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An Albert Medal won in Cardiff 1919

Walter Cleall, winner of the Albert Medal. Image copyright Kenneth Williams.
Walter Cleall, winner of the Albert Medal. Image copyright Kenneth Williams.
The Albert Medal (front view)
The Albert Medal (front view)
The Royal Hotel, Cardiff (photographed 2003).
The Royal Hotel, Cardiff (photographed 2003).

In 1919 Walter Cleall won the Albert Medal for gallantry in saving the life of Winnie Jones from a fire at the Royal Hotel, Cardiff.

On the afternoon of 11 August 1919, an off-duty chambermaid named Winnie Jones found herself trapped in her 6th floor room at the Royal Hotel, Cardiff, by a severe fire. The Fire Brigade's ladders could not reach her. A crowd had gathered and two men - Tom Hill and Walter Cleall - ran into the hotel to try to rescue her.

Somehow, Cleall reached the 6th Floor, but to get to the girl he had to smash a window and make his way round a narrow parapet, at places with a drop of nearly 30m (100 feet) to Wood Street, below. He then carried her back by the same route. As they left her room, the roof collapsed. Both the girl and her rescuer were later taken unconscious to hospital.

The whole event was witnessed by a London barrister, who happened to be in Cardiff that day. He promptly wrote to the Home Secretary (another barrister) and within two days of the event the Home Office was investigating whether to reward Cleall's bravery. The following March, Cleall was invested by the King with the Albert Medal, then Britain's senior civil gallantry award.

The Albert Medal was first awarded in 1866 for gallantry in saving life at sea. In 1877, it was extended to cover incidents on land, following the dramatic rescue of five miners who had been trapped underground for nine days at the Tynewydd Colliery in the Rhondda Valley. It rapidly became known as the 'Civilian Victoria Cross'. The creation of the George Cross in 1940 made the Albert Medal redundant, except as an occasional posthumous award, and in 1971 it was revoked. Its living holders were invited to exchange it for the George Cross. Walter Cleall was one of five who chose to donate their original award to the National Museum of Wales.

Background Reading

For Those in Peril, by Edward Besly. Published by the National Museums & Galleries of Wales (2004).

Article Date: 23 April 2007

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