A guest blog by Bryan Jones - Scout Leader 16th Bermondsey Scout Group.
80 years ago, in 1941, Scouts from Bermondsey and Rotherhithe in South East London gathered at Manor Church for the presentation of Scout gallantry medals by the London Regional Commissioner, General Sir John Shea. Sadly, one Scout’s medal was to be awarded posthumously, received by his parents with their grief plain to see in the newsreel footage on YouTube.
But why were so many Scouts receiving awards in the midst of the World War Two London Blitz when children had either been evacuated to the countryside or took nightly cover in air raid shelters?
Today, it is not so well known that Scouts and Guides played a highly-active role in Civil Defence. The most dangerous work took them out into the open as the bombs fell around them putting out incendiary bomb fires, acting as stretcher bearers and riding through the destruction carrying emergency services' messages.
One Boy Scout who did this was 17-year-old Frank Davis. He lived close to the river, was part of the 11th Bermondsey and Rotherhithe Scout Group and worked for the Southern Railway at Bricklayers Arms Goods Station. At night Frank was an ARP messenger carrying messages between air raid posts and was based at Dockhead, close to Tower Bridge, where his father was the Warden in charge.
On the night of 8th December, 1940 there was yet another air raid. Frank and a fellow Scout were out when they came across an incendiary bomb. It was dangerous yet essential work to put smother the bomb with sand before the building caught fire. That meant getting up close and personal with a flame spewing monster.
That night Frank’s fellow Scout’s luck ran out and he was injured by the sparks. Frank carried his friend back to the Dockhead Warden’s post for treatment before returning to put out the incendiary bomb on his own. At some point, whilst doing this, explosive bombs fell close by killing Frank.
Having realised he was missing, the Wardens at the post set out to search for him. His lifeless body was possibly discovered by his father. Five days later, on 13th December, Frank was buried at Nunhead Cemetery in a grave that is today lost in undergrowth.
Frank was nominated for a Scout gallantry award; his Bronze Cross, nicknamed "The Scout’s VC", was announced on 5th February, 1941 with the medal being presented to his parents on 15th March, 1941.
Today, under non-pandemic circumstances, 16th Bermondsey Scout Group would still be meeting at Manor Church where the medal presentation was held. The church seen in the newsreel was lost to the bombing of London.
Read more about Frank Davis and the Scouts in World War Two
All images courtesy and copyright of the Scout Association Heritage Collection.
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