Today marks the 75th anniversary of the death of our founder, William Henry, who died on March 20th, 1928.

A British freestyle swimmer and lifesaver, William Henry is the person to thank for the birth of the Royal Life Saving Society (RLSS) and is a man who has inadvertently saved the lives of hundreds of people since the charity was formed in 1891. The champion swimmer, who was also one of the organisers of the aquatic events in London’s 1908 Olympic Games, formed, what was originally The Swimmers’ Life Saving Society, in an attempt to reduce the number of lives lost each year in drowning accidents in the UK. The year after it was formed it changed its name to the Life Saving Society and in 1904, as there was great support for the organisation from the Royal Family, the society was granted permission to use the Royal title and became the Royal Life Saving Society. Today, RLSS has over 50 member countries around the world.

After he formed the RLSS, William Henry spent the next 40 years devoted to the cause of lifesaving, but he also led a fascinating and successful career as a sportsman. As a swimmer he won a number of national and European championships. In 1906, at 46, he became the oldest ever Olympic medal winner in swimming as a member of the British 4×250 metre relay team which won the Bronze medal. He also won a gold medal in the 1900 Summer Olympics for Water Polo and the lifesaving event at the World Championships in Paris in the same year!

William Henry was of Polish ancestry and was born Joseph Nawrocki. He died at the age of 67 in the Pancara district of London and buried in Highgate Cemetery.

Today RLSS UK has around 10,000 members and continues to work in educating to prevent drowning and reduce the number of deaths as a result of drowning across the UK. The latest figures show that 407 people sadly died as a result of drowning in the UK in 2011 – more than one EVERY day of the year – all of which are one death too many.

All of us here at the RLSS think it is very important to acknowledge the anniversary of the death of William Henry and wonder what he would think about his legacy and just how far the charity has come!

We would love to hear from anyone who has any anecdotes or stories about William Henry. We would also love to hear from anyone who knows of any ancestors of the swimmer – if so, please ask them to get in touch by emailing [email protected] or calling 01789 773994.