Commendation for bravery (with a little help from our Friends)
What would you do if a bomb landed on your house in the middle of the night? Over the past few months, a team of volunteers has been busy indexing the series HO 250: Interdepartmental Committee on Civil Defence Gallantry Awards, and in doing so they have unearthed some extraordinary tales of bravery during the Second World War.
One story was that of Mrs Halle of north Kensington, who was mentioned in the London Gazette on 31 January, 1941, p 612, for brave conduct in Civil Defence. The exploits of Mrs Halle were brought to the notice of the committee by R C Jenkins, Mayor of Kensington in his letter dated 17 January 1941:
‘I should like to bring to your notice the following act of resource and courage of an old lady of 95 during the air raid on Saturday 11 January.
“She is Mrs Lillian Halle of 95 Chesterton Road, North Kensington W 10 and she lives on the first floor at this address. During the raid she went out of her room and saw a blaze on the top floor from an incendiary bomb. She took upstairs sand and later water, and proceeded to put out the fire. Only when it was out did she go to the street door and ask for help.
“I feel this old lady showed great bravery and presence of mind and set all of us a splendid example. If her deed could in any way receive official recognition or commendation it would be a well deserved and popular reward.’
(Catalogue reference HO 250/11/578)
A report in the Evening Standard 17 January 1941 describes Mrs Lillian Halle as a tiny, frail-looking woman with a gentle voice and an indomitable Roman nose, still trembling a little from shock, but determined to stick to her post in the Battle for London. The report goes on to describe how she was married at 19, lived in West Africa, crossed the Atlantic 16 times, had been shipwrecked, crossed the Sahara on a camel and finally never went to a shelter during an air raid.
Some lady! Mrs Lillian Halle is recorded as dying in the June quarter of 1942 in the Kensington District aged 96.
The series of records HO 250 consists of copies of such evidence submitted to the Inter-departmental Committee on Civil Defence Gallantry Awards, and its recommendations to the Chatfield Committee. There are over 4,300 cases relating to people from all walks of life and all ages. For example, the papers include correspondence relating to the recommendation for 10-year old David Charles Western, who was commended for bravery for the attempted rescue of boys who had fallen through ice on lake in Osterley Park in Middlesex on 27 February 1948 (catalogue reference: HO 250/109/18).
The completed project now allows researchers to access these records by name, age, and by occupation of the recipient and the enhanced description provides a description of the act itself and where it took place between 1940 and 1949. Previously, the catalogue merely provided a description with a number of the meeting and year and no further details. Search the series for yourself in Discovery, our catalogue.
The completion of this cataloguing enhancement project is the latest example of how volunteers are effectively contributing to the work of The National Archives. Volunteering opportunities come in various shapes and sizes, but over the past 20 years our catalogue data has been vastly enriched by teams of volunteers; many involved in this project are Friends of the National Archives. Examples of the subject matters recatalogued to record names of individuals include Naturalisation Records, Royal Engineers service records, Royal Marine service records, pleadings in equity cases initiated in the court of Chancery, Merchant Seaman crew lists, and Hearth Tax exemption records.
We are grateful for the continued dedication and support that our volunteer community provide. If you’re interested in getting involved in similar projects, please take a look at the volunteering pages on our website.