Civil­ian hon­ours and awards

ex­plains how a new re­lease from Ances­try could help you to track down brave home front an­ces­tors dur­ing the Se­cond World War

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - FOCUS ON - Phil To­maselli

The Se­cond World War brought air raids on an un­prece­dented scale to Bri­tish soil, as well as many other threats to pub­lic safety.

A huge civil de­fence or­gan­i­sa­tion was cre­ated to as­sist the emer­gency ser­vices, with fire­watch­ers, air raid wardens, first aid work­ers and res­cue teams formed through­out the coun­try.

Nearly two mil­lion men, women and teenagers, some as young as 15, played their part. There were acts of hero­ism by both civil de­fence vol­un­teers and or­di­nary mem­bers of the pub­lic – thou­sands were awarded medals or given com­men­da­tions for their brav­ery.

For rel­a­tives of the men and women who were hon­oured, the chance to see de­scrip­tions of their ac­tions will be in­valu­able and many oth­ers will be fas­ci­nated to find ref­er­ences to events in their lo­cal­ity and dis­cover re­ports writ­ten by wit­nesses to whom they’re re­lated. Rec­om­men­da­tions for gal­lantry awards were for­warded by the Re­gional Com­mis­sion­ers in charge of civil de­fence to a spe­cial com­mit­tee, the In­ter­de­part­men­tal Com­mit­tee on Civil De­fence Gal­lantry Awards. The com­mit­tee’s min­utes and rec­om­men­da­tions pro­vide an in­ter­est­ing pic­ture of the work that th­ese civil­ian vol­un­teers un­der­took, of­ten in ter­ri­ble cir­cum­stances.

Avail­able in The Na­tional Ar­chives (TNA) se­ries HO 250, un­til now it has al­ways been nec­es­sary to visit TNA at Kew to see them. How­ever, they have re­cently been in­dexed by the

There were acts of hero­ism by both

civil de­fence vol­un­teers and or­di­nary mem­bers of the pub­lic

name of the re­cip­i­ent and the rea­son for the award, for ex­am­ple, “Her­bert Regi­nald Evans. Fire Brigade, Mar­gate. Grounds for Rec­om­men­da­tion: Re­mov­ing guns and am­mu­ni­tion from burn­ing build­ing at RAF Manston, Kent, on 22 Au­gust 1940.”

Ances­try’s col­lec­tion of civil gal­lantry awards records, which was re­leased on 5 Novem­ber, can be found at search. ances­try.co.uk/search/db. aspx?dbid=9160.

De­tails of brav­ery

Each rec­om­men­da­tion was ac­com­pa­nied by de­scrip­tions of the brave act in de­tail and wit­ness state­ments from other par­tic­i­pants. Th­ese have now been in­dexed and in­clude the in­di­vid­ual con­cerned’s name, age, ad­dress, oc­cu­pa­tion and the name and po­si­tion of the per­son who rec­om­mended them. They are avail­able as im­ages on Ances­try so that the whole rec­om­men­da­tion, with the com­ments made by the com­mit­tee (not al­ways com­pli­men­tary and some rec­om­men­da­tions were re­jected or down­graded), can now be found on­line.

The high­est class of medal awarded was the Ge­orge Cross, in­tro­duced in Septem­ber 1940 and the equiv­a­lent to the Vic­to­ria Cross. Many more re­ceived the Ge­orge Medal, also in­tro­duced in 1940, or the Bri­tish Em­pire Medal. Com­men­da­tions took the form of ei­ther an oval plas­tic badge or, later, a sil­ver lau­rel spray to be worn on a medal rib­bon or di­rectly on a coat.

Each in­ci­dent is summed up in a brief state­ment. One tells us: “At 1.45am on Thurs­day, 30th July 1942, two wag­ons form­ing part of a freight train car­ry­ing bombs, TNT and other goods, was struck and set on fire by in­cen­di­ary bombs when trav­el­ling on the line near Coven­try Road bridge. The driver of the train dis­cov­ered the fires when stopped at a sig­nal box, and the guard and fire­men left the train to in­form two other sig­nal boxes of the oc­cur­rence. Rail­way em­ploy­ees un­cou­pled the burn­ing wag­ons and the driver pulled the rest of the train clear.”

A more de­tailed ac­count, given by Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent Bloomer, tells of how mem­bers of the Home Guard and air raid wardens put out fires on the em­bank­ment, and the lo­cal fac­tory fire­men con­trolled the blaze un­til the fire ser­vice ar­rived and brought the fire com­pletely un­der con­trol.

The burn­ing wag­ons were then opened and ev­ery­one helped un­load burn­ing boxes of TNT from them so they could be damped down.

De­tailed ev­i­dence state­ments were taken from all par­tic­i­pants and it’s clear ev­ery­one who took part was quite aware they were deal­ing with burn­ing ex­plo­sives.

The Rail­way Ex­ec­u­tive rec­om­mended the rail­way work­ers for awards sep­a­rately. En­gine driver Archibald Cook and fire­man Ge­orge Simkiss were awarded the Ge­orge Medal; air raid war­den Ge­orge Carter, a 17-year-old civil­ian, and Wil­liam Deakin, also aged 17 and in the Home Guard, all re­ceived the Bri­tish Em­pire Medal.

Above: Po­lice, air raid wardens and the Home Guard carry out a res­cue op­er­a­tion at a Lon­don school fol­low­ing a Ger­man bomb­ing raid

The Aux­il­liary Fire Ser­vice man­ning a hose at a fire on 27 May 1939

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