George Cross Medal

On the 17th March 1940, Group Captain Sumers who commanded RAF Station Upwood sent a memo to Headquarters of No.6 Group recommending Ernest Ralph Clyde (Chris) Frost, GC, CD and Michael Patrick Campion, GC for an immediate award in respect of their gallant action in attempting to rescue the occupants of a burning aircraft.


Michael Patrick Campion GC



Ernest Ralph Clyde (Chris) Frost GC, CD

On the 12 March 1940 at approximately 1000 hours there was an accident involving two Blenheims. The two aircraft L6596 and L8845 collided just after becoming airborne and finished up a short distance apart, both caught fire. L6596 fire was confined to the engine nacelles and the occupants were able to escape from their aircraft. The Pilot and sole occupant of L8845 was rendered unconscious. LAC Champion and AC1 Frost were the first to arrive at the scene. AC1 Frost searched for the wireless operator not knowing the pilot was the only occupant of the aircraft. Once AC1 Frost had completed his search for the wireless operator the aircraft was well alight. Suffering from the effect of the fumes, AC1 Frost joined LAC Campion in rescuing the pilot which they did with the aid of a fire-proof blanket. The cockpit by this time was surrounded by flames and in imminent danger of the main petrol tanks exploding. After rescuing the pilot, a short time afterwards the petrol tanks did explode and the whole aircraft was rapidly burnt out. The pilot unfortunately died from his injuries. Wing Commander A. Leach (Commanding Officer, No. 90 Squadron) and Flight Lieutenant D. R. Biggs were withnesses of the rescue. In view that both of these airmen were not members of the flying crew of either aircraft, it is considered that the award for the Air Force Medal might not be appropriate. AC1 Frost and LAC Campion was recommend for either the Medal of the Order of the British Empire or the Empire Gallantry Medal.

L8845 was under the command of Sgt Alphonse Roger Hermels 517823 of 35 Squadron while an unidentified Mark 1 Blenheim of 90 Squadron was under command of Sgt Blanks. Sgt Blanks was uninjured in the accident but Sgt Hermels had severe back injuries and was trapped in his cockpit. Hermels died later that day from his injuries.

L.A.C. Campion and A.C.1 Frost was awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal, which was automatically exchanged for the George Cross by the terms of the institution of that award in September 1940. The London Gazette of 5th July, 1940

There is a drawing of Campion and Frost Rescuing the pilot by Terence Cuneo, held at the National Archives.

L6596 and L8845 John F. Hamlin states that the aircraft were in fact definitely L1396 and L8845 Not L6596. Does anyone know about this??

In Memory of
Sergeant ALPHONSE ROGER HERMELS
517823, 35 Sqdn., Royal Air Force
who died age 23
on 12 March 1940
Son of Fred and Sophie Hermels, of Brixton, London.
Remembered with honour
STREATHAM PARK CEMETERY

 

Campion and Frost full account of the accident is in Marion Hebblethwaite books
(ONE STEP FURTHER The George Cross) Vol 3 and 4

My thanks go to Marion Hebblethwaite for the use of the pictures and information on this page.
For a full list of George Cross winners, go to:
www.gc-database.co.uk

 

Vivian Hollowday GC

AC1 Vivian Hollowday GC

935282 AC1 Holloway Vivian awarded the George Cross for conspicuous gallantry in attempting to rescue the crews of two aircraft which had crashed and were burnt out at Cranfield on the nights of July 2nd 1940 and August 7th 1940.

AC1 Vivian Hollowday, a member of 14 FTS (Flying Training School), who in July and August 1940 performed two acts of exceptional bravery. One version of the citation reads: “Planes taking off and landing at Cranfield aerodrome in August 1940 were a common sight, for this was wartime. Aircraftsman Vivian Hollowday, off duty and strolling back to camp, was paying no particular attention to the evening’s air traffic – until, suddenly, a bomber crashed on the airfield! The plane burst into flames as Hollowday rushed to the rescue. He was first at the scene and though alone, he tried to get into the blazing bomber. But the fierce heat and exploding ammunition forced him back. By this time, an ambulance had arrived, but there was still no equipment to stage a rescue attempt. Wrapping himself in some blankets from the ambulance and borrowing a gas mask, Hollowday returned to the inferno. With this slight protection, Hollowday managed to enter the plane and bring out one of the crew. Twice more he entered the blazing wreckage and brought out two more crew members. This was bravery of the highest order, but Vivian Hollowday had done it all before! By a strange coincidence, he had figured in an almost identical rescue on the same airfield only a month previously. On that occasion he had entered the blazing cockpit of a crashed plane, and beating out the flames with his bare hands, had brought out the body of the trapped pilot.


17 OTU Blenheim MkIV P4902 RAF Upwood


Flight Ltnt Edward Patrick Mortimer was the pilot of a Blenheim MkIV P4902 that stalled and spun into the ground near Cranfield on the evening of 7th August 1940. At the Public Record Office is the following abridged Accident Report: Mertlands Farm, North Crawley, Bucks, at 2235hrs on 7th August, 1940. The pilot’s instructions were to fly from Upwood to Bicester 53 miles, Bicester to Northampton, 25 miles and back to base 33½ miles. At a time when the aeroplane should have been near Northampton it was seen flying in an easterly direction 20 miles SE of the scheduled course and close to Cranfield aerodrome where night flying was taking place. When opposite the wireless telegraphy station the machine was seen to stagger. Five seconds later at about 1500 ft and while still in flying position it lost speed and spun to the ground. The aeroplane struck the ground at a moderate speed and came to a stop pointing east, the engines were not at the time. From its position and the proximity of trees immediately behind it could be judged to have been flattening out, probably in a left hand spin. Fire occurred immediately and destroyed all the centre of the machine. All safety belts were burnt. One body was found in the navigator’s compartment and one in the gunner’s cockpit. The third, that of the pilot, was lying face down 72 yards east of the wreckage and he had evidently fallen from a considerable height. His parachute was unopened and was on the ground 4 ft away; the harness was free. The rip- cord had not been pulled. No parts broken or otherwise were found to show the circumstances under which he left the machine. The engines were extensively damaged by fire were stripped but appeared to have been in good order at the time of the accident. Examination of the pilot’s parachute harness showed that the release ring had not been turned and while in the locked position had been driven back by direct impact on the front. This had forced the spin- loaded plunger out through the aluminium casing and had released the catches and then the harness. From this it may be seen that the harness was in position on the pilot’s striking the ground. The investigation concluded that the pilot may have lost his way, was trying to identify Cranfield aerodrome and on suddenly becoming aware of the risk of collision with the night flying machines stalled the aeroplane while climbing. Alternatively it was thought possible that on loosing sight of the aerodrome flares he lost control in the “black-out”. There is no reference to the heroic actions of Aircraftsman Hollowday. (Also see 17 OTU Losses page)


34 RAF headstones at Bury Cemetery, Cambridgeshire which includes Flight Ltnt Edward Patrick Mortimer. Also killed in the accident were Sgt (Air Gnr.) Dennis Frank ALVES RAF, aged 21, son of James and Ethel Alves, of Walsall, Staffordshire Sgt (Obs.) David Allen GIBBS RAFVR, son of Frederick Henry and Kathleen Ethel Gibbs, of Paignton. Gibbs is buried in his home town while Alves, with Mortimer, is buried in Bury Cemetery near RAF Upwood.


Flight Ltnt Edward Patrick Mortimer - Service Ref 37521. Born 17th March 1911. Royal Air Force. Died 7th August 1940. Grave Ref Row B Grave 21 Bury, Huntingdonshire. Next of kin from Kingswood, Bristol.


In Memory of
Sergeant DENNIS FRANK ALVES
550539, Royal Air Force
who died age 21
on 07 August 1940
Son of James and Ethel Alves, of Walsall, Staffordshire.
Remembered with honour
BURY CEMETERY, Huntingdonshire

In Memory of
Flight Lieutenant EDWARD PATRICK MORTIMER
37521, Royal Air Force
who died
on 07 August 1940
Remembered with honour
BURY CEMETERY, Huntingdonshire

In Memory of
Sergeant DAVID ALLEN GIBBS
755158, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve
who died
on 07 August 1940
Son of Frederick Henry and Kathleen Ethel Gibbs, of Paignton.
Remembered with honour
PAIGNTON CEMETERY

 

Sean Edwards