British Military & Criminal History
1900 to 1999.
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A total of 4 women have been directly awarded the George Cross, as distinct from exchanging a discontinued Albert, Edward or Empire Gallantry Medal.
Three of the four George Cross awards to women were for service in the resistance in enemy occupied territory during World War Two. The fourth award, made posthumously to Miss Harrison, was for her bravery in a incident at Heathrow Airport.
Directly Awarded George Cross:
Barbara Jane Harrison
Barbara Jane Harrison was born on 24 May 1945 in Bradford, Yorkshire. Miss Harrison was a Stewardess with British Overseas Airways Corporation (now part of the modern British Airways company).
On 8 April 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport in London, No. 2 engine of a BOAC Boeing 707 caught fire and fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About 2˝ minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at Heathrow Airport and the fire on the port wing intensified.
Miss Harrison was a stewardess in the aircraft and one of her duties in an emergency was to help the steward at the aft (rear) station in opening up the escape route for the passengers at the rear of the aircraft. When they landed, Miss Harrison and the steward opened the rear gallery door and inflated the chute which became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to help the passengers out of the aircraft. She encouraged some to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her, escape from the tail of the plane became impossible and she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post.
She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the Miss Harrison.
Miss Harrison has a memorial at Fulford Cemetery, York.
Click here to read of Noor Inayat-Khan's posthumous award of the George Cross.
Odette Marie Céline Sansom
Click here to read of Odette Sansom's award of the George Cross. Miss Sansom is the only direct George Cross women recipient who lived to actually receive her award. Her George Cross is on display in the Imperial War Museum's Victoria & George Cross Gallery.
Violette Reine Elizabeth Szabo
Click here to read of Violette Szabo's posthumous award of the George Cross.
Empire Gallantry Medal exchanges:
Joan Daphne Mary Pearson
Miss Pearson was born on 26 May 1911 at Mudeford, Hampshire. At the time of her award of the EGM she was a Corporal in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF).
On 31 May 1940, an aircraft crashed near the WAAF buildings at Detling, Kent. The pilot was seriously injured, another crewman killed and two airmen were slightly injured. Despite knowing that there were unexploded bombs on the aircraft, Corporal Pearson rushed into the wreckage and managed to release the pilot. After retreating a short distance, one of the bombs exploded and Corporal Pearson threw herself on to the seriously injured pilot to protected him from the blast.
After World War Two Ms Pearson emigrated to Australia where she died in July 2000 aged 89. Her George Cross and other medals are on display in the Imperial War Museum's Victoria & George Cross Gallery.
Dorothy Louise Thomas
Miss Thomas was born on 11 August 1905, and died on 22 November 1989 in Chelmsford, Essex. At the time of her EGM award she was a Nursing Sister at the Middlesex Hospital, London.
On the 26 January 1934, Sister Thomas was working as a Theatre Sister in one of the Operating Theatres, when an explosion occurred in a large oxygen cylinder. Sparks and flames shot from the cylinder through the door of the anaesthetic room across the theatre for a distance of about 15 feet. Sister Thomas remained behind until everyone was removed from the theatre and, despite the risk of the cylinder exploding, she went back into the anaesthetic room and managed to turn off the oxygen cylinder.
Emma Jose Townsend
Miss Townsend was born in Leicester in 1879 and died on 8 March 1965 in Wimbledon. At the time of the award of her EGM, Miss Townsend was visiting her sister in hospital.
On 9 May 1932 a farmer at Knightbridge, Devon, killed his wife and 2 children. Following this attack, he made a brutal attack on his last surviving child in the South Hams Cottage Hospital located at Knightbridge. This boy, who was aged 9 years' old, was an in-patient at the hospital and his Father attacked him as he lay in bed. Miss Townsend heard the noise of the attack and entered the ward. She placed herself between the Father and his son, in turn receiving several blows to her head. The boy died 2 days later and the Father was committed to an asylum.
Albert Medal exchanges:
Florence Alice Allen
Florence Alice Allen was born on 26 September 1906 and died on 1 August 1985 in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
Miss Allen was a Children's Nurse at Quetta at the time of the earthquake on 31 May 1935. During some of the tremours she threw herself across a child's cot, protecting the child but as consequence of her actions sustaining a badly injured leg.
Miss Ashburnham, born on 13 May 1905, was a 11-year old school girl at the time of the award of her Albert Medal.
On 23 September 1916, Miss Ashburnham and a 8 years' old boy left their homes at Cowichan Lake (Vancover Island) to ride their ponies. During the walk to the Island their were attacked by a cougar, which initially knocked down Miss Ashburnham before attacking the boy. After getting to her feet, Miss Ashburham fought the cougar with her fists and riding equipment. Despite her serious injuries, she succeeded in driving off the cougar from the boy.
In the 1930s, Miss Ashburnham moved to the USA where she learnt to fly. During World War Two she she served as a ferry pilot.
Doreen Ashburnham died in California in 1991, aged 86. Her George Cross is on display in the Imperial War Museum's Victoria & George Cross Gallery.
Harriet Elizabeth Fraser
Miss Fraser was born in 1889 and died on 17 June 1980 in Guildford, Surrey. At the time of the award of her Albert Medal she was a Staff Nurse with the Territorial Force Nursing Service.
On 1 October 1918 a fire broke out in a casualty clearing station at Rousbrugge in Belgium. At this time some of the patients were having serious operations performed. Sister Fraser and two other nurses managed to carry the anesthetised patients to safety and she then returned to the burning wards to assist other patients. During this fire, compressed gas cylinders were exploding filling the air with fumes and metal fragments.
Miss Vaughan was born on 25 November 1934 at Cardiff, Wales. At the time of the award of her Albert Medal she was a 14 year old schoolgirl.
On 25 May 1949 a group composed of Scouts aged between 11 and 15 years' old was visiting the Island of Sully located off the coast of Glamorgan. They became trapped when the rising tide cut off the causeway linking the island to the mainland. Despite this, most of the group managed to get back across. However, two of the group were swept off by the current. The group leader attempted to rescue the two Scouts but he was also swept away by the strong current. Miss Vaughan saw that the three were in problems, and so she swam some 30 yards against the current and managed to help the leader drag one of the group towards the shore where a lifebelt was thrown to them and all three were then helped from the water.
Hilda Elizabeth Wolsey
Hilda Elizabeth Wolsey was born on 26 June 1868 and died on 11 March 1974 in Easling, West London. At the time of the award of her Albert Medal, she was a nurse at the Hanwell Asylum.
On 11 June 1910 a female patient at the asylum managed to climb over the wire covering one of the fire escapes and made her way along the guttering of one of the ward roofs. Nurse Wolsey followed the patient on to the roof, which was 25 feet above the ground, and managed to hold her until they were both successfully lowered to the ground.