On Tuesday 17th June 1941, Sergeant Harry Brooks, of the Warwickshire Constabulary, based at Shirley Police Station, was presented with the George Medal by His Majesty King George VI at Buckingham Palace. The George Medal was instituted in January 1941 to reward “acts of great bravery” and arose out of the strong desire to reward acts of civilian courage during the Blitz.
The official announcement of the award to Sgt Brooks had been made in the London Gazette of 14th March 1941. The citation explained that Sgt Brooks had rescued a number of people buried under debris after high-explosive bombs had demolished four large houses during an air raid. Fourteen people were apparently underneath the debris.
Most reports indicated that this took place in Birmingham, whilst one stated that it was in Coventry [UPDATE: It actually seems to have been nos. 58, 60, 64 and 66 Burman Road, Shirley – see comment below].
According to letters submitted in support of the medal nomination, the bomb actually fell on Burman Road at 12:20am on 12th December 1940. A commemorative salver presented to Sgt Brooks gave the date of the raid as 11th December 1941.
The bombs fell in Shirley as part of a sustained attach on Birmingham. The Imperial War Museum has an image of the aftermath of an air raid on Queen’s Road, Aston on 11th December 1940 during a 13-hour Blitz, which it describes as “the longest raid sustained by Birmingham.”
The actions of 36-year-old Sgt Brooks that led to his award are that, following the houses being reduced to rubble, he forced his way through a small hole in the structure, wriggling on his back to rescue a little girl [this was seven-year-old Joan Barnes according to the award recommendation]. He then repeated the journey, taking 20 minutes to rescue the girl’s mother, Ethel Barnes.
At 2:30am on 12th December, he located another victim – William George Tucker (1903-1983), from 58 Burman Road – who was extricated at 03:15am. Finally, he crawled under tons of masonry to release another girl, 15-year-old Betty Tucker at 4:30am. She had a fractured pelvis and other internal injuries and died in Solihull Hospital later that day. According to the 1939 Register, she worked as a shop assistant.
Sergeant Brooks continued his work for nine hours with respite until all the casualties had been extricated. At 06:30am the body of Mrs Violet May Tucker, aged 41, was recovered, and at 09:30am the body of her 19-year-old son, Bobby [Robert Huntley Everest Tucker], an assistant store-keeper, was lifted out. All the time, fires were burning in the grates of the houses and coal gas was escaping. The official account states that “Brooks showed conspicuous courage throughout the night, with complete disregard for his own life.”
On Sunday 23rd March 1941, members of Shirley Home Guard presented Sergeant Harry Brooks with a silver salver and a £5 note as a token of their admiration for his bravery.
The salver was inscribed:
Harry Brooks was described in contemporary newspapers as being from Leamington Spa, and having attended Clapham Terrace School. His mother lived at 48 Court Street, Leamington Spa at the time of his award. The family seem to have lived at this address since at least 1901, and it was where Harry was born in 1905. Newspaper articles note that Harry Brooks had served at Rugby and Stratford police stations before being stationed at Shirley.
According to the Leamington Spa Courier, 21st March 1941, he had served in the Royal Navy prior to his joining the Warwickshire Constabulary c.1926. We have been able to find mention of a Harry Brooks from Leamington Spa serving as a Deck Boy in the Merchant Navy during 1920/21.
Harry Brooks was the eighth of the eleven children of parents Ernest Charles (or Charles Edwin, as in some records) Brooks and Sarah Ann (née Morris) who had married at Leamington on 2nd April 1892. Harry was baptised at Leamington on 13th February 1905 and his father – listed on the baptism register as Charles Edwin – was recorded as a labourer.
Harry’s siblings were all born at Leamington: Kate Ellen (born 1892); Mark William (born 1893); Ernest Charles (born 1895); Thomas Henry (1896-1897); Annie Elizabeth (born 1898); Ethel Rose (born 1901); Emma (1903-1905); Frederick James (born 1907); Hilda (born 1909); and Ida Alice (born 1912).
We haven’t been able to find out any information of what happened to Harry Brooks after he received the George Medal so, if you have any further details, please let us know.
Library Specialist: Heritage & Local Studies
© Solihull Council, 2021.
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