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We would like to thank Lisa Hermann for explaining how Miss Townsend's MBE was transformed into the George CROSS. See the passage in italics below.


Emma Townsend was awarded the British Empire Medal for bravery in 1932 - in other words, an Empire Gallantry Medal, for her act of great bravery. However when the George Cross was instituted by King George VI in 1940, all living holders of the EGM, including Miss Townsend, exchanged their medals for the George Cross and their existing medals were given to a museum of their choice.

So Miss Townsend held the George Cross from 1940 until her death - she was the oldest woman to win it.

This is her citation from as described in the London Gazette:


From The London Gazette:

6 September 1932

St. James's Palace, SW1

"The King has been graciously pleased to approve of the Award of the Medal of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire to the undermentioned:

For Gallantry

Miss Emma José Townsend

On the 9th May 1932, W. J. Yeomans, a farmer of Kingsbridge, South Devon, murdered one of his sons in the South Hams Cottage Hospital in Kingsbridge. The boy, aged 9, was an inmate under treatment at the Hospital and Yeomans attacked him as he lay in bed, first firing at him with a gun and then striking him with it several times.

Miss Townsend, who was visiting her sister at the Hospital, heard cried of "Help" and went into the ward. She showed great courage in trying to prevent the killing of the boy and behaved most gallantly. In the struggle, Yeoman struck her with the barrel of the gun and cut her head open. It was necessary afterwards to stitch up the wound and she lost a quantity of blood."


Kingsbridge Cottage Hospital in the 1930s

Kingsbridge Cottage Hospital in the 1930s

The photographer has waited for the train to pass but forgotten 

to allow the steam to clear before taking his shot!


Before this incident, on that day in May 1932, William Yeomans had already attacked and killed his wife and two of his children. The boy in the hospital had escaped the first onslaught by virtue of being an in-patient at the Cottage Hospital. In spite of Emma Townsend's intervention, this child died two days later. The father was committed to an asylum where he spent the remainder of his life.

Emma Townsend was born in Leicester in 1879 where her father had a painting and decorating business. She trained as a nurse and the 1901 census shows her working in Bradford. At the time of this incident, she was aged 54. She died in the Spring of 1965 in Surrey aged 85.


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