b. 20/10/1909 Dublin, Ireland. d. 28/12/1974 South Shields.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 08/03/1941 Birkenhead.
James Patrick Scully (1909-1974) was born on 20th October 1909 in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Thomas and Bridget Scully (nee O’Shaughnessy). He had two brothers and five sisters. After a basic education in Dublin, he decided to seek work in England, and moved to London at the age of 16 in 1925. He gained employment as a labourer and worked all over London prior to the outbreak of the Second World War.
In 1938, he married Mary Hannah, and they went on to have a son, Tony, and five daughters, Maureen, Eileen, Jackie, Maggie and Val. On the outbreak of war, he joined the Pioneer Corps, and became part of 256 Company under the command of Lieutenant Chittenden. By the time of the incident in Birkenhead that would lead to his gallantry award, James had risen to the rank of Acting Corporal.
On 8th March 1941, Lieutenant Chirrenden led his party of Pioneer Corps including James Scully to the scene of some demolished houses and started searching for trapped people; Scully located a man and a woman. With great difficulty, he managed to penetrate the debris and get to where they were buried. Lieutenant Chittenden followed him and they used wood to shore up the debris, but had no means of cutting it into proper lengths. A rescue party then arrived with tools and all available help was mustered. The two men worked tremendously hard in their efforts to clear away the wreckage. Scully remained with the trapped people and prevented any more debris falling on them. A long plank was inserted to take most of the weight but as the result of further falls the props began to sway out of position. Scully realising the danger, placed his back under the plank to try to prevent the props from giving way. He steadied them for a time but gradually the weight increased until the props slipped. This left Scully holding up one end of the plank and Chittenden the other. Scully could have got away at this point but he knew that if he did so the debris would fall and probably kill the trapped people, so he stayed under the plank. As the weight increased, it left him forced down over the trapped man. Chittenden had to reach over and support Scully's head to avoid him being suffocated. They stayed in this position for over 7 hours, before being rescued.
On the 8th July 1941, it was announced in the London Gazette, that James Scully had been awarded the George Cross, and Lieutenant Charles Cummins Chittenden was awarded the George Medal. James Scully, is to date, the only recipient of the George Cross from the Pioneer Corps. After the war, James took up painting and decorating as a trade, and this was his employment for the rest of his working life. James died on 28th December 1974 when he collapsed in South Shields, at the home of his nephew, Brendan Foster (later MBE), the Olympic long-distance runner and co-founder of the Great North Run. James’ body was returned to London, where he was buried in Streatham Cemetery with his wife Mary, who had pre-deceased him in 1971. In 1975, James’ medals were donated to the Royal Logistic Corps Museum in Camberley, Surrey by his five daughters.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ROYAL LOGISTIC CORPS MUSEUM, CAMBERLEY, SURREY.
BURIAL PLACE: STREATHAM CEMETERY, LONDON.
Grave Photographs - Kevin Brazier
Replicas of his medals at the Royal Logistic Corps Museum (Thomas Stewart).
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier