Gallantry During The Blitz – 29 December 1940

Seventy-six years ago, on the evening of 29 December 1940, a German bombing raid caused what become known as the ‘Second Great Fire of London’. Taken in the aftermath of this raid, the iconic photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral in the blitz came to symbolise London’s defiance. The attack on 29 December targeted the City of London where the high explosive and incendiary bombs started a firestorm that swept all before it. The area destroyed was more than that devastated by the Great Fire of 1666. It cost the lives of over 160 civilians and 14 firemen.

St Paul's Cathedral, 29 December 1940

St Paul’s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

The attack and the response to it by the emergency services and the people of London is explored in detail by Margaret Gaskin in her excellent book Blitz: The Story of 29th December 1940—a most thorough description of the night’s events told largely through the memories of those who were there.[1] Although Gaskin describes in some detail the bravery of those responding to the fires, she only alludes to the gallantry awards that were made in consequence of those acts. In all, the fierce bombing raid and firestorm of 29 December resulted in 44 gallantry awards—one MBE, eight George Medals, 22 British Empire Medals and 13 Commendations for Brave Conduct—more than for any other single event during the blitz.[2]

Member of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire[3]

Badge of a Member of the Order of the British Empire

Badge of a Member of the Order of the British Empire

Henry George Davies, Superintendent, London Fire Brigade.
Armoury House, City Road, Finsbury (now Islington).
London Gazette 25 July 1941. Issue 35226.

When a serious fire, started by enemy action, threatened to involve an important building, Superintendent Davies took charge of the area. Very little water was available, apart from that contained in a battery of dams but by judicial use of this he succeeded in retarding the spread of the fires. He organised a convoy of mobile dam lorries and by energetic perseverance, he managed to prevent the premises becoming involved. Although suffering severely from injury to his eyes, Davies continued to take charge until late in the following morning, at which time his eyes had become so swollen that it was difficult for him to see. It was due to his leadership, initiative and courage that the buildings were saved and the fire held.

George Medal

The George Medal

The George Medal

Arthur James Ball, Sub-Inspector, City of London Police.
(See British Empire Medal for Luckman and Salmon below.)
City of London.
London Gazette 2 May 1941. Issue 35149.

During a heavy raid Sub-Inspector Ball, Police Sergeant Luckman and Police Constable Salmon displayed great courage and devotion to duty following the fires caused by the dropping of H.E. and incendiary bombs. The three men entered burning premises, at great risk to their lives, to rescue the occupants. They were responsible for the evacuation of people from shelters which were endangered by fire. Although the officers were badly shaken by blast and injured, they continued to render assistance throughout the night wherever their services were required.

John Cornford, Temporary Acting Sub-Officer, London Fire Brigade.
Arthur Ronald Thorn, Station Officer, London Fire Brigade.
Southwark Street, Southwark.
London Gazette 2 May 1941. Issue 35149.

High warehouses abutting on the pavement on both sides of a street were well alight and the fire was sweeping across the sixty foot wide roadway. A man staggered out of one of the burning buildings and collapsed. Station Officer Thorn and Sub-Officer Cornford immediately ran through heat and flame, with debris falling all about them, and brought the man clear of the area. Thorn and Cornford acted promptly and at great risk to their lives to effect this gallant rescue.[4]

Charles William Hill, Sub-Officer, Hendon Fire Brigade.
Edward William Robert Morgan BEM, Station Officer, London Fire Brigade.[5]
51 City Road, Finsbury (now Islington).
London Gazette 1 August 1941. Issue 35233.

During a heavy air raid on London two persons were trapped in the basement of a building that was alight from ground to top floor. Station Officer Morgan and Sub-Officer Hill entered the building by the ground floor passage but were unable to advance owing to the terrific heat. The Officers then broke the pavement light and by this means entered the basement. Although the heat and smoke were intense Morgan and Hill brought the two trapped persons to a position in the front part of the basement from which they were hauled up to the street. Sub-Officer Hill was then helped out and finally Station Officer Morgan, who was considerably affected by-the smoke and in a very exhausted condition, was assisted up to the ground level by means of a line. During the time that the rescue was being effected the rear part of the building collapsed. Both Morgan and Hill showed utter disregard of danger and displayed conspicuous courage and fortitude.

Charles George Toni Mann, Police Constable, L Division, Metropolitan Police.
24 De Crespigny Park, Camberwell.
London Gazette 25 April 1941. Issue 35143.

A man was trapped, thirty feet from the ground, on the first floor of a house which had been partially demolished by a bomb. A ladder was placed against the wall but this only reached about eighteen feet, leaving a gap between the top of the ladder and the window. It was feared that the house would collapse at any moment, but P.C. Mann mounted the ladder and, on reaching the top rung, flattened himself against the wall. He was still unable to reach the window ledge but managed to stretch upwards a little higher by placing his right foot on the damaged framework of the ground floor window. The man was then encouraged to climb out backwards and gradually lower himself. The constable took most of the man’s weight on his right hand and lowered him on to his shoulders. P.C. Mann then climbed down the ladder to safety. The least mistake by the Constable would have resulted in both men being severely injured. Mann displayed cool courage and resource in the face of danger and difficulty.

Edward Heslop Smith, Chief ARP Warden, Poplar.
Our Lady & Saint Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, Bow Road, Poplar.
London Gazette 25 April 1941. Issue 35143.

A H.E. bomb wrecked a building and the main gas line was broken and ablaze, lighting up the sky and endangering the adjoining premises. It was not possible to turn off the gas from outside. Chief Warden Smith immediately climbed into the wreckage, removing fallen debris as he went. He ran the grave risk of being crushed beneath the parts of the roof and ceiling still crashing down, or of being trapped by the fire. Without regard for his personal safety he set to work to stem the flames and get the gas under control. After half an hour he succeeded. Smith’s courage and self-sacrifice prevented a very serious spreading of the fire rand saved the district from possible disaster.

Robert Hamilton Tinto, 2327174 Signalman, Royal Corps of Signals.
Keyworth Street, Southwark.
London Gazette 27 May 1941. Issue 35173.

For conspicuous gallantry in carrying out hazardous work in a very brave mannerSignalman Tinto entered a wrecked shelter through a very small aperture and with bare hands dug away earth thereby making possible the rescue of four people. The rescue party was endeavouring to move a large slab of concrete immediately above him; he remained in this position for four hours administering morphia and re-assuring the trapped people.[6]

British Empire Medal (Civil Division)[7]

The British Empire Medal

The British Empire Medal

Robert Wood Berwick, Auxiliary Fireman, East Ham Auxiliary Fire Service.
Settles Street, Commercial Road, Stepney.
London Gazette 6 June 1941. Issue 35180.

During an air raid, whilst engaged with a branch-pipe on the roof of a church, Berwick heard a cry for help. A man had fallen from the roof into a space approximately two feet wide and twenty feet deep, between the church and an adjoining building. Although the church was burning fiercely, Berwick procured a length of rope and, with help, climbed down to the casualty, secured him to the rope, and hauled him up. He then carried him along the roof to a ladder, down which the injured man was lowered. Berwick performed this gallant action at considerable risk to himself.

Albert Ernest Bills, Station Officer, London Fire Brigade.
City of London.
London Gazette 25 July 1941. Issue 35226.

Station Officer Bills was in charge of a fire in the City area during an air raid. He maintained communications and organised water supplies in spite of great difficulties. The fires in his area became so serious that, with half his men practically smoke-blind, he decided upon the very difficult task of evacuating them and the appliances to safety. Then he thoroughly searched all surrounding streets to ensure that everyone had left the area, being himself the last one to leave. Station Officer Bills set a splendid example to the men by his coolness, energy and courage.

Charles Robert Brooks, Auxiliary Fireman, East Ham, Auxiliary Fire Service.
Frederick Walter Chantrell, Leading Auxiliary Fireman, East Ham, Auxiliary Fire Service.[8]
Cripplegate, City of London.
London Gazette 6 June 1941. Issue 35180.

After fighting fires for several hours Chantrell received an order to get his crew away and leave the equipment, as all means of escape seemed to be barred by flames. Brooks volunteered to attempt to save the pumps and, with Chantrell in charge, the crew mounted in their position. Using mackintoshes and hose ramps to protect themselves from the heat and falling embers and despite fallen masonry and piles of debris which at some points barred the way, Brooks eventually succeeded in driving the pump and crew to safety.

George Burgess, Leader, ARP Rescue Party, Kingston-upon-Thames.
Patrick Dever, Member, ARP Rescue Party, Kingston-upon-Thames.
Alexander Keith Hay, Stretcher Party Officer, Kingston-upon-Thames.
Frederick John Reeves, ARP Warden, Kingston-upon-Thames.
156-164 Elm Road, Kingston-upon-Thames.
London Gazette 2 May 1941. Issue 35149.

A H.E. bomb demolished houses and trapped a man under debris which was smouldering. Tunnelling work was carried out by Burgess, Reeves and Hay. They worked in the heat and the smoke from the smouldering fire for four hours until the head and body of the casualty were uncovered, but he was still held down by wreckage. It was possible for only one man to work in the tunnel at a time and Dever went in. After half-an-hour of very strenuous work with an axe he was able to release the casualty, who was carefully withdrawn from his perilous position and removed to hospital. It was due entirely to the determination and bravery of the four men that this rescue was accomplished. A partly demolished wall immediately adjoining the site collapsed on to the debris under which they had been working, shortly after the rescue had been completed.

Harry George Harvey, Acting Station Officer, London Fire Service.
Moorgate, City of London.
London Gazette 22 August 1941. Issue 35252.

Acting Station Officer Harvey was in charge of a number of appliances at fires caused by enemy action. The fierceness of these fires caused Harvey to become almost blind but, in spite of very severe pain, he continued to go from one fire to another directing operations and encouraging the men in his charge. He displayed great powers of endurance and devotion to duty.

Joan Winifred Hobson, Auxiliary, London Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service.
20 Deveraux Court, Westminster.
London Gazette 1 August 1941. Issue 35233.

During an air raid, a fire was reported but no appliances were available. Auxiliary Hobson, on her own initiative, took lengths of hose, a short ladder and equipment, and, commandeering a car, attended the fire with two auxiliary firemen. She fought the flames from the roof opposite for three and a half hours and succeeded in checking the outbreak, thereby saving the lower rooms and the surrounding buildings. During the time that Auxiliary Hobson was at work, bombs fell nearby. She showed remarkable initiative and courage throughout the incident.

Reginald William La Fosse, Watchroom Attendant, London Fire Brigade.
City of London.
London Gazette 25 July 1941. Issue 35226.

During an air raid it was necessary to supply appliances working at fires with additional petrol. La Fosse, acting entirely on his own initiative, obtained a staff car, loaded it with cans of petrol and drove round the district distributing it where required. He carried on with this arduous work, which was not part of his normal duty, regardless of danger from falling debris, until the next morning. But for the initiative and courage shown by La Fosse some of the appliances would have ceased to function, with the possibility of the fires getting out of control.

Robert Luckman, Police Sergeant, City of London Police.
Charles Salmon MM, City of London Police.[9]
(See George Medal for Ball above.)
City of London.
London Gazette 2 May 1941. Issue 35149.

During a heavy raid Sub-Inspector Ball, Police Sergeant Luckman and Police Constable Salmon displayed great courage and devotion to duty following the fires caused by the dropping of H.E. and incendiary bombs. The three men entered burning premises, at great risk to their lives, to rescue the occupants. They were responsible for the evacuation of people from shelters which were endangered by fire. Although the officers were badly shaken by blast and injured, they continued to render assistance throughout the night wherever their services were required.

Stanley Tyrrell Newell, Leader, ARP Rescue Party, Camberwell.
Ernest Daniel Rider, Member, ARP Rescue Party, Camberwell.
82 Grove Lane, Camberwell.
London Gazette 13 June 1941. Issue 35188.

A H.E. bomb partly demolished two houses. Newell sawed through two floors to the top of the building and lowered two women to safety by means of a rope. Rider, by scratching away debris and wreckage in the other house was able, after three hours, to rescue two people who had been trapped. Both men were in grave danger from an unexploded time bomb nearby and, whilst the rescues were being effected, more bombs were dropped which caused further collapse of the buildings. Newell and Rider showed great courage and devotion to duty.

Alicia Perris, Section Officer, London Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service.
(See Commendation for Nightingale below.)
Baltic Street School, Clarkenwell, Finsbury (now Islington).
London Gazette 25 July 1941. Issue 35226.

Section Officer Perris was on duty in the watchroom of an A.F.S. station which was set on fire during an air raid. She was ordered to evacuate the building but notwithstanding the danger of the situation, made certain, before leaving, that as many important records as possible were taken to safety. She took over watchroom duties at another Station until it again became necessary to evacuate. Section Officer Perris maintained her courage and composure and gave most able assistance in establishing control, and taking over watchroom duties. Throughout the raid Section Officer Perris showed great devotion to duty, disregard of danger, and fine qualities, of leadership.

Edwin James Povah, Deputy Leader, ARP Rescue Party, Willesden.
764 Harrow Road, Willesden.
London Gazette 12 September 1941. Issue 35271.

A high explosive bomb damaged a house and five persons were trapped inside. The only means of obtaining access was by tunnelling under a wall which was in an extremely unsafe condition. Mr. Povah personally carried out most of this tunnelling work which took about three hours. He displayed great determination and courage and by his efforts the five persons were rescued.

David Reading, District Officer, London Fire Brigade.
City of London.
London Gazette 25 July 1941. Issue 35226.

During an air raid District Officer Reading took charge of an area of intense fire comprising a number of City streets. In the face of great danger he made his way from street to street, safeguarding the lives of his crews and withdrawing appliances when excessive danger made this step imperative. When the fires were at their height it was reported to him that two employees of a firm were still at their posts. With great difficulty Mr. Reading succeeded in reaching them and helped them to make their way out when most exits were cut off by fire and the whole building smoke logged. Mr. Reading suffered acutely owing to the painful condition of his eyes through the intense heat and smoke but in spite of this his direction enabled the crews to save a large building from total destruction.

Charles Henry Thatcher, Temporary Leading Fireman, Carshalton Auxiliary Fire Service.[10]
Barbican, City of London.
London Gazette 6 June 1941. Issue 35180.

After fighting fires for several hours in the City of London it became necessary for Thatcher to transfer the operations of his crew as it appeared that all means of escape would soon be cut off. Whilst part of his crew held back the fire at one point, the remainder made up their equipment and prepared to leave. Driving through the flames they managed to make their escape into another street, only to find that it was a sheet of flame at both ends and seemingly impossible to traverse. As it was impossible to save the vehicle, Thatcher organised a salvage party and leading his men through an underground tunnel to safety was successful in saving much of the equipment.

Stanley Thompson, ARP Warden, City of London.
St. Dunstan-in-the-West, Fleet Street, City of London.
London Gazette 5 September 1941. Issue 35264.

Warden Thompson, who is Verger of St. Dunstan-in-the-West, has shown courage and devotion to duty during air raids and by his initiative has prevented serious fires. When tackling incendiary bombs on the roof of the vestry of his Church he was blown to the ground by an explosion but although badly shaken he continued to fight the fires. On another night his prompt action in dealing with an incendiary bomb which penetrated the roof of the Church undoubtedly saved the building from destruction.

Cyril Gordon Tobias, District Officer, London Fire Service.
City of London.
London Gazette 22 August 1941. Issue 35252.

When high explosive and incendiary bombs caused several fires in his area, District Officer Tobias took charge of the operations. The water supply failed but with initiative and skill he organised a relaying service which prevented the fires from spreading. It was necessary for him frequently to visit the water relaying units and the journeys, which had to be made on foot, were extremely dangerous owing to falling debris. Tobias remained continuously at work for nineteen hours and he showed great coolness, efficiency and exceptional qualities of leadership.

Tom Nicholas Wilcock, Station Officer, London Fire Brigade.
(See Commendations for Blunden, Calvert, Little, and Walker below.)
Peckham Road, Peckham.
London Gazette 21 March 1941. Issue 35111.

Station Officer Wilcock was in charge of a Fire Pump when a bomb exploded nearby, disabling the appliance, severely wounding one member of the crew and injuring two others. Several trams and a char-a-banc were wrecked, and two gas mains, one on each side of the road, were fractured and set on fire. Assisted by his men, he forced his way into a burning tramcar and extricated the injured conductor and passengers. After his wounds had been dressed he returned to the station, and, obtaining a spare appliance, had it manned by some of his crew, with himself in charge. Wilcock, although suffering great pain from cuts and shock caused by glass splinters and blast, showed initiative and courage.

Commendation for Brave Conduct[11]

Commendation for Brave Conduct

Commendation for Brave Conduct

James Anderson, Control Room Messenger, Public Cleansing Department, City of London.
Aldermanbury, City of London.
London Gazette 25 April 1941. Issue 35143.

Devotion to duty after injury at Aldermanbury in the City of London on 29 December 1940.

Ivy Louise Ashwell, Auxiliary, London Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service.
Winifred Brock, Auxiliary, London Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service.
Ivy Angel Trood, Auxiliary, London Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service.
Virginia Road School, Bethnal Green.
London Gazette 1 August 1941. Issue 35233.

For initiative and devotion to duty at Virginia Road School Fire Service Station at Shoreditch on 29 December 1940.

Harry George Percy Blunden, Fireman, London Fire Brigade.
James Calvert, Fireman, London Fire Brigade.
Reginald Bertram Little, Fireman, London Fire Brigade.
Frederick Charles Walker, Temporary Acting Sub-Officer, London Fire Brigade.
(See British Empire Medal for Wilcock above.)
Peckham Road, Peckham.
London Gazette 21 March 1941. Issue 35111.

For fighting fire and rescuing people trapped in burning tramcar in Peckham Road, Peckham on 29 December 1940.

Isaac Bogard MM, ARP Stretcher Party Leader, City of London.[12]
City of London.
London Gazette 25 April 1941. Issue 35143.

For devotion to duty fire fighting during the night of in the City of London despite being injured on 29 December 1940.

Charles William McCarthy, Member, Reuters and Press Association Fire Fighting Squad, London.
St Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, City of London
London Gazette 23 May 1941. Issue 35169.

For fire fighting at St Bride’s Church, City of London, on 29 December 1940.

Ellen Sophia Nightingale, Auxiliary, London Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service.
(See British Empire Medal for Perris above.)
Baltic Street School, Clarkenwell, Finsbury (now Islington).
London Gazette 25 July 1941. Issue 35226.

For devotion to duty at the Baltic Street School watchroom, Clarkenwell on 29 December 1940.

John Herbert Sutton, Auxiliary Fireman Driver, Penge Auxiliary Fire Service.
Golden Lane, City of London.
London Gazette 30 May 1941. Issue 35174.

For devotion to duty at Golden Lane, City of London on 29 December 1940.

Philip Henry Williams, Auxiliary Messenger, London Auxiliary Fire Service.
City of London.
London Gazette 1 August 1941. Issue 35233.

For carrying messages and fire fighting in the City of London on 29 December 1940.

Acknowledgements:
Imperial War Museum: Photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral
Dix Noonan Webb: Photographs of the medals.


1. (Back) Gaskin, M. (29 September 2005). Blitz: The Story of 29th December 1940. London: Faber & Faber.

2. (Back) These awards were published in a series of editions of the London Gazette; most of the citations did not identify the date of the event for which awards were made. Original recommendations may be found in: The National Archives (TNA). Public Record Office (PRO). Home Office: Inter-departmental Committee on Civil Defence Gallantry Awards: Minutes and Recommendations. HO 250. The relevant London Gazettes are:

London Gazette 21 March 1941. Issue 35111.
London Gazette 25 April 1941. Issue 35143.
London Gazette 2 May 1941. Issue 35149.
London Gazette 23 May 1941. Issue 35169.
London Gazette 27 May 1941. Issue 35173.
London Gazette 30 May 1941. Issue 35174.
London Gazette 6 June 1941. Issue 35180.
London Gazette 13 June 1941. Issue 35188.
London Gazette 25 July 1941. Issue 35226.
London Gazette 1 August 1941. Issue 35233.
London Gazette 22 August 1941. Issue 35252.
London Gazette 5 September 1941. Issue 35264.
London Gazette 12 September 1941. Issue 35271.

3. (Back) The Order of the British Empire was used to reward acts of gallantry not at the level required for a George Medal. The award (Commander, Officer, Member or Medal) reflected the rank, grade or level of responsibility of the recipient. From 1958 crossed silver oak leaves were worn on the ribbon to indicate an award for gallantry.

4. (Back) The rescued man later died in King’s College Hospital of severe burns.

5. (Back) Morgan was three times decorated for gallantry. Later E W R Morgan GM, KPM, BEM.

British Empire Medal (Civil Division), Station Officer, London Fire Brigade. Great Portland Street, 16 September 1940. A large six-floor warehouse received direct hits from bombs. Whilst fire-fighting’ was in progress, crews were subjected to further bombing and the Officer in charge was killed. Others of the detachment were severely injured, water mains fractured and gas mains set alight. Station Officer Morgan temporarily assumed command. The severely injured were removed to hospital, the water supply was augmented and the fire brought under control. This was in large measure due to his courage and leadership. London Gazette 28 March 1941. Issue 35117, page 1781.

King’s Police and Fire Service Medal for Gallantry, Temporary District Officer, London Fire Brigade. For the rescue of a family from a burning flat in March 1941. London Gazette 1 January 1942. Issue 35399, page 55.

6. (Back) TNA. PRO. (1941). Recommendation for Award for Tinto, Robert Hamilton. WO 373/66/1006.

7. (Back) The Order of the British Empire was used to reward acts of gallantry not at the level required for a George Medal. The award (Commander, Officer, Member or Medal) reflected the rank, grade or level of responsibility of the recipient. From 1958 crossed silver oak leaves were worn on the ribbon to indicate an award for gallantry.

8. (Back) Unsuccessful recommendations were made in this case for Auxiliary Firemen Herbert Gillham, Bertram Hayden Lovell, and William Thomas Snow.

9. (Back) Military Medal, L/37984 Signaller, Royal Field Artillery. London Gazette 17 June 1919. Issue 31405, page 7653.

10. (Back) Unsuccessful recommendations were made in this case for Auxiliary Firemen Edwin George William Bell, Wilfred George, Harry Freeman James Hayes, John Thomas Montague, and Charles Francis Webster.

11. (Back) This award became known as the King’s Commendation for Brave Conduct in 1945.

12. (Back) Military Medal, 263049 Private, 10th (Service) Battalion, The South Wales Borderers. London Gazette 23 February. Issue 30540, page 2415. Decorated for gallantry in both wars, Bogard had also been a well-known East End hoodlum before the First World War.

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