West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History


Interview by Maurice Haigh

Gilbert Gingell

Regular readers of The Digest magazines will be aware of my involvement and my research of local archive sources to find suitable material for publication. One of the articles from the 1940ís caught my attention. It was a story of a great act of heroism performed by a Mr. Gilbert Gingell, of Halfpenny Lane, Pontefract. The story is reproduced here from an edition of the Pontefract & Castleford Express, March 1943.

5th March 1943
British Empire Medal For Local Youth

An 18 year-old Pontefract youth, Gilbert Gingell, of Halfpenny Lane, Pontefract, who is now in the Royal Navy, has been awarded the British Empire Medal, [Civil Division] for brave conduct in an attempted rescue of the crew of an R.A.F. bomber which crashed and caught fire. He and two other men ran towards it. The flames were spreading, and ammunition was exploding continuously, but they smashed open the machine and brought out one of the occupants. With help, Gingell forced his way further into the burning aircraft and recovered two more bodies; and work continued until the intensity of the flames made further rescue attempts impossible. Unfortunately all the crew died, but the gallantry of the three men has been recognised. One of Gingellís companions, who is also now a seaman, has received the B.E.M. and the other has been commended for brave conduct. Gingell was burnt on the arms, but was at work the following day. When he was only fifteen he was trapped by a fall of roof at the Prince of Wales Colliery, and his rescuers were surprised to find him alive. One of his legs was broken in three places, and he was unconscious when dragged out. He has volunteered for the submarine service, as he says, he "wants excitement."

The story interested me to the extent of my wishing to know whatever happened to Mr. Gingell in his later life. I therefore decided to try and track him down and I can now say that I was successful in this endeavour.

Mr. Gingell, who has reached the grand age of 81, now lives in Featherstone. After his experience with the aircraft rescue, Mr. Gingell enlisted in the Royal Navy in November 1942 and travelled to Gosport to begin his Naval training. Upon completion, he was posted to his first ship, H.M.S. Duke, and served on many ships throughout the War, including, Assagai and Victory to name just a few. His service with Destroyers on escort duties took him to the Middle East, the Far East and the Indian Ocean. He carried out his duties to the best of his ability and gained Very Good on his service record documents.

It was not until the 18th of May, 1943 that he was able to travel to Buckingham Palace, London, for his investiture and to receive his award of the British Empire Medal presented to him by King George VI for his act of heroism as a young 18 year old civilian. The award was also noted in the London Gazette of the 26th of February 1943. He gained a further award but of the more comical kind when he entered the Domain of Neptunus Rex and crossed the Equator for the first time on the 12th of July 1943.

After the war, and on his demobolisation in 1945, he returned to Pontefract, and took up his job again as a miner, working at the Prince of Wales Colliery, and continued to work in the coal mining industry until his retirement.

It was in Pontefract that he met his future wife, Miss Joyce Barker, and they were married on the 1st of January 1947 at the Parish Church in Featherstone.

During their married life they raised a family consisting of three sons and one daughter. Sadly for the family his wife Joyce died in 1998.

Although he is 81 years of age this does not stop Mr. Gingell from continuing his affection for the sea. Jointly with one of his sons he owns a boat which is berthed in the harbour at Bridlington, on the East Coast. He told me that with various members of his family they are often to be seen sailing out of the harbour to search for sunken wrecks, of which they know of many, and also pass some of their time with a little fishing.

Maurice Haigh


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