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Bravery of the bomb disposal squads who gave thier lives

PUBLISHED: 17:38 08 December 2008 | UPDATED: 09:10 11 August 2010

WHEN we think of bravery during times of war our minds perhaps wander to valiant acts in foreign fields. But during the Second World War there were countless examples right here on our own doorstep. And few men showed greater bravery than those engaged in

WHEN we think of bravery during times of war our minds perhaps wander to valiant acts in foreign fields.

But during the Second World War there were countless examples right here on our own doorstep.

And few men showed greater bravery than those engaged in the highly dangerous task of bomb disposal.

On Armistice Day this year Cllr Fred Barns, Deputy Mayor, and his wife Phyllis, placed a wreath on a memorial in Dagenham Civic Centre.

The plaque, next to the door to the main chamber, commemorates the lives of seven men who died in separate incidents in Dagenham in 1940.

Lieutenant Commander Richard Ryan GC, and Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth GC were killed while defusing a magnetic mine in Oval Road North, Dagenham, on September 21 1940.

Both officers were awarded the posthumous George Cross for the bravery - two of the first to receive it.

During the blitz magnetic mines attached to parachutes were dropped over Britain from German planes.

Normally they were timed to explode within a minute of landing.

If they failed to do so the mines remained extremely dangerous because even the slightest movement, even from a football, could set them off.

It was one of these mines, hanging from a roof beam of a warehouse that the heroic men went to deal with 68 years ago.

An eyewitness told of how he saw the men "being upright, striding confidently towards the mine."

Moments later the bomb went off and both were killed.

The pair had worked together on many dangerous assignments in the Essex area, including a mine in Hornchurch that threatened an aerodrome and an explosives factory.

Lt Cmdr Ryan was one of the officers who defused the very first magnetic mine of type C found in a crashed aircraft at Clacton.

In September 2005, on the 65th anniversary of their deaths, a ceremony was held at the memorial in the Civic Centre.

Chief Petty Officer Ellingworth's grandson, Trevor Ellingworth, 53, of Norwich, told the POST at the time: "It was my father, Donald, who worked towards having the memorial tablet put in the civic centre. Unfortunately he died earlier this year.

"I never met my grandfather, but he seems to have been a very interesting person.

"He was a very technical person and very capable when it came to his job.

"He was in the Navy from 1914 and served at the Battle of Jutland in the First World War.

"After the War he was transferred to submarines and was involved in the very early development of torpedoes.

"Although he was over 40 when the Second World War broke out he was called back because of his knowledge of ordinance.

"We are very proud of him."

The other men commemorated on the memorial were killed while trying to defuse an unexploded bomb in Connor Road, Dagenham, on October 7 1940.

They were all based at Gordon Fields Barracks in Ilford. Their names were Second Lt William Ash, Second Lt Leslie Foster, Sapper Leslie Hitchcock, Sapper Roger Lewis and Driver Ernest Websdale.

A happier story came on September 23 1940, just two days after the Oval Road explosion.

Sub-Lt John Miller and Able Seaman Stephen Tuckwell were called in to defuse a mine that had landed in Barking Creek.

The exact location is not known but in his memoirs Miller describes it as being "opposite the wharf with all those large cranes" and being "quite close to a power station".

Volunteers used a boat to take the two men within a few yards of the 10ft bomb, and they waded the rest of the distance through the mud.

With Beckton Sewage Works close by and another open sewer emptying into the river, it is hard to imagine how filthy the conditions were.

The fast-rising tide made it impossible to defuse the bomb so crane operators from the wharf, who had bravely stayed by the bank in case they could help, were brought into action.

One lowered a cable and Miller fixed it to the bomb, which contained one tonne of explosives.

It was hoisted onto the bank and the two experts successfully did their work. Tuckwell and Miller both received the George Cross in January 1941.

.l If you can tell us anything more about the stories featured in this article contact the POST newsdesk on (020) 8709 0018.


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