on a number of ships cable laying, repairing pipe work and clearing underwater mines. He reached the rank of Chief Petty Officer on HMS Bullfinch.

On 29th June 1946, he married Dorothy (known as Dee) Steed, and they went on to have four children, Stephen, Julia, Vincent and Virginia. In 1947, he chose to revert to being a Leading Seaman on HMS St Margarets, which was about to undertake the dangerous task of clearing mines from the Mediterranean.

On 20th June 1947 off the coast of Malta, a Chief Petty Officer entered a cable tank and was overcome by gas. The first lieutenant, boatswain and 4 ratings entered the tank to rescue him and were all overcome themselves. May then entered the tank and, in a series of rescues, secured a line around each of the 7 men, so enabling them to be hauled on deck. After the third rescue May was so exhausted that a ship mate offered to relieve him, but he himself was overcome and required rescuing. May therefore continued his work until it was finished. He saved the lives of 7 men, though sadly the chief petty officer died later.

Shortly after being demobbed from the Royal Navy, he was gazetted for the award of the Albert Medal in Bronze for Life Saving at Sea on 21st November 1947. He was presented with his medal at Buckingham Palace on 10th February 1948. Returning to civilian life, he became an electrical engineer, and travelled the world for the next 20 years, working mainly in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. In 1971, following the change in the Royal Warrant, Phillip chose to exchange his Albert Medal for a George Cross. Unusually, Phillip chose to retain his Albert Medal alongside his GC.

When Phillip retired in 1980, he and his wife Dee bought a wooden ketch, rebuilt her, and lived aboard her. They travelled the world until she was destroyed by a fire in 1987, and the couple returned to England. Phillip was an active Freemason and was a Brother of the St Augustine Chapter in Canterbury. In his final years, he began work on a book about Freemason holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross. Sadly, Phillip passed away on 14th December 1994 in Broadstairs, Kent, before it was completed.

Phillip was cremated at Thanet Crematorium, and his ashes were scattered in the Garden of Remembrance. His wife Dee chose to pass the manuscript of her late husband’s book to a local publisher, and he edited it, and finally “Beyond the Five Points” was published. Phillip’s medals including his GC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star, Burma Star, Italy Star, War Medal 1939-45, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal, 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal and 1992 Malta Commemoration Medal are privately held. There is also a road named after him in Chatham, Kent.