William Waterson GC (EM exchanger)

b. 16/06/1904 Aston, Birmingham. d. 24/03/1973 Sutton Coldfield. Birmingham.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 18/08/1945 Birmingham.

William Waterson (1904-1973) was born on 16th June 1904 in Aston, Birmingham, one of five children of Thomas and Elizabeth Waterson (nee Warren). His father was a grocer’s assistant at the time of his birth, and the family lived at 8 Bertram Road in Small Heath. Little is known of William’s childhood and schooling, though he began work for the General Electric Company (GEC) from a young age.

William Waterson GC

On the 18th July 1926, William married Lilian Margaret Preston in St John the Baptist Church, Deritend, Warwickshire, and the couple went on to have a daughter, Fay. William’s life would change on 18th August 1945, when he was at work as usual at the Carbon Works of the GEC. On that day, two workmen were engaged in collecting newly manufactured lamp-black from a brick chamber. The men were unprotected and had to withstand high temperatures as well as an atmosphere made unpleasant by the presence of particles of oily lamp-black as well as carbon monoxide from burning soot. After a short time, Webb collapsed and his companion, Albert Stranks, being unable to move him, sought help. Breathing gear was stored at the works fire station some distance away when Stranks called for help, the alarm was sounded.

Waterson, who was first on the scene, joined Stranks and without pausing, though fully realising the risk, entered the chamber and attempted to pull Webb out. He was covered in sweat and carbon black and the rescue work was difficult as it was not possible to get a proper grip on him. They were unsuccessful at first and when they came out Stranks collapsed; Waterson continued to try, entering the chamber 4 times in all. He managed to pull Webb out, but sadly he had died.

As a result of his actions, William was awarded the Edward Medal in Bronze (Industry) on 2nd April 1946, and was also awarded the Carnegie Hero Fund Trust Certificate. Waterson spent a time in hospital after the incident due to the gas, but did eventually return to work. He was newly married, to Elsie Sudale, and they would have a daughter. In 1971, following a change in the Royal Warrant, William was offered the opportunity to exchange his Edward Medal for a George Cross. William accepted and donated his Edward Medal to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Sadly, William was in poor health at this time, and passed away on 24th March 1973. He was cremated and his ashes scattered in Plot 4 of Sutton Coldfield Crematorium. His George Cross and some other items were sold at auction in 2009 and purchased by a private buyer.