Arthur Rowlands: Policeman who was awarded the George Medal


On the night of 2 August 1961, at about three in the morning, PC Arthur Rowlands was on patrol in the Machynlleth area of Montgomeryshire when he saw a man acting suspiciously in the vicinity of Pont-ar-Ddyfi just outside the town. There had been a number of incidents involving summer visitors to the area, and a spate of burglaries, and the police were on the alert for any sign of wrongdoing.

When challenged, the man ran into some nearby buildings but was cornered and confronted by the constable. “You shouldn’t have come,” the man told him. “I’m going to kill you.” He then shot the policeman full in the face with a sawn-off shotgun before running away across the fields. PC Rowlands suffered severe injuries and was blinded for life.

Scotland Yard led the manhunt for Robert Boynton and he was captured by local policemen 10 days later with the gun still in his possession. At his trial, he was found to be criminally insane and sentenced to 32 years in Broadmoor, where he died in 1994.

Rowlands was treated at hospitals in Chepstow, Cardiff and Leamington but surgeons failed to save his sight. Remarkably this sweet-natured man bore no ill-will towards the man who had maimed him, recognising that he was mad and therefore not responsible for his actions. His Christian faith helped to sustain him even as he lay in hospital in great pain and he was supported by colleagues such as PC William Jones, whom he chose as his carer in hospital. Having joined the police force in 1946 he never regretted his choice of career and always encouraged young people to do the same. He and the three colleagues who arrested his assailant were awarded the George Medal.

But now, at the age of 39, his days as a policeman were over: he was facing an uncertain future in which he would have to remake his life. The father of two small children, he resolved to learn Braille so as not to forgo his pleasure in reading and with a view to finding useful employment. He attended the College for the Blind in London, where he quickly learned to read again, and equipped himself for a voluntary job at the telephone switchboard in police headquarters in Caernarfon. His wife, Olive, went back to teaching.

Soon he became a keen advocate of Guide Dogs for the Blind, working for the Gwynedd Guide Dogs Association. He helped to raise many thousands of pounds for the charity and took to visiting schools to show children what it means to be without sight. I once heard him describe how he remembered colours and places he had known before the dreadful incident on the Dyfi Bridge. When asked whether there was anything that irritated him he replied, with the sunny temperament that endeared him to many, that he wished people would not raise their voices when speaking to him just because he could not see them.

Determined to lead a full and active life, he did not let his blindness hinder his enjoyment of sport. He was often to be seen at the Farrar Road ground, home of Bangor City. As a young man of 18 in 1940 he had had a trial for Manchester United and, with his grandson, who provided a commentary, he went to Edinburgh in 2007 when Wales played Scotland at rugby union. He continued to walk the lower slopes of Snowdon, even going to the summit several times with his son. “At least I didn’t have to worry about the mist,” he remarked wrily. He was also a regular contributor to Welsh programmes on Radio Cymru. The last time I heard him he was speaking about the case of PC David Rathband, the policeman blinded by gunman Raoul Moat in July 2010, who was found dead at his home in Northumberland last March.

A fluent Welsh-speaker, born in Bala, Meirionnydd, and brought up as a farmer’s son in nearby villages, Rowlands was a man of broad culture and a dry wit. In 1981 he was admitted to the Gorsedd of Bards, taking the White Robe, and in the year following he was given an honorary MA by the University of Wales, the highest honours Wales has to offer. A full account of his life is given in Enid Wyn Baines’ Mae’r Dall yn Gweld (“The blind see”, 1983). In his book Murder Was My Business (1971) the former Assistant Detective Commissioner John du Rose described Rowlands as the bravest man he had ever known.

Arthur Rees Rowlands, police constable and promoter of Guide Dogs for the Blind: born Bala, Meirionnydd 14 May 1922; married 1949 Olive Jones (died 2005; one son, one daughter); died Caernarfon, Gwynedd 2 December 2012.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A PHP Developer with knowledge ...

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree are seeking Associate Recruitm...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Software Engineer - PHP

£33000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas