Able Seaman MORRIS RICHARD ELLIS,
On the 4 July 1950 AB Morris Ellis a 24 year old sailor from Holyhead was serving aboard RFA WAVE COMMANDER during tank cleaning operations off the Portuguese coast, when a nozzle fell off the end of the hose into an empty cargo tank. Bosun Stephenson entered the tank to try to retrieve it without wearing any breathing apparatus. He was halfway back up the ladder when he started being overcome by fumes and shouted for help. Ellis immediately entered the tank, also without breathing apparatus, in attempt to assist his colleague. He managed to lash a rope around the Bosun to secure him to the ladder when he unfortunately himself was overcome by the fumes and fell off the ladder to the bottom of the tank and this fall of 20 feet resulted in him breaking his neck and he was killed instantaneously. In the meantime others on deck had managed to pull the Bosun out of the tank thus saving his life. Following Ellis’s death, the ship docked in Gibraltar and Ellis was buried in the North Front Cemetery there.
For this gallant action HM King George VI posthumously awarded him with the Albert Medal (2nd Class) for the Saving of Life at Sea which had been instituted by Royal Charter on the 7 March 1866 in memory of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria. Unfortunately the King died before the presentation to Ellis’s relatives took place so it was presented by HM the Queen.
In 1971 the award of this gallantry medal ceased and living holders were invited to exchange their medals for the George Cross
A London auction house with its provenance recently put the value of this medal at £22,000 so it is currently residing in a bank vault for safe-keeping.
Over the ensuing years the grave did not appear to have been maintained and by 2006 it was in a bad state as the headstone was broken and a considerable amount of rubbish had collected there too. An approach was made by the RFA Historical Society to the then Commodore to have this rectified. Subsequently working parties from RFA OAKLEAF (2), RFA FORT AUSTIN and other RFAs have visited the grave, repaired the damage, cleaned the headstone and tidied up the surrounding area. Relatives from Tasmania and the United Kingdom paid for an additional plaque to be mounted on the headstone on which a monumental mason then carved the badge on the front of the Albert Medal. The plaque also strengthened the repair to the break in the headstone.