Press to Show/Hide Menu

Christopher FEETHAM, GC

No. & Rank at the Time of Action: 948105 Mercantile Marine rating Fireman

Unit/Occupation: Merchant Navy service onboard SS Hornsey

Date and Place of Birth: 25th December 1890, Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.

Family: Christopher Feetham (aged 10) was at home, 280 Saltwell Rd, St Chads, Gateshead, with father Frank (aged 49) a Gast Stoker, mother Elizabeth (52), sister Louisa (16), and brother William (13). Some 14 or so years before, the family had lived at Bishopswearmouth. (census 1901) He married Henrietta Veronica Thompson on 21st February 1914, and they had three children: Henrietta, Christopher and Frances. Later he left his family in Gateshead, and set up in London, starting a new family with someone else. Mr Feetham eventually had six sons and six daughters.

Early Life: Little is known of his early life but at the age of 13, he started work in a nut and bolt factory at 2/9d (approximately 13p) per week. He then went to work in a rail factory before joining the Merchant Navy in 1908. During his first voyage, he was involved in the Messina earthquake, for which he received the Messina Earthquake Medal and went on to serve in an American ship until the outbreak of war in 1914. He was torpedoed twice during the First World War before being awarded the Albert Medal in 1918.

Date and Place of GC Action: 10th November 1918, SS Hornsey, Sunderland

The London Gazette: 18th March 1919

Citation: Christopher Feetham, fireman of the steamship SS Hornsey, of London, is recommended by the President of the Board of Trade for the award of the Albert Medal.

On the 10th November last, while the SS Hornsey was lying at Sunderland, a fire broke out in the mess-room and adjoining saloon. A quantity of ammunition was on board and there was accordingly a great risk, if it exploded, of loss of life and property, as the effects of the explosion would probably not have been confined to the shipping in the harbour but would have spread to the quay.

The whole of the ship’s company behaved admirably; there was no case of desertion by a single member of the crew, and the Master, Chief Engineer, Steward, Second Mate, and one of the Gunners did exceptionally well in their efforts to get the fire under. The decisive factor, however, in extinguishing it and saving life and property was the heroism of Feetham. He volunteered to be let down into the cabin and there, waist high in water, he was able to direct his hose on to that part of the fire which would have exploded the ammunition in a very short time. As it was, some of the ammunition cases were already scorched.

It was at the greatest risk of his own life that, after a long series of attempts in conjunction with other members of the crew at extinguishing the outbreak, he went down alone to make a last effort, which happily was successful, and he undoubtedly saved a very large number of lives by his exceptional courage. February 1919

Account of Deed:

Remarks: AM - GC exchange.

He was invested with the George Cross on 30th November 1972.

C Feetham collected his Great War medal ribbons 19.8.1919 at Dock Street Mercantile Marine Office and claimed his medals the next day. British War Medal and Mercantile Marine Medal issued to him on 9.5.1921 and his home address was 45 Strathville Road, Southfields, London SW18.

Additional Information: After the First World War, he worked on the compressors building of the London Underground system and then went as a water diviner to a German firm. During the Second World War, he helped to build Mulberry Harbour and the Thames Forts.

Final Rank:

Other Decorations/Medals: In addition to the GC, he held the British War Medal, Victory Medal and Mercantile Marine War Medal.

GC Location/Sale History:

Date and Place of Death: 2nd October 1976, Battersea, London. Some sources state 12th October.

Cause of Death:

Burial/Cremation:

Obituary: Daily Telegraph 13th October 1975

Memorials:

Town/County Connections: Battersea, London

Correspondence: From Keith Feetham, 14.02.04

I was particularly interested to read about Christopher Feetham and SS Hornsey. He was my great uncle and I have written about him on my website (www.feetham.com).

Christopher’s later life had some controversy; one episode was the loss of his Albert medal. He claimed to have lost it aboard the SS Ostril. In a letter he wrote:

Dear sirs, I have had the misfortune to lose my "Albert Medal", which was awarded to me on Nov 11th 1918, and I am very anxious to have it replaced. This medal was awarded to me for bravery whilst I was serving in the merchant service during the war. Kindly let me know if there would be much cost to regain my medal as I am not in good financial circumstances having a family of eight children to keep.

Thanking you in anticipation of an early and favourable reply

I am yours faithfully,

C. Feetham

The powers that be didn’t believe him and refused to give him a replacement. But some years later, the Government issued a directive to [all] Albert Medal holders, instructing them to return their medals. This was no punishment, but a change of award; Christopher was awarded the George Cross in its place.