First George Cross awarded – to ARP rescuer

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) illuminated shelter sign on Fleet Street, central London, March 1940. These electrically operated, internally illuminated light boxes had overhanging tops to limit any stray light to maintain a blackout.

Air Raid Precautions (ARP) illuminated shelter sign on Fleet Street, central London, March 1940. These electrically operated, internally illuminated light boxes had overhanging tops to limit any stray light to maintain a blackout.

ARP-poster

Although the Blitz on London had begun in earnest on the 7th September the preceding month had seen considerable bombing activity – especially in coastal areas. The east coast of England would continue to suffer particularly badly during most of the war. The resort town of Bridlington had been targeted by the Luftwaffe in August and residential areas hit.

It was in these areas that the Air Raid Precaution staff first came into their own – for the first few months of the war they had been regarded by many as officious busy bodies who enforced the blackout. Now they began to be recognised for the difficult and dangerous work that they did.

Thomas Alderson was a volunteer Air Raid Precautions warden in Bridlington, his main employment was as an enginner with the local council.

On three separate occasions Alderson entered dangerous buildings to rescue trapped civilians. His award was announced on 30th September, just days after King George VI had announced the creation of the highest award for gallantry for services not involving combat. The King had singled out the work of the Air Raid Precaution staff then:

To the men and women who carry on the work of the Air Raid Precautions services, I should like to say a special word of gratitude. The devotion of these civilian workers, firemen, salvage men and many others in the face of grave and constant danger, has won a new renown for the British name

Thomas Alderson’s citation reads:

A pair of semi-detached houses at Bridlington was totally demolished in a recent air raid. One woman was trapped alive. Alderson tunnelled under unsafe wreckage and rescued the trapped person without further injury to her.

Some days later, two five-storey buildings were totally demolished and debris penetrated into a cellar in which eleven persons were trapped. Six persons in one cellar, which had completely given way, were buried under debris. Alderson partly effected entrance to this cellar by tunnelling 13 to 14 feet under the main heap of wreckage and for three and a half hours he worked unceasingly in an exceedingly cramped condition. Although considerably bruised he succeeded in releasing all the trapped persons without further injury to themselves.

The wreckage was unsafe and further falls were anticipated; coal gas leaks were of a serious nature and there was danger of flooding from fractured water pipes. Despite these dangers and enemy aircraft overhead the rescue work was continued.

On a third occasion some four-storey buildings were totally demolished. Five persons were trapped in a cellar. Alderson led the rescue work in excavating a tunnel from the pavement through the foundations to the cellar; he also personally tunnelled under the wreckage many feet into the cellar and rescued alive two persons (one of whom subsequently died) from under a massive refrigerator, which was in danger of further collapse as debris was removed.

A wall, three storeys high, which swayed in the gusty wind, was directly over the position where the rescue party were working. This was likely to collapse at any moment.

Alderson worked almost continuously under the wreckage for five hours, during which time further air raid warnings were received and enemy aircraft heard overhead.

By his courage and devotion to duty without the slightest regard for his own safety, he set a fine example to the members of his Rescue Party, and their team work is worthy of the highest praise.

Soldiers play dead and injured during a large-scale Air Raid Precautions (ARP) exercise in the south coast towns of Portsmouth, Gosport and Southampton on 25 February 1940. The labels describe the extent of their 'injuries'.

Soldiers play dead and injured during a large-scale Air Raid Precautions (ARP) exercise in the south coast towns of Portsmouth, Gosport and Southampton on 25 February 1940. The labels describe the extent of their ‘injuries’.

A 'casualty', tied to a wooden ladder, is lowered from a rooftop by Air Raid Precautions (ARP) workers during a training exercise at Rustington, Sussex, 16 February 1940. The rescue squad was based at Worthing.

A ‘casualty’, tied to a wooden ladder, is lowered from a rooftop by Air Raid Precautions (ARP) workers during a training exercise at Rustington, Sussex, 16 February 1940. The rescue squad was based at Worthing.

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