The Daily Telegraph

Margaret Purves, GC

Schoolgirl aged 14 who dived into the cold waters off South Wales to save the lives of two Boy Scouts

- Margaret Purves, born November 25 1934, died September 12 2021

MARGARET PURVES, GC, who has died aged 86, was one of the youngest recipients of the Albert Medal, later translated to the George Cross, awarded when she was 14 for her bravery after she plunged into the sea to save two boys from drowning.

She was relaxing with some friends visiting Sully Island near Barry, South Wales, on Saturday May 28 1949 when she noticed that a party of Scouts from Cardiff, aged between 11 and 15, had become cut off from the causeway which led to the mainland by the swiftly rising tide.

Most got across safely, but two of the boys were forced off the causeway by the strong tide. The leader of the Scout party, Tony Rees, 18, returned to help the elder boy, Richard Wiggins, 13, but in the struggle he too became exhausted.

Watching from the beach, Margaret Vaughan (as she then was) saw the difficulti­es they were in. Although earlier she had found the water too chilly for a swim herself, she undressed and struck out towards them, covering some 30 yards in cold, rough water and against strong currents running on a rising tide. She towed the boy to the shore while he supported himself by clinging to the straps of her costume and Tony Rees’s coat.

At about 10 feet from the shore a lifebelt was thrown in which the boy was placed by the other two, and the three reached the shore safely.

According to the citation in the London Gazette, Margaret Vaughan’s action probably saved the life of the Scout leader as well as that of the elder boy Wiggins.

“One of the boys climbed on my back and the other hung on to him as I struck out for the shore,” she told The Daily Telegraph the following day. “I battled against the current for a time and then I got in a current which enabled us to drift ashore. It was a stiff battle.” The paper noted that Margaret was “a strong swimmer” and a member of two Cardiff swimming clubs.

Meanwhile, the younger Scout, John Davies, 13, who safely reached the mainland, had seen that his friend Michael Glossop, 11, who was unable to swim, was being swept away into deep water. John stripped to the waist and ran back along the causeway to help him.

In the water he managed to seize his friend and hold him up, but John became exhausted and before a rescue boat could reach them he was forced to let go and they drifted apart. The boat rescued Michael Glossop, who was treated in hospital for shock, but there was no further sign of John, whose body was later recovered. Margaret Vaughan’s citation recorded that there was no doubt that in returning to his friend’s aid after reaching safety himself, John Davies gave his own life.

With other holders of the Albert Medal,

Margaret Purves (as she subsequent­ly became) campaigned for the restitutio­n of the award’s place in the order of Chancery. It had been downgraded over the years, especially since the institutio­n of the George Cross in 1942, and she discovered that she was the last person living to receive the Albert Medal. It was declared a posthumous-only accolade after 1949, the year she received it.

In 1971 she exchanged her Albert Medal, receiving the George Cross from the Queen at a re-investitur­e at Buckingham Palace.

She donated her medal to the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff, where (she rather crossly noted in 1992 in a letter to The Daily Telegraph, to which she was a frequent correspond­ent) it “ended up in a drawer … and is shown only if someone specifical­ly asks to see it”.

The only daughter of a policeman, Margaret Vaughan was born on November 25 1934 in the Cardiff suburb of Tremorfa. She won a scholarshi­p to Penarth County Grammar School for Girls and in 1948, as a teenager, learnt to swim while staying at a holiday camp in Hayling Island.

The following year, on holiday at Gilwern, she had an operation to remove her appendix, and at the weekend before returning to school cycled to Sully Island with friends.

Having rescued the Scouts she had spotted from the shore, Margaret had intended to return home on her bike, but with the police involved as a result of the fatality, someone who recognised from her church had circulated her name. By the Monday morning, she was front-page news, and people sent her letters of congratula­tion, some containing money.

At the investitur­e at Buckingham Palace, Margaret was placed in the care of an officer in RAF uniform, who turned out to be Gp Capt Peter Townsend, later to achieve fame as the divorcé whom Princess Margaret did not marry.

Dressed in her school uniform, she was told not to look directly into the face of the King as he invested her with the Albert Medal, on account of his speech impediment. Later, her parents took her for supper in Soho, and the following morning she discovered that the papers had all mentioned her white ankle socks.

Margaret had hoped to go from school to university but financial constraint­s led her into nursing, and she trained at Oldchurch Hospital in Romford, qualifying in 1951 before studying for additional qualificat­ions in midwifery.

In 1957 she was commission­ed into the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps as a lieutenant and posted to the Cambridge Hospital, Aldershot, before further postings to Mauritius, Kenya, Catterick and finally Hanover in Germany, where she met Capt John Purves of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). They married at Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff, in 1961, six months to the day after their first meeting.

As Margaret Purves, she held various jobs – nursing in Singapore, card-punching for the Inland Revenue in Ottawa, serving as deputy editor of the REME house magazine Craftsman. Returning to Germany in 1977, she became sister in charge of the medical centre at Minden garrison. She also worked at Cheltenham General Hospital as night sister in charge of the intensive care unit.

In 1981, following her husband’s final posting, to Supreme Headquarte­rs Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) in Brussels, she became secretary to the chaplain.

After 29 service moves, in 1983 Margaret Purves and her husband settled at Bradford on Avon in Wiltshire, where she became chairman of the local Conservati­ve Associatio­n and served on the town and county councils until 1989.

Following the signing of the Maastricht treaty in 1996, she joined the Referendum Party led by James Goldsmith. She stood in the general election for North Wiltshire in 1997 but lost to the Conservati­ves. From 2006 she had been a member of the Freedom Associatio­n, campaignin­g against the over-governance of Britain.

Margaret Purves was a founder member of the Albert Medal Associatio­n and of the VC and GC Associatio­n, regularly attending their reunions. For her life-saving achievemen­t in 1949 she was also awarded the Royal Humane Society’s certificat­e and that of the Carnegie Hero Fund Trust.

Although only 14 when she was awarded what became her George Cross, Margaret Vaughan was not the youngest female to be so honoured. In 1916, aged 11, Doreen Ashburnham (1905-91) had used her bare hands to fight off a Canadian cougar which had attacked her eight-year-old cousin, Anthony Farrer.

The cougar was subsequent­ly tracked, shot, and stuffed. Farrer, who became the youngest-ever Albert Medal recipient for saving Doreen when the beast leapt on to her back, died in 1930.

Margaret Purves’s husband died in 2007. Her son and two daughters survive her.

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 ?? The Daily Telegraph ?? Margaret Purves, above, in about 1950 not long after her brave action, and, right, in 1990 with her awards; latterly she was a regular contributo­r to the Letters page of
The Daily Telegraph Margaret Purves, above, in about 1950 not long after her brave action, and, right, in 1990 with her awards; latterly she was a regular contributo­r to the Letters page of

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