b. 15/09/1903 Sunderland, County Durham. d. 28/10/1965 Driffield, Yorkshire.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 15-20/09/1940 Bridlington, Yorkshire.
Thomas Hopper Alderson (1903-1965) was born on 15th September 1903 at Ashburne Stables, near Sunderland, one of six children of Thomas and Sarah Annie Alderson (nee Hopper). Thomas senior was a domestic coachman. Thomas junior was educated at the local village school, then at Elwick Road Senior Boys’ School in West Hartlepool, where he became Head Boy. He would leave school at 15, and gained employment as an office boy at the Seaton Carew Ironworks. He worked his way up to draughtsman, and completed a 5 year apprenticeship in engineering.
In 1925, Thomas decided on a change of career and became an assistant marine engineer, eventually qualifying as a first engineer. On 23rd December 1932, he married Irene Doris Johnson in West Hartlepool and soon returned to the sea until 1935, when his only child, Pamela, was born. Following her birth, he became an outdoor engineer in the Borough Engineer’s Department of West Hartlepool Council, and also taught at a local night school.
In November 1938, he changed jobs and became a Works Supervisor with Bridlington Corporation. He was also given responsibility for raising the local Air Raid Precautions services, and he qualified as a local instructor. Throughout 1938-1939, he was on a recruitment to gain volunteers for the ARP.
On the outbreak of war, he became part-time Detachment Leader of rescue and demolition parties in Bridlington. Under his supervision were 63 men, mostly local tradesmen and they were soon called upon as the town became hard hit by the Luftwaffe. It was Thomas’ involvement in rescues following this bombing that led to the award of the GC.
On the 15th August 1940, a message was received that 14 & 16 St Alban’s Road had collapsed and one person was trapped. Alderson and his team arrived on scene and a tunnel was hastily excavated through the ruins and he rescued Miss Machon who had hidden under her dining room table. Six days later, on 21st August, the Britannia Hotel was hit by a single bomb, leaving eleven people trapped in the cellar. Thomas put his tunnelling skills to good use, and deciding to do it alone, he dug a fourteen foot tunnel, and rescued all eleven people safely.
During the months of August and September 1940, Alderson’s name was passed up through the ARP chain of command to the Home Office. He was told of his award by Lord Harlech, Regional Commissioner for the North Eastern Civil Defence Region, based in Leeds. Alderson’s reaction to the letter was typically modest “It is not only a surprise but it was a shock to me when I received the news. I never dreamed of such a thing. One thing I am certain about, and that is that the men of my rescue squad are marvellous, and are deserving of every praise. They stood up to their first test extremely well.” The London Gazette published news of his GC on 30th September 1940.
On 20th May 1941, the inaugural investitures of the GC took place at Buckingham Palace. Appropriately the recipients represented the three armed services and civilian services. King George VI presented the medal first to Thomas Alderson, to whom he said “You are the first recipient of the George Cross. It gives me great pleasure to hand it to you.” The other recipients that day were Lt Commander Robert Armitage of the RNVR, Major Herbert Barefoot of the Royal Engineers and Wing Commander Laurence Sinclair of the RAF.
In August 1946, Thomas became Assistant Highways Surveyor with the East Riding of Yorkshire County Council and he and his family lived at Swanland Avenue, Bridlington. In 1949, he joined the Rescue Section of the re-born Civil Defence Corps, and also obtained his Special Rescue Instuctor’s Certificate, responsible for rescue training for the county.
Thomas died in Northfield Hospital in Driffield, East Yorkshire on 28th October 1965, aged 62. He was cremated at Woodlands Crematorium in Scarborough on 1st November, and his widow Irene placed an inscription in the Book of Remembrance, complete with a representation of the GC. When she died in 1991, her ashes were scattered near his in the East Section of the Garden of Remembrance. Alderson’s GC, Defence Medal 1939-45, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal and the RSPCA Silver Medal for Heroism have been on loan to the Imperial War Museum since 1994. He had received the RSPCA medal for rescuing two horses from a stable by the Co-op store in Quay Road, Bridlington during an air raid. In 2006, a service was held at Westminster Abbey to mark the 150th anniversary of the creation of the Victoria Cross and the 50th anniversary of the VC and GC Association. During this service, Thomas’ medals were carried to the alter by his daughter, Pamela, representing all holders of the GC.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ON LOAN TO IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: WOODLANDS CREMATORIUM, SCARBOROUGH, YORKSHIRE.
Thomas Hopper Alderson's medals including his George Cross on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (December 2014).