The shy Black Country hero who saved boy from drowning

By Mark Andrews | South Staffordshire | Nostalgia | Published:

When Phillip Howell was summoned to see the headmaster, he wondered what he had done wrong.

Phillip appeared in the Express & Star after his teenage heroics

"I thought it must be serious, as it was normally the deputy you go to see," he recalls.

When the headmaster questioned him about his activities the previous night, the teenager insisted he had been nothing out of the ordinary.

To which the headmaster replied: "That's strange, because the reporter I've just been speaking to said you saved a boy from drowning."

The 'shy hero' was how Phillip became known after his lifesaving action sometime about 1973 or 1974.

And now, the best part of five decades on, the former Army commando is keen to get in touch with the youngster in question.

Phillip Howell today

Phillip, now 61, was a pupil at Ounsdale School in Wombourne when the drama happened close to the bridge at Giggety Lane.

"I used to have a canoe, and I was taking it down to the cut," Phillip recalls.


"A little lad came running up saying his pal had fallen in. I put the canoe down on the side, and ran towards him.

"I could see him in the canal, and I just went in and got him out. I would say he would have been about seven or eight.

"I remember the bottom of the canal was very sticky, for a time I think I was treading water in there."

Afterwards, Phillip simply changed the top he was wearing, and got on with rowing his canoe.


"I was a bit wet, but I was wearing just shorts and a top, and it was a pretty warm evening," he says.

"I was wearing a top and shorts, so I just put on the spare top I had with me in case I fell in, and carried on."

Phillip, who thinks he would have been about 15 at the time of the incident, remembers telling his father about the drama.

"He said to me 'have you done anything exciting today?', and I told him what had happened," he says.

"I had my picture in the Express & Star, they called me the 'shy hero'. I was a paper boy, and everybody was opening their doors shouting 'come here'.

"The next day at school I was red most of the day, everybody was taking the Micky out of me being the 'shy hero'.

He said he was told he would be getting an award, but nothing came of it.

Phillip, who joined the Royal Marines after leaving school, now lives in Arbroath, said he was keen to know who the boy was, and what became of him. He is also keen to know what came of his award.

  • Are you the boy Phillip rescued, or do you have any information about who it was? Please contact our newsdesk on 01902 319410 or email
Mark Andrews

By Mark Andrews

Senior news writer for the Shropshire Star specialising in in-depth features and commentary, investigative reporting and political matters.

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