Harry Errington

Fireman awarded the George Cross

Wednesday 05 January 2005 01:00 GMT

Harry Errington, fireman: born London 20 August 1910; GC 1941; died London 15 December 2004.

Harry Errington was the only London fireman to be awarded the George Cross in the Second World War.

On 17 September 1940, in a particularly savage night attack by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz of London, high explosives and incendiary bombs fell in Rathbone Street, near Oxford Circus. Just before midnight, a bomb virtually demolished a three-storey garage, the basement of which was used as an air-raid shelter by Auxiliary Fire Service personnel. The floors caved in and 20 people, including six firemen, were killed outright.

Errington recovered consciousness only to find a fierce fire was sweeping the basement. As he stumbled towards the exit, desperate for air, he heard cries of pain. He found one of his colleagues lying face down with one of his legs trapped beneath fallen debris. Without any further thought for his own safety, Errington quickly soaked a blanket in water and covered his head and shoulders against the heat of the fire. With debris falling all around him and the fire growing in intensity, using his axe and hand, he somehow managed to extricate the badly burned man and carried him up a stone staircase.

As he did so he spotted another fireman lying unconscious under a large radiator. With his hands badly burned and with the knowledge that the building could collapse at any time, he returned and pulled the man clear and carried him aloft to a nearby courtyard. The two men trapped by fallen debris would undoubtedly been burnt or crushed to death but for Errington's persistence and courageous determination.

Harry Errington was born in Westminster of Polish parents. His father, Solomon Ebrogott, changed his name to Errington shortly after his arrival in London with his wife Bella. After education at Westminster Free School, Errington won a trade scholarship to train as an engraver. The work however entailed using nitric acid, which affected his chest, so his father sent him to train with his uncle, who was later to establish the tailors Errington & Whyte. Harry Errington was to work in the Savile Row premises until his retirement in 1992.

A few days before the war began, the by now master cutter volunteered for service as an auxiliary fireman at No 72 Fire Station in Shaftesbury Avenue. He served throughout the war, experiencing a number of severe fires, particularly in warehouses in the London docks and the East End. With the menace and devastation of the V1 and V2 rockets until late in May 1945, for London firemen it was a long war which cost the lives of 327 men and women of the service. Although Errington was the only recipient of the George Cross, 38 George Medals were awarded to the London fire service.

Errington's lifelong interest was in basketball and he took enormous pride in helping to organise basketball in the 1948 London Olympics. He was particularly active as treasurer until 1990 of the VC and GC Association. His George Cross is held at the AJEX Military Museum in Stamford Hill, London.

Max Arthur

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