The shooters, Phil Moss and Neville Jay, had been shooting game last January on a friend’s farm and were on their way home, when a passing car lost control on a patch of ice and disappeared into the freezing waters of a lake at Cressing, near Braintree.

“All we could see was part of the rear bumper sticking out,” said Neville, “And we knew that whoever was in the car was in real trouble.”

“Phil just ran into the water and began tearing and pulling at the door but all the time the car was sinking deeper into the mud. God only knows where he got the strength from, but suddenly he had the door open.”

But even with the door open Phil could see nothing.

“The water was like liquid ice and I put my arms in the car and just felt around,” he said. “I grabbed a shoulder and pulled. Unbeknown to me, this was the driver who had in turn got hold of his two mates, trying to keep their heads above the water. When I pulled the first one out, the other two came over to the open door.”

Between them Phil and Neville dragged the three men to the safety of the bank, where a passing motorist had already alerted the emergency services. At the presentations of the RLSS’ highest award – The Certificate of Commendation – Essex branch President Anthony Badger praised both men for a: “Selfless act of heroism that almost certainly averted a multiple tragedy.”

And there was praise, too from Essex Police: “The lake was close to freezing and pitch black. The car’s occupants were stunned and disoriented. Make no mistake, but for the efforts of these two brave men, three young men would have died that night,” said a spokesperson.