b. 24/01/1928 Upton Park, London. d. 17/11/2018 Ilford, Essex.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 29/03/1958 Bromley, Kent.
Henry William Stevens (1928-2018) was born on 24th January 1928 in Upton Park, East London, one of six children of William Edmund and Alice Amelia Stevens (nee Wilmore). Sadly, his father died when he was just 5, and his mother was left to cope on her own with the children. Henry attended Bow Central School, near where his family had moved to. During the Second World War, he was evacuated to Pershore, Worcestershire, before returning to London in December 1941.
In 1945, having turned 17, he joined the Fleet Air Arm as a Naval Air Artifer Mechanic. When he was demobbed in 1948, he signed on again until November 1952, though did not see service in Korea. He married Andree Claydon in 1949 and the couple had a daughter, Lorraine, and a son, Paul. They divorced and she later died. He would re-marry to Jenny Graham in 1962, and they had two sons, Stephen and Simon.
In January 1953, Henry decided to change career and join the Metropolitan Police Force and was selected for plain-clothes detective work in 1958. It was soon after this move to plain-clothes work that the incident occurred which led to Henry’s George Cross.
During the evening of March 29th, 1958 PC Henry Stevens was on plain-clothes patrol in Bromley, Kent, with two other police officers. At about 8pm the patrol received a radio message to go to a house near by where a burglar alarm was ringing. Two officers approached the front door while Stevens went to a street behind the row of houses, but separated from them by a high wooden fence. As he came opposite the rear of the house a man leapt over the fence and began to run off.
Calling on him to stop and giving warning that he was a police officer, Stevens gave chase. After about 75 yards the fugitive stopped, turned, said, “Stop, or you’ll get this”, and very deliberately aimed a revolver at the policeman. Stevens, who had only a truncheon, told the man to lower his weapon and continued to run towards him, whereupon the gunman shot him in the mouth, shattering part of his jawbone and teeth. The .22 calibre bullet lodged in his tongue. Despite the intense pain of his injuries and bleeding profusely, Stevens threw himself on the gunman, wrenched the revolver out of his hand and pinioned him against some railings at the side of a railway bridge. At this point the criminal appeared to yield, but no sooner had Stevens begun to relax his grip than he broke free. He ran back down the road towards the house under investigation, with Stevens in hot pursuit.
After about 40 yards the man again turned and tried to double back past the constable. Stevens tackled him again, but in his weakened state was unable to hold him. However, in the struggle, he was able to pull off the man’s overcoat and jacket. Stevens then collapsed in the street through loss of blood. His bravery lost him his teeth and part of his jaw but, thanks to his stubborn determination, the fugitive was traced through the clothing he left behind. He turned out to be Ronald Easterbrook, a notorious career criminal known as the “Deptford Terror”.
Stevens was also able to identify Easterbrook from photographs shown to him while in hospital.
A bricklayer by trade, Easterbrook was arrested after a violent struggle at a Bayswater hotel and initially charged with attempted murder, but was later convicted of the lesser charge of intent to cause grievous bodily harm, and also intent to resist arrest, because of insufficient evidence to prove that he had intended to kill Stevens. In summing up, the judge told Easterbrook, “You are in my view a wicked and dangerous man,” and sentenced him to ten years’ imprisonment. Of his sentence Easterbrook said: “I would just like to say I would bet money I never finish it.” He was wrong about that, but he did manage to avoid completing a later sentence when he died in prison in 2009.
Stevens’s award of the George Cross (GC) was announced on October 21st, 1958. The citation read: “Constable Stevens displayed courage of the highest order in disregarding a threat with a firearm, closing with a gunman after being shot in the mouth and, although seriously injured, continuing in his efforts to arrest the criminal.”
He then had two spells working in the Flying Squad, one for the Serious Crime Squad, and in 1971 spent nine months in Northern Ireland dealing with IRA murders. He then returned to London and became Chief Inspector in charge of complaints against the Police. He retired in 1983. In retirement he worked for ten years with Sainsbury’s in Romford as security manager for the company’s eastern district. A quiet, unassuming man, with a policeman’s sardonic sense of humour, he took great pleasure in his older years in working in the garden of his cottage in Suffolk. Stevens was a member of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association since its inception, meeting the Prince of Wales several times, and served as honorary secretary for many years.
In 2006, Henry and Chris Finney GC joined the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in laying a wreath in Westminster Abbey for holders of the GC. Henry passed away on 17th November 2018, aged 90, and following a private funeral, was cremated. His medals are privately held.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: WITH RECIPIENT.
BURIAL LOCATION: CITY OF LONDON CREMATORIUM, MANOR PARK, LONDON.
Picture courtesy of Kevin Brazier