Home Guard…. Not always a cushy number….

I have been rather busy lately with work and other commitments, however I still try to keep up with my hobby and while nosing through some interesting paperwork on Home Guard (HG) awards, I was struck by the thought that people often mistake the HG for a “cushy little number” of old men guarding Britain from a non-existent invasion; However this is completely untrue and these men served a valuable purpose and often put themselves into harms way in order to save others from injury.

Here are just a few examples:

British Empire Medal:

Sergeant W. DAVIES and Private G. E. REES; 15th GLAMORGANSHIRE (GOWER) BATTALION

“On 11th December 1942 a report was received indicating that Royal Air Force personnel were in danger off Burry Holmes. Sergeant Davies instructed Private Rees to accompany him and they went to the point indicated where they saw five men clinging to the rocks in the sea some distance from the mainland. These five men had been there for three days in a rubber dinghy without food and were totally exhausted.  “In extremely dangerous conditions, at high spring tide, and in a raging storm Sergeant Davies and Private Rees plunged into the open sea to render assistance. Sergeant Davies and Private Rees reached the five men, rendered them first aid and remained with them for two hours until the tide had receded sufficiently for them to be helped to the mainland. But for such assistance all five men would unquestionably have lost their lives as they were in imminent danger of being washed away in the storm.
“The actions of these two men called for the greatest bravery and determination and resulted in the saving of the lives of the five Royal Air Force personnel.”

Sergeant W. R. GREEN; 1st HAMPSHIRE (ANDOVER) BATTALION

“On 3rd October 1943 Sergeant Green and an officer were conveying a projectile, which was thought to be defective, for demolition. A short distance from their destination the projectile exploded. The truck in which they were travelling continued on its course until it hit a hedge. Sergeant Green, though badly wounded, bleeding heavily and in great pain and unable to walk, succeeded in getting the officer out of the truck as he was too seriously wounded to move himself. Sergeant Green then crawled about one and a quarter miles to a farm for assistance. It is considered that unless Sergeant Green, by. his fortitude and presence of mind under circumstances in which he might have thought the condition of the officer to be hopeless, had striven to crawl that long distance to secure help the officer would not have survived to receive medical attention.”

Volunteer S. W. ANTHONY; 1st BATTALION ‘P’ ZONE, LONDON [later 51st KENT BATTALION]

“In October 1940 at Bromley a house received a direct bit from a bomb. When Anthony was told that people bad been trapped he went through a ground floor window, although the house was collapsing, and found an injured man trying to rescue his child. He helped the man out and then, with the aid of another helper, began the work of rescuing the child.”

Lance-Corporal E. T. MONK and Corporal E. C. SARGENT; 7th SURREY (DORKING) BATTALION

“In April 1944 an aircraft flew over Home Guard personnel training near Lowfield Heath, Surrey and was seen to crash; a terrific explosion followed. The aircraft had come to rest on its back and caught fire. Second Lieutenant Walker and Corporals Monk and Sargent rushed to the scene and, regardless of the burning wreckage and the possibility of exploding bombs and petrol tanks, Second Lieutenant Walker crawled under the wing and, assisted by the two n.c.o.’s, succeeded in releasing the pilot from his harness and dragging him clear of the flames. Had it not been for the prompt and courageous action of these three men the pilot would undoubtedly have been burned to death.”

3178648 Company Sergeant-Major E. SMITH, K.O.S.B. 1st DUMFRIESSHIRE BATTALION

“On 3rd June 1942 C.S.M. Smith was supervising live grenade practice by members of the 1st Dumfries Battalion, Home Guard, to which he was attached. During the practice a grenade hit the top of the parapet and fell back into the priming bay. He closed the lids of the fuse and grenade boxes and kicked the grenade round a corner into the passage. The grenade exploded almost immediately, severely wounding C.S.M. Smith, whose action undoubtedly averted very serious consequences and probably saved the life of the soldier who was present in the bay. Had C.S.M. Smith not contrived to kick the grenade round the corner there would have been a grave chance of it coming to rest and exploding with very serious consequences at the entrance to the shelter, which contained forty men. His courageous conduct is enhanced by the fact that he was aware that the grenade was fitted with a four second fuse. He is now making a good recovery from his wounds.”

George Medal:

Platoon Commander R. HAIGH; 9th BIRMINGHAM (PUBLIC UTILITIES) BATTALION [later 29th WARWICKSHIRE (BIRMINGHAM) BATTALION]

“At about eight p.m. on 22nd November 1940 a number of incendiary bombs fell on the Wagon Repair Shops and on Washwood Heath Gas Works. Haigh was P 19 Company Duty Officer and after one or two small fires in P 19 area had received attention, he proceeded, with Volunteer S. A. Tyler, to the Gas Works. They found two fires in the coal stack and extinguished them. Two smoke screen containers had been ignited and were burning with considerable flame. These, in the absence of equipment for dealing with oil fires, were extinguished with some difficulty. There was a plume of flame in the crown of one gasholder; at the time the crown on the gasholder was some 200 feet high. Haigh, taking the initiative and with three other men, ascended to the crown of the holder carrying sacks, and after considerable effort extinguished the fire and partially stopped the escape of gas with bags and clay. Another aperture in the crown of the holder, through which gas was escaping but not burning, was dealt with in the same way. No protective equipment was carried. The raid was still in progress, with bombs dropping in the vicinity, and the flame from the holder must have provided a continuous beacon. The action taken by Haigh and the other three men not only promptly removed the beacon, but also saved a considerable quantity of gas from escaping.”

George Cross:

Lieutenant W. FOSTER, M.C., D.C.M.; 7th WILTSHIRE (SALISBURY) BATTALION

“When Lieutenant Foster was instructing a class in throwing live grenades a Mills bomb rebounded to the firing position. Without hesitation Lieutenant Foster threw himself on the bomb one second before it exploded, thus saving the lives of his comrades nearby. This officer’s gallant action was not carried out in the heat of battle, but deliberately in cold blood, and with full knowledge of the consequences. As a result of this action Lieutenant Foster lost his life.”

 

Military Medal:

Volunteer G. JONES; 3rd MONMOUTHSHIRE (NEWPORT) BATTALION

“On 12th/13th July 1940 Volunteer Jones was a member of a guard posted in defence of a vital point. The post was bombed, one man being killed and another seriously wounded.
“Volunteer Jones, who was himself in a place of safety, heard the groans of the wounded man and at once left shelter and carried him on his back under cover. During this time bombs, debris, large pieces of steelwork and heavy glass were still falling and Volunteer Jones carried out his task with complete disregard for his own safety. His courageous behaviour set a fine example to all those present.”

 

All very gallant men, and there are many more than this, around 1000 awards in total; If you want to read more: http://www.home-guard.org.uk/hg/med.html please check out this website, 🙂

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The Heroine of BOAC….

Air Stewardess Barbara Jane Harrison, GC B.O.A.C.

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The citation for Barbara Jane Harrison’s GC reads:-

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD ST. JAMES’S PALACE, LONDON S.W.18th August 1969.

The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.

GEORGE CROSS

Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.

On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.

Barbara, remains the only woman to be awarded the George Cross for bravery, outside wartime.  She could have left, she could have saved herself, yet she chose to do her duty and to remain with her passengers, even though it meant sacrificing her own life.

Selfless acts…….

Now I don’t often talk about my personal life, however, I will say, I am to all intents and purposes a teacher (I cover for teachers when they are ill or away).  There have been over the past couple of years teachers who have acted above and beyond their positions, the teachers who have protected pupils during campus shootings come to mind such as Liviu Librescu.  I know when I step into a classroom, my duty is firstly to teach the students, and secondly it is to look after my students well-being (and dependent on the circumstances these two can switch).   However I am not sure deep down I have the strength of moral fibre to do what these people have done.  I shall for today’s posting pick two men, one British, and one a naturalised American, but both as brave as the other.

Firstly Liviu Librescu; a brave man over and over.

 L_librescu

April 16th 2007: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University: Dr Librescu, was taking a class that he had taught many times before, when he heard the sound of gunshots.  Something that no doubt he would have been familiar with and probably stirred up memories he had hoped to forget.  However as they sounds drew closer he helped his pupils to make their escape through the window of his class room, as they did so the gunman attempted to enter the room, without a hesitation for his own safety Dr Librescu, blocked the doorway with his body, taking the brunt of the gunman’s hail of bullets.  Only when his entire student body had escaped did he allow himself to relent and collapsed dead, with five bullet wounds in his back.  Bravery and self-sacrifice shown beyond all doubt, and I have read of many brave men yet this has to be one of the bravest things I have read.

The revelation that Dr. Liviu Librescu blocked the door of his classroom in Norris Hall on the morning of April 16 so that his students could escape through the windows came as no surprise to his family, friends, and colleagues. The renowned aeronautical engineering educator and researcher had demonstrated profound courage throughout the 76 years of his life.

As a child in Romania during World War II, Liviu was confined to a Jewish ghetto, while his father was sent to a forced labor camp. After surviving the Holocaust, Liviu moved forward with stalwart determination to become an engineer.

During the rise of the Communist Party in Romania in the 1960s, Liviu earned his undergraduate aeronautical engineering degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest and completed his Ph.D. at the Institute of Fluid Mechanics, Academy of Science of Romania. He achieved academic prominence, but in order to have his papers on aerodynamics published anywhere except at the academy during Communist rule, he had to work in secrecy and—at great risk—smuggle papers to publishers in other countries.

Dr. Librescu and his wife wanted to leave Romania for Israel, but obtaining the requisite visas was a difficult and lengthy process. After three years—and with the help of the government of Israel—the family finally was allowed to immigrate in 1978.

After serving as a professor for seven years at Tel-Aviv University, Dr. Librescu accepted a one-year position as visiting professor in the Virginia Tech Department of Engineering Science and Mechanics (ESM). The family decided to settle in Blacksburg in 1985, and Liviu became one of Virginia Tech’s most respected educators and researchers in the field of aeronautical engineering.http://www.weremember.vt.edu/biographies/librescu.html

The second story of bravery is that of John Clements, a UK teacher, who showed his bravery not in the heat of a violent campus rampage, but in the midst of a fire, on a school trip in a ski resort in Italy.

john_clements2

His citation reads:

John Clements (Deceased), Teacher, Sherrardswood School, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire. Mr. Clements was one of a party of six adults and thirty-seven children who were staying at a ski-resort in Northern Italy on an eight day visit. At about 4 a.m. on 12th April 1976, smoke was noticed and Mr. Clements was one of those who quickly raised the alarm and ordered the children to go down-stairs. A number of children were led to safety through dense smoke by other members of the staff who, having got out of the hotel, then helped further children to escape from a first floor balcony to the ground. Meanwhile, Mr. Clements had climbed down from a third floor balcony on the West side of the building to a second floor balcony; he then reached the first floor where he organised a number of children into small groups and assisted them to escape by means of a rope he had improvised from knotted sheets. When the room was evacuated Mr. Clements refused to leave the hotel and went back into the building which in a matter of minutes was burning fiercely. He was seen on at least two occasions to go back into the hotel after carrying or dragging people out, and he ignored repeated attempts to restrain him. Mr. Clement was finally overcome by fumes and he died in the fire. Mr. Clements displayed outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty in circumstances of extreme danger. He showed no regard for his personal safety when he remained in the fiercely burning hotel in his endeavours to save those still trapped by the fire.”

Both men showed a remarkable self determination and self-sacrifice, in different circumstances.  These men dug deep and showed themselves to be true hero’s in the fullest sense of the word.

http://jc-codicote.org/2010/01/who-was-john-clements/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Clements_%28GC%29

“Another bloody chapter in an endless civil war…..”

Sergeant Michael Willetts GC  3rd Battalion Parachute Regiment

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The other night, I was doing something I often do, and that was flick on random songs on “youtube”, and a song by a folk artist Harvey Andrews, called 2The British Soldier”.

Here’s a link to the Youtube video/song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NpaT5LDFgM

And here are the Lyrics:

In a station in the city a British soldier stood

Talking to the people there if the people would

Some just stared in hatred, and others turned in pain

And the lonely British soldier wished he was back home again

 

Come join the British Army! said the posters in his town

See the world and have your fun come serve before the Crown

The jobs were hard to come by and he could not face the dole

So he took his country’s shilling and enlisted on the roll

 

For there was no fear of fighting, the Empire long was lost

Just ten years in the army getting paid for being bossed

Then leave a man experienced a man who’s made the grade

A medal and a pension some mem’ries and a trade

 

Then came the call to Ireland as the call had come before

Another bloody chapter in an endless civil war

The priests they stood on both sides the priests they stood behind

Another fight in Jesus name the blind against the blind

 

The soldier stood between them between the whistling stones

And then the broken bottles that led to broken bones

The petrol bombs that burnt his hands the nails that pierced his skin

And wished that he had stayed at home surrounded by his kin

 

The station filled with people the soldier soon was bored

But better in the station than where the people warred

The room filled up with mothers with daughters and with sons

Who stared with itchy fingers at the soldier and his gun

 

A yell of fear a screech of brakes the shattering of glass

The window of the station broke to let the package pass

A scream came from the mothers as they ran towards the door

Dragging children crying from the bomb upon the floor

 

The soldier stood and could not move his gun he could not use

He knew the bomb had seconds and not minutes on the fuse

He could not run to pick it up and throw it in the street

There were far too many people there too many running feet

 

Take cover! yelled the soldier, Take cover for your lives

And the Irishmen threw down their young and stood before their wives

They turned towards the soldier their eyes alive with fear

For God’s sake save our children or they’ll end their short lives here

 

The soldier moved towards the bomb his stomach like a stone

Why was this his battle God why was he alone

He lay down on the package and he murmured one farewell

To those at home in England to those he loved so well

 

He saw the sights of summer felt the wind upon his brow

The young girls in the city parks how precious were they now

The soaring of the swallow the beauty of the swan

The music of the turning world so soon would it be gone

 

A muffled soft explosion and the room began to quake

The soldier blown across the floor his blood a crimson lake

They never heard him cry or shout they never heard him moan

And they turned their children’s faces from the blood and from the bones

 

The crowd outside soon gathered and the ambulances came

To carry off the body of a pawn lost in the game

And the crowd they clapped and cheered and they sang their rebel songs

One soldier less to interfere where he did not belong

 

But will the children growing up learn at their mothers’ knees

The story of the soldier who bought their liberty

Who used his youthful body as a means towards an end

Who gave his life to those who called him murderer not friend

 

I liked the flow of the song and decided to have a look into and never realised that it was based around the gallant actions of Sergeant Willetts GC on the 27th May 1971. For his heroic and self sacrificing conduct, he was awarded the George Cross.

 

Paradata.org gives this detail:

“At 8.24 pm on the evening of 25 May 1971 a terrorist entered the Springfield Road Police Station in Belfast. He carried a suitcase from which a smoking fuse protruded, dumped it quickly on the floor and fled outside. Inside the room were two adults, two children and several police officers.

The police officers raised the alarm and began to organize the evacuation of the hall past the reception desk, through the reception office and out of the door into the rear passage.

Sergeant Michael Willetts, 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, was on duty in the inner hall. Hearing the alarm, he sent an NCO up to the first floor to warn those above and hastened to the door towards which a police officer was thrusting those in the reception hall and office. He held the door open while all passed safely through and then stood in the doorway, shielding those taking cover.

In the next moment, the bomb exploded with terrible force. Sergeant Willetts was mortally wounded.

His duty did not require him to enter the threatened area, his post was elsewhere. He knew well, after four month’s service in Belfast, the peril of going towards a terrorist bomb but he did not hesitate to do so. All those approaching the door from the far side agreed that if they had had to check to open the door they would have perished. Even when those in the room had reached the rear passage, Sergeant Willets waited, placing his body as a screen to shelter them.

By this considered act of bravery, he risked and lost his life for those of the adults and children. His selflessness and courage are beyond praise.”

 

So strange the way these things happen that by hearing a song on a random flick on a playlist, allowed me to learn all about such a brave man, there have been many others and as it stand most people know about the VC winners and the famous actions but very few remember those who won the GC in the “quiet” sides of conflict, and not in direct contact with the enemy.

MBE’s are just given to footballers and lollypop ladies, right??

Skipper Charles Alfred Sleeth, Steam Trawler WARREN

A while ago I purchased a single MBE (a medal for a “Member of the Order of the British Empire”) and a certificate for a 1953 coronation medal from an antiques/house clearance shop.  I tried reading the name at the time but my university studies got in the way and I popped them in my desk and rather stupidly forgot all about them.  Well they languished in my desk for a few years until I had the time to research them properly, and with some help from a friend I deciphered the name from the certificate and from there I found a citation for the MBE (unusual to say the least…….).

The MBE had a civilian ribbon (Military awards have a central stripe to the ribbon to denote this), the reason behind this came later (Merchant Marine were classed as civilians and as such did not qualify for military awards in many cases)….. When I read his citation I had to wonder, how often had Charles stood at a remembrance parade, and his MBE and Coronation medal had got overlooked and possibly plain ignored on parades, thinking it to be just another “good duty” one (MBE’s are now handed out like sweets, and to be honest have lost a lot of their meaning because of it)….. but in this case, how wrong could anyone be…….. this MBE was awarded in lieu of a George Cross in 1940. (The George Cross is the Civilian version of the Victoria Cross, the premier award for Gallantry you can get!)

Charles Alfred Sleeth, Skipper of the steam trawler WARREN (172 tons) was awarded the MBE in the London Gazette on the 20th of January 1942 (probably for an action circa. 1st August 1940) for driving off an enemy air attack.

Citation reads:

The trawler was suddenly attacked by an enemy bomber. Fifield, who was already at the gun, was hit by machine-gun fire. Although bleeding profusely, he stayed at his gun, firing steadily. The Skipper meanwhile left the bridge to fetch rockets to warn other ships. By this time the gunner was weak from loss of blood and the Skipper took his place at the Lewis gun. It seems probable that while firing some 300 rounds, Fifield hit the enemy, as part of the fuselage was seen to fall. When at the gun, the Skipper succeeded in piercing the plane’s under-carriage during a very close attack in which three more bombs only just missed the trawler, whose steering was damaged. After being hit in this last attack, the bomber flew away. Fifield showed unflinching bravery in standing to his gun when wounded and his rapid, and probably successful, fire shook the attacker. The Skipper set a fine example throughout, and when he in turn took over the gun, his fire undoubtedly drove off the enemy, enabling him to bring his ship safely home.

Again I was taken back to thinking about this man wearing his MBE on parade, and whether or not anyone knew what it was for, whether he really cared if they did, and how brave these people could be.