With today being VE Day, we wanted to mark the momentous anniversary of 70 years since the end of the Second World War in Europe, by remembering those who gave so much for the freedoms we enjoy today.
As part of this, we are commemorating the brave efforts of our colleagues in the Gas, Light and Coke Company (GLCC), from which Centrica and the entire industry descended. While our recent article on WWII portrayed the vital role our people played fighting on the front lines and fuelling the war effort at home, we are today recognising the selfless sacrifice and awe-inspiring achievements made by these astonishing individuals.
Making the ultimate sacrifice: G J Harris
As Britain descended into battle, employees like G J Harris, morphed into soldiers. Lamp fitters became machine gun experts, clerks turned into captains while stokers plunged into the role of platoon sergeants. Aged a little over 18 years, Harris was one of the early enlisters who left the works at Fulham to serve on the seas. Tragically, he joined 386 of our employees who would never return home1. Harris met his fate alongside 832 other seamen on the HMS Royal Oak, which was sunk in Orkney by German torpedoes just six weeks into war.
Fighting flames and fire at our gas works: Albert Edward Page
Amidst a viscous bomb attack at one of our gas works, Albert Edward Page averted disaster with his brave and prompt action for which he was awarded the George Medal. One evening, a bomb struck the side of a gasholder and splintered three holders nearby, enveloping them all in flames. The situation was dangerous but Page realised that if he didn’t stop the flow of gas at each holder soon, the fire would spread causing immeasurable damage to an invaluable cog in the war machine. With no time to put on proper protective clothing, he seized only his leather gloves and went through a line of fire and between blazing holders to turn off the red-hot valves. Having successfully saved the holders from destruction while suffering a few burns along the way, Page was subsequently knocked out by flying debris from the overhead air attack before being rescued by his colleagues.
Protecting St Paul’s from peril: Philip Pearcey
With a disregard to danger, our repair gang risked all to save St Paul’s Cathedral from an unexploded bomb that could have gone off at any moment. They toiled long and hard to stop the flow of gas from a nearby burning main, so that the Royal Engineers could enter the area and deactivate the explosive. Thanks to these men, the landmark remains standing today.
Foreman in the Mains Department, Philip Pearcey commented, “I’ve been on this job for 37 years, and this is certainly the most exciting experience I’ve had. We got there and found that the two Royal Engineers had been badly gassed, and they were handed over to the police; and we proceeded with our work and tried to extinguish the flames which were shooting up about 10 feet high into the air. We proceeded to open the ground and cut off the connection…We called the firemen out to flood the main and stop the flow of gas, but after a while the flow of water slowed down and caused another burst of flames – which I thought was our lot. We all fell to the ground, bar the Royal Engineers who stuck to their work. We had the whole job to do over again…we were there near enough twelve hours all told."2
Securing supplies under attack at sea: Fred Ogden, Arthur Allison Shotton and William Morrell
Following the passage of a collier ship peppered by attack from enemy aircraft, three of our gallant colliers were honoured for their bravery in securing supplies vital to feeding war’s appetite. Captain Fred Ogden (left), was awarded an OBE for his excellent work in manoeuvring and managing the ship through a barrage of bullets and bombs that lasted all night. Colleagues Chief Officer Arthur Allison Shotton (middle) was awarded an MBE while Second Officer William Morrell (right) received a commendation for Brave Conduct, for their role in meeting the challenge head-on, by aiming the ship’s guns so accurately that the enemy was forced off course and eventually dispersed.
Working women embark on wartime roles: M E Gill
With many men serving on the front line, women proudly plugged the labour shortage, taking on often difficult and dangerous responsibilities that would help secure Britain’s victory. M E Gill, a former typist in the GLCC’s Manager’s Directors and Secretary’s department for example, became one of the first to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service to carryout essential work on the Home Front. And from meter readings to maintaining gas production, women excelled at their wartime roles in energy, which paved the way for further female involvement in our sector.
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About the Gas, Light and Coke Company
The Gas, Light and Coke Company was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1812 and became the largest gas company in the world. It was the pioneer company from which the entire industry stemmed and the original company that British Gas descended. Having originally operated in London, the company expanded through a series of mergers and eventually became nationalised under the 1948 Gas Act. It then played a major part within the new North Thames Gas Board which was one of Britain's twelve regional Gas Boards. Following the 1972 Gas Act, the British Gas Corporation was created which merged all of the area boards and later went on to become privatised. Centrica plc was formed in 1997, following a demerger from British Gas plc, which was renamed BG plc at the same time.
About our role in the World Wars
Read more about the important contribution made by the people of the GLCC to both the First World War and Second World War.
1 Stirling Everard, The History of the Gas, Light and Coke Company 1812-1949, p.356
2 Taken from a BBC interview with reporter Edward Ward, which featured in the Co Partners’ Magazine, October-December 1940, p.287