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VC/GC Diary

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Here we add daily diary entries on the anniversaries of when the Victoria Crosses and George Crosses were awarded.

GC Diary 21st September

By victoriagreen068, Sep 21 2016 05:04AM

The George Cross Diary for 21st September contains no fewer than five different recipients of the George Cross or one of its previous incarnations, including two men who were involved in the same incident of bomb disposal, and the diary begins with a young Welsh miner who was involved in an industrial accident in the South Wales collieries.

Thomas Derwydd Thomas EM/GC was born on 30th June 1912, possibly on the family farm which was called Derwydd Farm in Garnant. He went to the local school until the age of 13 when he decided to go down the mines. He married Margaret Davies and they had a daughter, Mair.

On 21st September 1933, he was working at Brynamman Colliery when there was an inrush of water at the pit. Thomas was working underground at the time. At great personal risk, he assisted a youth who had lost his lamp and was unable, in the darkness and water, to make his way to safety. They both reached a place where several others had gathered. The miners then divided into two groups, one group seeking a way out via an airway and the other via a roadway that was flooded and obstructed by a mass of timber and rails washed down by the water. Thomas took up the rear in the roadway group, which succeeded in reaching safety; he then returned, at considerable peril to himself, to find the other group, which then escaped by the same route. Thomas was the last to leave the pit.

Thomas was awarded the EM (6th February 1934) and returned to the mines following his actions. He would exchange his EM for a GC in 1971. He donated his Edward Medal to the National Museum, Cardiff. He died on 19th July 1984 in Carmarthen and is believed to be buried in the town. His GC is privately held.

John Macmillan Stevenson Patton GC, CBE was born in Warwick, Bermuda on 29th August 1915, the son of John Macmillan Stevenson Patton and his American wife, Katie (nee Studivant) who hailed from Mississippi. When John was just four, his father died of TB, aged just 40, and his mother remarried to Colonel Colin Osborne, who hailed from Ontario, Canada and he moved the family there.

John was educated at Trinity College School and Westdale Collegiate Institute, before beginning studying Chemical Engineering at Queen’s University, Kingston. There he met his first wife Mary Robertson Teskey and they married on 6th April 1940.

While at university, John became an active member of the COTC (Canadian Officer Training Corps). Despite being raised in Canada, he held British and Bermudian citizenship. He and his wife who he called Molly, had four sons, John, Alexander, George and Timothy and two daughters, Julia and Mary. He would later marry a second time to Ann Byrd and acquire two step-children.

At the outbreak of WWII his attempts to enlist failed due to a hammer toe, which he had cut off, and when it had healed, re-applied to the Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers. He was posted to England where he was based with “A” Company, 1 Canadian Pioneer Battalion, at Weybridge, Surrey.

On 21st September 1940, when, despite having no training in delayed action bombs, he volunteered to move to a safe distance an unexploded bomb that had been found in the Hawker Aircraft Factory. Having analysed the situation and studied the bomb, he sent for a truck and a length of cable, and then called for more volunteers. Four members of the Home Guard, Sergeant Tillyard-Burrows, WJ Avery, EA Maslyn and C Chaplain, came forward to help Patton roll the bomb on to a piece of corrugated iron, secure it with cable and attach it to the truck. With Patton sitting on the back of the truck taking care of the bomb, Captain Cunnington drove the truck to a bomb crater, where it exploded a few hours later. The Home Guard men were each awarded the BEM and Cunnington was awarded the George Medal.

Patton’s GC was announced on 13th December 1940, and later in the War he became involved in the Canadian Petroleum Warfare Experimental Unit, improving flame guns and in fuels. He became the expert in flamethrowers. He later served in Egypt, India and Burma. After the War, he returned to Canada, and took a law degree at Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia.

He then returned to Bermuda where he practised law and became a partner in Hallett, Whitney and Patton. He was elected to the Bermudan Legislature in 1956 and became a Cabinet Minister but retired from politics in 1974. He died on 13th May 1996 and was buried in Christ Church, Warwick, a church where he had been an Elder. His medals are privately held.

Geoffrey Gledhill Turner GC, GM was born on 10th September 1903 in Sheffield, the son of Charles and Kathleen St Elphin Turner. His middle name came from his mother’s maiden name. His father was a Chartered Accountant and the family lived in the Ecclesall Bierlow area. He was educated at King Edward VII School, Sheffield from 1911 to 1921. When he left, he joined the family accounting firm. On the outbreak of WWII, he attempted to join the Army, but was discharged on medical grounds, and joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.

On 21st December 1940, at Great Howard Street, Liverpool, a bomb had fallen and needed tackling. It was partly suspended by its parachute, with its nose on the ground floor and the fuse hidden. Great care had to be taken in handling this mine, which weighed nearly a ton. Turner was successful in removing the fuse before it could explode. Then he had to deal with another bomb which fell in Cambridge Street, Seaforth. The bomb itself was badly damaged, and it was essential that it should be cleared as soon as possible as the Liverpool-Southport railway line ran nearby. Turner rigged a wire and moved the bomb as to expose the fuse and fit a safety gag, but the fuse was damaged and only the top half came away, leaving the clockwork and operating the mechanism in the bomb. He then tried to pick out the remains of the fuse with his fingers. He had nearly managed this when the clock began ticking and he retired quickly. There was no explosion, so he waited 5 minutes and returned to finish the work. As soon as he touched it, the clock began again and it exploded, wounding Turner. He would later be awarded the George Medal in 1943, one of only eight men to do so.

Later in the War, he also took charge of a Royal Marine Commando unit in the invasion of Normandy, took part in the capture of Brest and fought with the Commandos in Germany. In 1946, he was invalided from the Navy and became a Director of a firm of manufacturing chemists, Alec Parsons in Oldham. On retirement he moved to Stambourne in Essex with his wife Margaret (nee Benson) whom he married in 1946. Turner died on 9th February 1959 and was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium. His medals are privately owned.

Richard John Hammersley Ryan GC and Reginald Vincent Ellingworth GC are connected by the events of 21st September 1940 at Dagenham, Essex, which tragically would led to both of their deaths and posthumous awards of the GC.

Ellingworth was the elder of the two men, born on 28th January 1898 in Wolverhampton, the son of Frank and Kate Ellingworth. Little is known of his childhood and career before the Royal Navy. He did marry Jessie Day and they had a son. Ryan was 5 years younger than Ellingworth and was a London boy, being born in Kensington on 23rd July 1903. He was from a naval family, his family being Admiral Frank Edward Cavendish Ryan CBE and his mother was Eleanor Stuart Ryan (nee Campbell). He had entered naval college at Osborne in January 1917, became a midshipman in 1921 on the Dunedin and was promoted in 1924 to Sub Lieutenant then to Lieutenant in August 1925. He served in China, before specialising in torpedoes at Greenwich in 1928. At the outbreak of WWII, the two men were stationed at HMS Vernon, Royal Navy Bomb Disposal. Ryan was Lieutenant Commander, and Ellingworth was Chief Petty Officer at the time of the incident at Dagenham.

They had previously dealt with a Type C magnetic mine that fell at Clacton. When the first magnetic mines fell on London, Ryan with Chief Petty Officer Reg Ellingworth GC, came forward without thought for the perilous work of making them safe, although aware of the severe danger. Together they dealt with 6 of these mines, one of them in a canal where they were waist deep in mud and water, making any escape impossible. On 21st September 1940, they went to Dagenham to tackle a mine hanging by a parachute in a warehouse. Tragically it exploded, killing them both. They were both posthumously awarded the GC.

Ryan was buried in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery at Gosport, and his medals are privately owned. Ellingworth was buried at Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth, and his wife’s ashes were scattered on the grave in 1992. His medals are held by the Imperial War Museum and displayed in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.

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