From the Garston Historical Society Archives
LAND MINE IN GARSTON GAS WORKS
The Bombers Visit
The night of the bomber’s visit to Garston produced a display of cool courage in the face of extreme danger that will forever remain a highlight in British Gas Industry history.
At about 3 am on the morning of 29th November 1940, the pressureman on duty at Garston reported that No 1 holder was descending rapidly. This 4.000.000 cubic feed holder was, at the time, about half full; the pressureman took immediate action by shutting off the holder from service and notifying the responsible officials of the fact. Members of the duty breakdown squad were brought to the works. All gas lights and fittings were shut off at isolating points as a safety measure. With the object of rendering the holder less dangerous in the quickest time the manholes were released.
At this time of course, the type of mine or bomb in the holder-magnetic, acoustic, delayed action or just plain “dud”, was not known; the only indication of its nature being obtained when, in pitch darkness crawling across the crown of the holder, employees making for the centre manhole felt a piece of fabric protruding from the sheeting. At 7.30am fitters, electricians, plumbers and others where at work disconnecting electrically driven blowers from other plants and rigging them in position on the holder and preparing the fire pump to draw water from the holder tank. These tasks where carried out by willing volunteers.
As the exact location of the mine was not known, risks had to be taken. Firstly, the fans were started up and nothing happened, then the motor pump and still nothing blew up. The men who had assembled the gear were withdrawn, except one to watch the running of the job. Three of these attendants worked in relays around the clock. The pumping power being low, the Liverpool Fire Brigade arrived and put a pump to work, the water was taken down 5’ 6” to uncover part of the “dumping”, a brick faced island inside the holder. This achieved and the air inside the holder being considered fit to breathe and not explosive, means of access were considered. Efforts to see the “culprit” through the manholes with the aid of portable searchlights were unsuccessful and it was decided to cut a hole in the crown from which a ladder could be landed on the mud covered “dumpling” to enable naval personnel to enter the holder and defuse the mine. By means of ox-acetylene cutting gear a hole about 6’ square was cut.
Fans and pumps were stopped and the job was handed over to Lieutenant Newgass of the bomb disposal unit. Donning oxygen apparatus, Lieutenant Newgass entered the holder, he lashed the parachute ring of the mine to the top of the pillar against which it was leaning and passed a lashing round the nose. Unfortunately the fuse was facing the pillar so a special hoisting lug was affixed and the mine was turned round with a “tommy bar”, a great physical effort for one man wearing oxygen apparatus for the first time. The fuse, the magnetic primer, and the clocks were removed, the keep ring of the fuse being extremely stiff. Newgass then left the holder and reported that although the detonator was still in, the mine could be considered safe.
The Mine is Removed
Garston employers then entered the holder and uncoupled the lashing. The mine, which in size and appearance resembled a tug boat funnel, was pulled over on it’s side, dragged across the “dumpling” to a position under the hole on the crown and lifted out by block and tackle. It was placed on a lorry and taken away.
Praise For Heroism
No praise can be to high for the courage, coolness and ability displayed by all concerned in this “incident”, nor should those who maintained production on the works be overlooked. It is certain that had the mine be detonated, the whole of Garston Works, with much neighbouring property, would have been completely wrecked. The precautions taken included the evacuation of 6 thousand people from their homes in the vicinity.
Lieutenant Newgass was awarded the George Cross.
Miss Connie Elliot of St Mary’s Road, Garston, a local newsagent and tobacconist made a public collection for the mine disposal squad, resulting, I believe, in gold cigarette cases, possible lighters, being presented on behalf of the grateful people of Garston.
Before Lieutenant Newgass arrived 60,000 local people were evacuated from their homes, the situation was further complicated due to another landmine near Duncombe Road School.
For their courage, coolness and ability, the following award were made:
George Medal: to G. N. Kermode (foreman fitter) and E Saxon (oxy-coal gas burner).
M.B.E: to W. Morris (works manager).
B.E.M:. to A. G Kemp (fitter) and A. McRea (plumber).
Commendations for Brave Conduct: to H. Mason (store-keeper and first aid attendant), F. Wilson (compressor attendant) and G. Savage (fitter’s labourer).
Lieutenant Newgass RNVR was awarded the George Cross.