London Fire Brigade

LFB 150: Remembering Frederick Davies

05 February 2016

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary we're looking back at some of the most significant and some of the more unusual incidents that have taken place since we were formed in 1866.

Today (5 February 2016) marks 70 years since Fireman Frederick Davies was posthumously awarded the George Cross. He died attempting to save two girls from a fire in Harlesden, north-west London.

Fireman Davies, from Shepherd’s Bush, joined the London Auxiliary Fire Service in 1939 at the age of 25. He served at North Kensington Fire Station and later at Willesden Fire Station, where he remained during World War II.

Climbing the ladder before it was even properly in place

At 0115 on 22 August 1945, a fire broke out in a flat above a shop in Harlesden, north-west London. Frederick Davies was first on the scene and was informed that two children were in the front room on the second floor. 

A ladder was immediately raised and before it was even in position Fireman Davies was climbing up the rungs, despite flames already coming from the windows of the second floor.

When he reached the window, he immediately tried to enter but the intensity of the fire momentarily stopped him. Undaunted, he entered the room with his back turned to the flames.

A painting by Reginald Mills depicting the fatal fire / image © BBC Your Paintings

A colleague could see him trying to take off his tunic – apparently to wrap around and protect one of the children inside – but his hands were already too badly burned for him to do this successfully.

During this time Davies was moving around the blazing room trying to locate the children and, after a short period, he returned with a child in his arms and handed her through the window to a fellow firefighter. He then turned back into the room to find the other child.

Photograph of Frederick Davies / image © Victoria Cross Online

He was helped to the ground, the flames on his clothes were extinguished and he was taken to hospital suffering from severe burns. He died the next day from his injuries aged 32.

The two children who died were sisters aged 11 and eight.

The George Cross

The George Cross was introduced in 1940 and is made from silver, with the words 'For Gallantry' surrounding the centrepiece. It is the highest award for civilian gallantry.

Fireman Frederick Davies' George Cross was announced on 5 February 1946. His family were presented with the award by King George VI at Buckingham Palace later that year.

The George Cross / image © London Fire Brigade

His citation, as told by The London Gazette, read:

"The gallantry and outstanding devotion to duty displayed by Fireman Davies was of the highest order.

"He knew the danger he was facing, but with complete disregard of his own safety he made a most heroic attempt to rescue the two children. In so doing, he lost his life."

Frederick Davies' daughter, Doreen Osborne, donated the medal to the Brigade on 19 November 2009.