Gallantry During The Blitz

Signalman Robert Hamilton Tinto GM

Seventy-six years ago, on the evening of 29 December 1940, a German bombing raid on London caused what became known as the ‘Second Great Fire of London’. Most frequently illustrated by the iconic photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral that came to symbolise London in the blitz, the attack targeted the City of London and the high explosive and incendiary bombs started a firestorm that swept all before it. The area destroyed was more than that devastated by the Great Fire of 1666 and cost the lives of over 160 civilians and 14 firemen.[1]

St Paul's Cathedral, 29 December 1940
St Paul’s Cathedral, 29 December 1940

Although the target of the raid was north of the Thames, south of the river the Borough of Southwark suffered grievously too. At 7.30pm the air-raid shelter on Keyworth Street[2] was hit and destroyed; thirteen civilians were killed and many more injured.[3] Many of the injured were trapped by debris and had to wait until rescue crews dug them out hours later. Signalman Robert Tinto—a former GPO telegraph linesman from Maryhill in Glasgow—was one of a number of men stationed nearby[4] who went out to help with the rescue. He crawled into the shelter through a small hole, ‘an aperture which seemed impossible for any human to get through’,[5] and, with the rescue crew working immediately above him, he dug with his bare hands to get to four trapped civilians. For four hours he then remained with them, reassuring them and administering morphine to the badly injured. The rescue crew, meanwhile, attempted to move a large slab of concrete from above where he had tunnelled, which, had it fallen, would have had ‘disastrous results’.[6]

The award of the George Medal to Signalman Tinto was published in the London Gazette on 27 May 1941. The fierce bombing raid and firestorm of 29 December resulted in 44 gallantry awards—one MBE, eight George Medals, 22 British Empire Medals and 13 Commendations for Brave Conduct—those awards may be seen here. After the war, Robert Tinto remained in the Army and by 1959 he was the Squadron Sergeant Major of 234 Signal Squadron in Malta. He died in 2003 in Dunbar, East Lothian, aged 87.

The George Medal
The George Medal

The George Medal was instituted in 1940 to reward ‘acts of great bravery’.[7] Six awards of the George Medal have been made to personnel of the Royal Corps of Signals, and one award was made to a schoolboy who later served with the Corps. Four of the military awards were for saving life during the Second World War, one was for gallantry during the rescue of the hostages held in the Iranian Embassy in 1981, and one was for gallantry on operations in Northern Ireland. The award to schoolboy Derrick Baynham was for the attempted rescue of crashed aircrew in heavy seas off Anglesey in 1941.

Imperial War Museum: Photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral
Dix Noonan Webb: Photograph of the George Medal.

1. (Back) For a full account of this attack see: Gaskin, M. (29 September 2005). Blitz: The Story of 29th December 1940. London: Faber & Faber.
2. (Back) Formerly Dantzic Street, renamed after Lance Corporal Leonard James Keyworth VC.
3. (Back) The 13 civilians killed were: Mr Frederick William Feldon, his wife Mrs Ethel Annie Feldon and 15-year-old daughter Ethel Feldon of 40 Keyworth Street; Mr Thomas Gleid and Mrs Mary Ann Glover, a widow, of 96 Lancaster Street (the former wrongly commemorated as dying on 29 October 1940); Mrs Ellen Flora Morris, a pensioner, of 48 Ontario Street; Mrs Edith Stead, from Drighlington, Yorkshire, of 166 Southwark Bridge Road; Mrs Caroline Maud Still and her 17-year-old daughter Caroline Ellen Still of 269 Southwark Bridge Road; Mr Alfred William Swain, aged 19, and his brother Mr George Frederick Swain, aged 17, of 89 Lancaster Street; and Mr Robert J. Webber and his wife Sarah Maria Webber of 100 Borough Road.
4. (Back) S.E.L.T.T.G. (South East London Technical Training Group).
5. (Back) TNA. PRO. (22 April 1941). Home Office: Inter-departmental Committee on Civil Defence Gallantry Awards: Minutes and Recommendations. Case Number: 997. Name: R H Tanto (sic). HO 250/23/997.
6. (Back) Ibid.
7. (Back) London Gazette 31 January 1941. 35060, p 623.

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