‘My ancestor was a pioneer of the blood transfusion service’
Bertie Tibble was awarded an OBE and made the subject of an episode of This Is Your Life after a lifetime of giving blood
On 25 February 1963, broadcaster Eamonn Andrews greeted Sharon Newson’s grandfather with the words “Bertie Wallace Tibble OBE, this is your life”. He had just entered the auditorium of BBC Television Theatre, Shepherd’s Bush.
Bertie was expecting to be part of the audience, but within minutes of his arrival he had become the subject of one of the most iconic programmes ever broadcast.
What was it about this mild-mannered and unassuming 78-year-old that merited the tribute? “Bertie’s story began just before the turn of 20th century,” Sharon explains. “He was born in Islington in 1884, the ninth child of carpenter Alfred Tibble and his wife Elizabeth.
“Bertie attended St Matthew’s school, but as part of a large family it wasn’t long before he had to go out to work. He became a guillotine operator at Lewis, Henry and Tibble, a North London cardboard box factory, part-owned by his brother, Alfred.”
In 1906, an event took place that changed his life forever. After taking a dip in Regent’s Canal, Bertie contracted enteric fever, which was a form of typhoid. “Lying seriously ill in hospital there seemed little chance of recovery, but staff at the Royal Northern Hospital saved his life.”
Bertie returned to work and in due course married Florence Coshell, with whom he had four children, including Sharon’s father Cecil. Life went on as normal until 1919. In January that year, a little boy was knocked down by a taxi cab in London. Seriously hurt, he was taken to the London Hospital and an appeal was issued for people to come forward to donate blood. Bertie always remembered the dedication of the medical team who nursed him back to health and saw a chance to repay their kindness. Unfortunately, on reaching the hospital he discovered that the child had passed away.
Undaunted, Bertie responded to a new appeal for blood to help an injured man. This time his blood was tested and found to be Group 4 (today’s type O), the blood that will mix with all other types. “We pay £5 for a transfusion,” the doctor commented. Although £5 was a substantial sum, Bertie replied: “I can’t take anything for it.”
At the bedside of the patient, Bertie rolled up his sleeve and a tourniquet was placed on his upper arm. An incision was made in the artery and blood filled a container via a hollow needle and rubber tube. A needle was inserted into the arm of the recipient and the transfusion was completed. Happily, on this occasion, the patient survived.
Bertie placed himself at the disposal of the London Hospital, Temperance Hospital and St Bart’s. He could be summoned at any time of the day or night to give blood. In 1921, he joined the St John’s Ambulance Brigade. By 1925, he had become an Honorary Serving Brother of the Order of St John in recognition of his achievements. In the same year, the London Hospital made him a Life Governor. “The greatest honour came in 1925 when
The Times announced that Bertie was to be awarded the British Empire Medal ‘for public services in saving life’. In July 1925, he was presented with the medal by the then Minister of Health, Neville Chamberlain.”
From 1919 to 1927, Bertie was called upon more than 75 times, donating 70 pints of
I remember seeing scars on his arm caused by doctors using a scalpel to access the vein
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Bertie Wallace Tibble receives ‘ The Big Red Book’ from Eamonn Andrews