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VC/GC Diary

Welcome to the Victoria Cross and George Cross Diaries


Here we add daily diary entries on the anniversaries of when the Victoria Crosses and George Crosses were awarded.

GC Diary 26th September

By victoriagreen068, Sep 26 2016 05:10AM

The George Cross Diary for 26th September (the penultimate edition) contains the story of two direct recipients of the medal, beginning with a railway worker from the North West of England whose actions during a bombing raid on Morpeth Dock in 1940 earnt him the George Cross.

Norman Tunna GC was born on 29th April 1908 in Birkenhead, the second child of five to Charles Tunna, a goods checker on the railways and his wife Emily. Norman attended St Paul’s School until 1922 when he joined Cammell Laird, the great ship-building company as a trainee riveter but he still had a passion for the railways and after less than a year, he left Cammell Laird to join his father and elder brother. He became a trainee Shunter on his way to his ambition to become a Guard. By 1938, he had been promoted to Shunter First Class.

On the night of 26th September 1940, a large number of incendiary bombs fell on and around the goods station and sidings at Morpeth Dock. Among the wagons was a train load of ammunition, petrol, bombs and fuses. Most of the incendaries were extinguished by the prompt action of the staff on duty before much damage could be done, but a serious fire broke out. Tunna climbed on top of a covered wagon containing 250lb bombs and discovered two incendiary bombs burning there. With disregard for his own safety, he removed the cover, extinguished the fire and then removed the bombs from the truck. He was helped by Ivor Davies and Frank Newns, who both were awarded the George Medal.

Norman married Helena Higgins and they had two children James and Irene. Norman liked to work with wood in his spare time and built a large workshop behind his house in Birkenhead. Norman passed away on 4th December 1970 and he was cremated and his ashes scattered at Landican Crematorium on The Wirral. His medal is privately held.

William Horace Taylor GC, MBE was the son of a printer William Arthur Taylor and Hilda Jane Nicholson and was born in Manchester on 23rd October 1908. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School. Prior to the Second World War, he was a partner and, later, managing director of an advertising company in the city.

Taylor had received his training on bomb disposal during the early days of the Blitz while serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR). Sub-Lieutenant Taylor disposed of a number of mines while serving on HMS Vernon. He became widely known for his fondness for building “funkholes” – intended as a protective bunker to leap into if the bomb he was tackling started to tick.

When he was operating in a built-up area where such digging was impossible, Taylor instead chose a nearby building to run to in the event of the bomb starting to tick. Despite taking such precautions, Taylor had a couple of close shaves, including one occasion when a parachute mine could not be immediately rendered safe at a cross-roads in a built-up area of Birmingham. However, as he was deciding what to do next, he learnt that a colleague, Lieutenant Rowson, had decided to tackle it. Initially, Rowson had started the bomb fuse ticking and had run for his life. But when nothing happened he, this time with Taylor, went to have another go, armed with spanners and other tools. When Rowson added to their problems by dislocating his thumb, the two men opted to detonate the bomb where it lay.

In his own words Taylor describes what happened next: “the thing went off with an enormous explosion which blew us both reeling down the street, bruised, filthy, shaken – but still alive.”

Taylor’s George Cross was announced on 14th January 1941 when his citation praised his “great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty”. Taylor, who was a devout Christian, later described to Sir John Smyth VC that he was never afraid doing his work. “It was prayer that kept me going. Every morning at breakfast time I’d ask God to hold my hand steady and deal with the treacherous little fuse. Each time my arm was taken in a firm grip and I was in safe-keeping.”

Later in the War, in 1944, Taylor became a diver and a pioneer of “human minesweepers”, which paved the way for the Royal Navy Minewarfare & Clearance Diving Branch. After the War, he married a Wren officer Joan Skaife d’Ingerthorpe in 1946 and the couple later had four children (Susan, Norman, Jane and Belinda). His career remained linked to the military; he worked for the RNVR and was responsible for training work, including diving instruction. In 1975, he was awarded the MBE for services to Scouting, his great passion before and after the War. Taylor died on 16th January 1999 in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, aged 90. He was cremated at Aberdeen Crematorium. His medals are privately held.

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