The Encyclopaedia of Plymouth History
RICHARD JOSEPH SMALE WILLIS (1910-1985)
Richard Joseph Smale Willis was the son of Police Constable John Henry Willis, of Bere Ferris, Devon, and his wife, formerly Miss Mabel Louisa Crowcombe, of Plymouth.
Mr Willis first went to work in a furniture store in Ebrington Street before joining the City of Plymouth Police Force in 1930.
During an air raid on August 12th 1943 he rescued two fire watchers who had become trapped in a bombed house in Union Street, for which he not only received the George Medal but also the Police Force's Conspicuous Bravery Medal.
The first man was located quite quickly and taken to a First Aid Post. Upon returning to the scene, PC Willis climbed to the first floor of the next house, from which he spotted an arm sticking out of the debris of the demolished building. The gap between the buildings of some eight feet was bridged by means of some planks and although the remaining walls were in imminent danger of collapse he crossed over the gap and located the seriously injured man. After spending an hour in a confined space removing debris, he managed to release the man and he was taken to safety. Within moments of PC Willis leaving the building it completely collapsed onto the spot where he had been working.
Police Constable Willis was awarded the George Medal on November 19th 1943.
His citation stated that: 'Constable Willis showed great courage without regard for his own safety. He has been on duty in every air attack that Plymouth has sustained and has always done his duty in a fearless manner. His bearing under enemy air attack has been most exemplary.'
He had already been awarded the Royal Humane Society's lifesaving testimonial in 1937 for saving a swimmer from drowning at Bigbury-on-Sea.
Just after this war-time incident he joined the Royal Air Force and served until demobbed in either 1945 or 1946, when he re-joined the City of Plymouth Police Force.
Police Constable Willis was promoted to Sergeant in 1946 and Inspector in 1954. When he retired in 1960 he first became a collector for Rentaset, the radio and television rental company, but as he missed his former Police colleagues he quickly moved to the Magistrate's Court as chief usher.
Mr Richard Joseph Smale Willis died at his home in Compton Park Road, Plymouth, in 1985, aged 74 years.
The funeral took place at Saint Andrew's Church. He was survived by his widow, Joan, and three children. Mrs Joan Elaine Willis died in 1993.
With grateful thanks to his son, Mr Brian Willis, of Gig Harbor, Washington State, USA, for some corrections and additional information, July 2012.
|© Brian Moseley, Plymouth, UK|
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