“They bear a special responsibility for maintaining the services on which the life of London and other cities depend. The nation owes them grateful thanks.” – the words of Home Secretary and Minister of Home Security, Herbert Morrison, paying tribute to workers in the public utility services.
From a long list detailing extraordinary bravery shown by gas workers, at UK gas sites, during the Second World War, here are just some who were recognised officially:
Station Engineer Stephen Hay was awarded the George Cross for numerous brave actions and consistent gallant leadership. On one occasion, he navigated 30ft to the top of a retort house, in darkness, to find and isolate a fractured gas main damaged by a direct hit from a bomb dropped onto the gasworks. On another occasion, when off duty, he raced to the gasworks to assist with firefighting after another attack. And, on a third occasion, he gave orders to firemen to cool the metal frame of gasholders while leading parties of men to plug holes caused by more bombs.
George James Ditch was awarded the George Medal as, on multiple occasions, he risked his own life to deal with damage, fire and explosions after bombs were dropped on one of London’s major gasworks. On one occasion, he picked up a firebomb that had fallen on an oil washer, sustaining serious injuries.
Albert Webb was awarded a George Medal, J. A. Benn a British Empire Medal and M. A. Page a commendation after a high explosive bomb fell on a retort house. A warning siren sounded, but the men – all stokers – stayed to shut the retort doors, to make the plant safe, before seeking shelter. The bomb exploded 10 metres from them. Webb, severely injured, rescued Page from a coke conveyor trough he’d fallen into. Webb then collapsed and was pulled to safety by Benn.
Albert Edward Page was awarded a George Medal for his quick actions in averting a disaster as fire enveloped four gasholders within seconds of a bomb landing. Judging that he had no time to put on fireproof clothing, he went down the line of fire between the burning gasholders to turn off the valves. Wearing only leather gloves, he seized the red-hot valve wheels to close them off. Page had just finished turning off the last wheel when he was knocked out by piece of debris. He was retrieved by his work mates, many of whom were also recognised with awards for their actions that day.
We’ve worked with Professor Russell Thomas, chairman of the history panel of the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers, to produce this special series of stories for #VEDay75.