British Military & Criminal History:

1900 to 1999.

HOME

GC HOLDERS

Home - UK Medals - Gallantry - George Cross - GC Holders - Railwaymen

Introduction

This page is concerned with railwaymen who have been directly awarded the George Cross.

I decided to add this page to the web site, after seeing the locomotive that bears the name "Wallace Oakes GC".

Norman Tunna

Norman Tunna was a Shunter with the Great Western Railway (GWR) company.

On 26 September 1940, when the German Air Force carried out a large bombing raid on Merseyside, in the Morpeth dock area of Birkenhead, the scores of railway lines were crowded with trains. These air raids resulted in a number of serious fires involving railway and dock warehouse properties. A large number of incendiary bombs fell on and about the goods station and sidings. Amongst the wagons in the yards was a train loaded with ammunition and various trucks containing canned petrol. Most of the enemy incendiaries had been extinguished by the prompt action of the staff on duty, but a serious fire developed from incendiaries falling in one section of the station.

During the course of these events, Norman Tunna discovered two incendiary bombs burning in a sheeted open wagon, which contained 250lb bombs. With a disregard for his own safety, Tunna removed the sheet and extinguished the incendiary bombs. He then removed the extinguished bombs from the wagon.

The citation for the award of the George Cross to Norman Tunna was published in the London Gazette 24 January 1941:

Enemy action over the Liverpool Port Area resulted in a number of serious fires involving railway and dock warehouse properties. A large number of incendiary bombs fell on and about the goods station and sidings.

Amongst the wagons in the yards were a train load of ammunition, various trucks of petrol in tins, bombs and ammunition fuses. Most of the enemy incendiary bombs were extinguished by the prompt action of the staff on duty before damage could be done, but a serious fire developed from incendiaries falling in one section of the station premises. In the course of these events Shunter Tunna discovered two incendiary bombs burning in a sheeted open wagon, containing 250-lb. bombs. With complete disregard for personal risk, Tunna removed the sheet, extinguished the incendiary bombs and removed them from the truck. The top layer of these heavy bombs was hot.

Tunna's action displayed courage in very high degree and eliminated the risk of serious explosions, the results of which it would be difficult to measure.

Norman Tunna died on 4 December 1970.

On 15  November 1982, at Liverpool's Lime Street Station a Class 47 main line diesel locomotive was named "Norman Tunna, GC" by his widow.

Benjamin Gimbert and James William Nightall

Benjamin Gimbert and James William Nightall are the only railwaymen to have won their George Cross medals in the same incident.

Benjamin Gimbert was a Driver with the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER).

James William Nightall was a LNER Fireman on the train driven by Benjamin Gimbert.

As an ammunition train, composed of 51 wagons, was pulling into Soham Rail Station in Cambridgeshire, Driver Gimbert discovered that the wagon next to the engine was on fire. He immediately drew Fireman Nightall's attention to the fire and stopped the train. By the time the train had stopped the whole of the truck was enveloped in flames. Realising the danger, Gimbert instructed Nightall to try and uncouple the truck immediately behind the blazing truck. Nightall immediately uncoupled the truck, although he also knew that the truck contained explosives.

The blazing truck was close to the station buildings at Soham, and was an obvious danger to life in the village. Both Gimbert and Nightall realised that they had to separate the truck from the remainder of the train. Gimbert set the engine in motion, pulling the burning truck away from the rest of the train. As they approached the signal box, Gimbert shouted to the signalman to stop the mail train which was almost due. At that instance, the bombs in the blazing wagon exploded.

A 20 feet deep crater was blown in the track and all the buildings at Soham Rail Station were destroyed. A total of 600 buildings were damaged, including the station hotel. Fireman Nightall was killed instantly, and the signalman later died of his injuries. The train's guard, Herbert Clarke, survived although he was very badly shaken.

Despite being blown sky-high by the explosion, Gimbert survived. During his 6-week stay in hospital some 32 assorted pieces of glass, gravel and metal were removed from his body.

The citation for the award of the George Cross to Gimbert and Nightall was published in the London Gazette 25 July 1944:

As an ammunition train was pulling into a station in Cambridgeshire, the driver, Gimbert, discovered that the wagon next to the engine was on fire. He immediately drew Nightall's attention to the fire and brought the train to a standstill. By the time the train had stopped the whole of the truck was enveloped in flames and, realising the danger, the driver instructed the fireman to try to uncouple the truck immediately behind the blazing vehicle.

Without the slightest hesitation Nightall, although he knew that the truck contained explosives, uncoupled the vehicle and rejoined his driver on the footplate. The blazing van was close to the station buildings and was obviously liable to endanger life in the village. The driver and fireman realised that it was essential to separate the truck from the remainder of the train and run it into the open. Driver Gimbert set the engine in motion and as he approached a signal box he warned the signalman to stop any trains which were likely to be involved and indicated what he intended to do. Almost immediately the vehicle blew up. Nightall was killed and Gimbert was very severely injured.

Gimbert and Nightall were fully aware of the contents of the wagon which was on fire and displayed outstanding courage and resource in endeavouring to isolate it. When they discovered that the wagon was on fire they could easily have left the train and sought shelter, but realising that if they did not remove the burning vehicle the whole of the train, which consisted of 51 wagons of explosives, would have blown up, they risked their lives in order to minimise the effect of the fire. There is no doubt that if the whole train had been involved, as it would have been but for the gallant action of the men concerned, there would have been serious loss of life and property.

Benjamin Gimbert died on 6 May 1976, and is buried in the the Eastwood Road Cemetery in March.

The two name plates from the Class 47 locomotive BENJAMIN GIMBERT G.C. are displayed in March Museum, above his medals. On the 60th anniversary of the explosion, two class 66 locomotives - 66077 and 66079 - were named Benjamin Gimbert G. C. and James Nightall G.C. respectively, in a ceremony on the site of the former March Locomotive depot.

John Axon

John Axon, born on 4 December 1900, was a Driver with British Rail.

On Saturday 9 February 1957, Driver Axon took charge of of the 11.05am freight train from Buxton to Warrington. This train consisted of 33 loaded wagons and a brake van. At the head of this train was Stanier 8F 2-8-0 Number 48188. The total weight of wagons, brake van and engine was some 775 tons.

Driver Axon's train was running at 15 mph on the London Midland Region line from Buxton towards Chapel-on-le-Frith. He was preparing to stop the train before descending a steep gradient when the steam pipe feeding the brake suddenly fractured.

In addition to destroying the train's braking system, high-pressure steam filled the cab with blinding, scalding steam which was discharged directly at Driver Axon's feet. Although very badly burned, he remained at his post and tried to get the train under control. With the assistance of his fireman, Axon applied the handbrake and closed the regulator. However, the train was now descending the gradient could not be stopped. Axon ordered his fireman to jump clear and attempt to apply as many wagon brakes as possible. Despite this measure, the train continued to gain speed.

Driver Axon remained at his post, despite the steam and boiling water which was continuing to pour into the cab, and his severe burns. He waved a warning to a signalman that the train was running out of control, but remained at his post in an attempt to regain control.

However, before this occurred, the train crashed into the rear of another freight train. Driver Axon was killed in the crash.

The citation for the George Cross award to Axon was published in the London Gazette 7 May 1957:

Mr. Axon was in charge of a train of over 500 tons of freight which was running at 15 mph. on the London Midland Region line from Buxton towards Chapel-en-le-Frith.

He was preparing to stop the train before descending a steep gradient when, with a deafening noise, the steam pipe feeding the brake suddenly fractured. This not only destroyed the braking system but filled the driving cab with blinding, scalding steam which was discharged at a very high pressure directly at the feet of Axon, who was badly burned. He could have abandoned his engine and saved his life but, realising the danger of a runaway, he remained at his post and, with great bravery and determination, endeavoured to get the train under control. With the aid of his fireman the regulator was closed and the hand brake applied but the train, which was by now descending tone gradient, could not be stopped.

Driver Axon then ordered his fireman to jump clear and to apply as many wagon brakes as possible. In sipite of this .prompt action the train gathered speed. Nevertheless Axon stayed on the engine, although steam and boiling water were still pouring into the cab making conditions almost unbearable. He waved a warning to a signalman that the train was running away and remained aft his post in the hope of regaining control when a more favourable gradient should be reached. Before this occurred the runaway train overtook another freight train travelling in the same direction and in the resulting smash Axon was killed.

Driver Axon displayed devotion to duty, fortitude and outstanding courage in highly dangerous and alarming conditions. He gave his life in an attempt to prevent a collision.

On 19 February 1981 at London's Euston Station, an electric train no. 86261 called "Driver John Axon, GC" was unveiled.

Wallace Arnold Oakes

Wallace Arnold Oakes, born on 23 April 1932, was a Driver with British Rail.

On 5 June 1965, Driver Oakes left Crewe driving the steam locomotive of a relief passenger train. The train consisted of ten coaches and was reasonably well filled with passengers.

When about seven miles from Crewe, travelling at nearly sixty miles per hour, the engine cab was suddenly filled with smoke and flames blowing back from the firebox. The fireman at once climbed through the side windows and somehow managed to get on the cab steps where he extinguished his burning clothing by rubbing himself against the plating. He could not see into the cab but, realising the brake had been applied, he remained on the steps until the train stopped.

The flames subsided at once and he re-entered the cab to find that Oakes was missing; he saw him lying on the cutting slope just ahead of the cab. Oakes was, however, still able to speak at that stage but was dazed. The first person to make an inspection of the controls was a fireman from an up train which was stopped to pick up the injured man. He found the brake fully applied, the regulator partly open and the blower valve open.

It seems apparent, therefore, that Driver Oakes, instead of quitting the cab as soon as the blow-back occurred remained to apply the brake, open the blower, and probably close the regulator partly. The position in which he was found shows that he did not leave the engine until it had come to rest. Mr. Oakes must have been aware that to remain at the controls of the locomotive was a grave risk to his own life. Nevertheless, he applied the brakes fully and took all the measures he could to reduce the effects of the blow-back.

Driver Oakes' gallant action showed that his first thought was for the safety of his passengers.

Oakes' injuries were so severe that he had to be suspended over his hospital bed, as he was unable to lie down. He was given regular and large doses of morphia to alleviate the agony of his injuries. A week after the accident, on 12 June 1965, Wallace Arnold Oakes died in Manchester's Wythenshawe Hospital.

The citation for the award of the George Cross to Wallace Oakes was published in the London Gazette 19 October 1965:

Mr. Oakes left Crewe driving the steam locomotive of a relief express passenger train. The train consisted of ten coaches and was reasonably well filled with passengers. When about seven miles from Crewe, travelling at nearly sixty miles per hour, the engine cab was suddenly filled with smoke and flames blowing back from the firebox. The fireman at once climbed through the side window and somehow managed to get on the cab steps where he extinguished his burning clothing by rubbing himself against the plating. He could not see into the cab but, realising the brakes had been applied, he remained on the steps until the train stopped.

The flames subsided at once and he re-entered the cab to find that Oakes was missing ; he saw him lying on the cutting slope just ahead of the cab. His clothing was severely burnt and the flesh beneath had suffered similarly to an extent described later as 80 per cent, of the body. Oakes was, however, still able to speak at that stage but was dazed. The first person to make an inspection of the controls was a fireman from an up train which was stopped to pick up the injured men. He found the brake fully applied, the regulator partly open, and the blower valve open. It seems apparent, therefore, that Driver Oakes, instead of quitting the cab as soon as the blow-back occurred, remained to apply the brake, open the blower, and probably close the regulator partly. The position in which he was found shows that he did not leave the engine until it had come to rest. Mr. Oakes must have been aware that to remain at the controls of the locomotive was a grave risk to his own life. Nevertheless, he applied the brakes fully and took all the measures he could to reduce the effects of the blow-back.

Mr. Oakes' gallant action showed that his first thought was for the safety of his passengers, and he thereby sacrificed his life, for he died a week later. He set an outstanding example of devotion to duty and of public service.

During 1966, Driver Oakes was also awarded the Bronze Medal of the Carnegie Hero Trust. The citation for this award reads as follows:

Wallace A. Oakes (33), locomotive Driver, 6 Sandy Lane, Wheelock Heath, Sandbatch, Cheshire, on 5 June 1965, although severely burned by a blow-back from the fire-box in the express train he was driving, brought the train to a stop at Winsford, Chesire, and ensured the safety of a large number of passengers; he died as a result of his injuries on 12 June 1965.

On 19 February 1981 at London's Euston Rail Station, an electric locomotive no. 86260 was named "Driver Wallace Oakes GC".

The George Cross award to Wallace Oakes is displayed in the National Railway Museum, York.

James Kennedy

James Kennedy was a Security Officer with British Rail Engineering Ltd, Glasgow, Scotland.

In the early hours of the 21 December 1973, six armed men attacked Security Guards who were moving the British Rail Engineering Works' pay-roll from the Administration Block to various pay-out points within the complex. During the attack two security guards were slightly wounded by shots from a sawn-off shotgun. The robbers then headed towards the main exit of the Works.

Mr. Kennedy, who was the security officer on duty at the main gate, heard the shots and knowing that the criminals were armed stood in the gateway in an attempt to prevent their escape. He tackled the first man and prevented him leaving the yard. The intruder was then released by his companions who attacked Mr. Kennedy and stunned him by hitting him about the head with the barrels of their shotguns.

At this point the raiders climbed into a van, which one of the gang had driven into position. Mr. Kennedy recovered consciousness and undeterred by his injuries, made another attempt to prevent the criminals' escape by running towards the front passenger door of the van. He was killed by two shots fired from the front passenger seat.

It was subsequently revealed that, in addition to the fatal injuries Mr. Kennedy had received two deeply lacerated wounds to the skull during the earlier attack.

The citation for the award of the George Cross to Kennedy was published in the London Gazette 15 August 1975:

In the early hours of the morning six armed men attacked Security Guards who were moving the British Rail Engineering Works' pay-roll from the Administrative Block to various pay-out points within the complex. During the attack two security guards were slightly wounded by shots from a sawn-off shotgun. The robbers then headed towards the main exit of the Works.

Mr. Kennedy, who was the security officer on duty at the main gate, heard the shots and knowing that the criminals were armed stood in the gateway in an attempt to prevent their escape. He tackled the first man and prevented him leaving the yard. The intruder was then released by his companions who attacked Mr. Kennedy and stunned him by hitting him about the head with the barrels of their shotguns. At this point the raiders climbed into a van which one of the gang had driven into position. Mr. Kennedy recovered consciousness and, undeterred by his injuries, made another attempt to prevent the criminals' escape by running towards the front passenger door of the van. He was killed by two shots fired from the front passenger seat.

The seven criminals involved in this murder were later caught and sentenced. It was subsequently revealed that, in addition to the fatal injuries, Mr. Kennedy had received two deeply lacerated wounds to the skull during the earlier attack. In themselves these would have been sufficient to deter most people from running further risk of injury. Mr. Kennedy displayed exceptional gallantry and devotion to duty in circumstances of extreme danger. He showed no regard for his personal safety in the face of armed and ruthless criminals.

On 12 November 1981, at Glasgow Central Rail Station, a British Rail electric locomotive no. 86242 was named "James Kennedy GC".

Blog | UK Medals | Remembrance | War Crimes | Spying | Courts Martial | Criminal Cases | Index | Contact