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Taking responsibility

Target Group

Key Stage 1


On his way to play rugby one Sunday morning, 15-year old William Purkiss saw a woman jump off a bridge into the river below. First he called the police and ambulance on his mobile phone, then, knowing he was a strong swimmer, Will took action.

William PurkissWilliam Purkiss, Southampton

It was a Sunday morning in late March 2003, and 15-year old William Purkiss, from Hampshire, and his friend, Fian, were on their way to play rugby. They were being driven to the ground by Will's Dad, Geoffrey.

As they drew near to Bursledon Bridge over the River Hamble, near Southampton, Geoffrey Purkiss couldn't quite believe his eyes: 'I saw a woman standing on the parapet of the bridge,' he recalls. 'Then I saw her jump off.'

He immediately stopped the car and got out. All three of them ran over to the bridge and looked over. 'The woman was lying face down in the water,' says Geoffrey Purkiss, 'a good 20 feet below.'

'Will rang 999 to call the police and then said he was going in to get her and ran down the embankment.' At that point the water is fast-flowing with dangerous under-currents. So dangerous that swimming is not allowed. Will takes up the story:

'The woman kept putting her face in the water. I knew I couldn't leave her there but no-one else was making any move to go in.' In fact, the police had now arrived and an officer was preparing to go in - but Will was unaware of this.

'I went straight into the water in my shorts,' he recalls, 'and swam out to the middle where the woman was.'

Will had already done a basic lifeguarding course at the age of 11. He loves swimming and surfing, and is very confident in the water. He took hold of the struggling woman by her neck but then had to swim back to the bank with her.

'William Purkiss receives his Parchment from Mrs Mary Fagan, Lord Lieutenant of HampshireShe didn't make it easy,' he says, 'and I had to swim holding her head above the water, so I could only use one arm.'

His friend, Fian, and a policeman pulled the woman out, who was taken to hospital by ambulance.

Then William's proud Dad helped pull his son out.

Although the water was very, very cold, Will didn't need hospital treatment. Instead, he went home to warm up.

Duncan Goodhew, Breastroke Olympic Champion 1980For his act of bravery, William Purkiss was awarded a Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Vellum.

'I'm glad I did what I did,' he says, 'and I'm happy that I saved someone.' But he adds: 'I do think more people should learn life-saving in school.'

His view is shared by former Olympic swimming champion, Duncan Goodhew, himself a Royal Humane Society award winner;

'I couldn't agree more with William,' he says. 'The more people there are who know about life-saving, the more lives will be saved - it's as simple as that. And the earlier you begin, the better.'

Class discussion:

  • Why was William able to take the action he did?
  • What else could he have done?
  • Have you ever seen a frightening event and wondered what to do about it?
  • How would you call the emergency services if you had to?


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