Heroes from our history: the story of five men honoured for bravery after responding to a 48-inch gas main on fire during a bombing raid on London in the Second World War

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In the week that we'll learn who made the New Year Honours List 2022, we share today a story recently found in our extensive archives. Five men honoured for their brave actions during a bombing raid on London during the Second World War. This is a remarkable read and part one of a two-part series.

Reproduced in full from Co-Partners' Magazine, The Gas Light and Coke Company.


Five drive through the red

For their work described below, W. T. Lee, Driver, is awarded the British Empire Medal; W. H. Meiszner and E. Markham, Valve Locators; J. B. Kempton, Draughtsman; and H. T. Whiting, Acting Assistant Mains Superintendent, get Commendations for Brave Conduct.
 


An hour after midnight, during a heavy raid on London, a report came in that a 48-inch main was on fire and that the Fire Brigade would be glad of help from the Gas Company.
 
Conditions outside were appalling. It was decided, therefore, to call for volunteers. Two valve locators, W. H. Meiszner and E. Markham, and Driver T. Lee, volunteered to try to close the valves. The staff wished to share the danger of the workmen, so the volunteer team was completed by J. B. Kempton and H. T. Whiting.
 
The men concerned have been out in many raids since the one described, but are unanimous that up to the time of writing they had encountered nothing to compare with that night. Bombs rained down, buildings crashed in front of them, shops and offices blazed on either side. To skirt craters in the roadway the driver had to mount the pavement, bumping over fire hoses and forcing the car through a hail of rubble and shattered glass, taking care to keep just clear of the burning buildings.
 
Somehow the men reached their destination and began to close the valves. Flames from blazing buildings lit up the whole area, and the noise was terrific. As they toiled – it took two hours – bombs whistled down so close to the men that it seemed impossible they could escape. Time and again the flung themselves into the gutter. They never expected to get out alive, and one of the men was not ashamed to confess he felt afraid. This has not, however, prevented him or the other men from going out cheerfully to do their duty in subsequent raids.
 
Mr. Lee, a typical Londoner, insists that the night had one compensation – for once in his life he could step on the accelerator and drive through the red lights.
 
On a subsequent occasion, when Mr. Lee was returning from a job, one bomb fell in front of his van, and one behind. He was knocked out, and rescued by the police. Immediately after recovering consciousness he returned to Headquarters and reported for duty.
 

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Kevin Hegarty

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