b. 07/03/1937 Newthorpe, Derbyshire
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 19/10/1952 Newthorpe, Notts.
John “Jack” Bamford (1937-) was born on 7th March 1937 in Newthorpe, near IIkeston, Derbyshire, one of six children of John and Rachel Bamford (nee Carrier). Along with Jack, there was Jean, Jimmie, Brian, Roy and Jess. John senior was a collier at Moorgreen Colliery, but was also a horse dealer and, leading out of this side business, he also dealt in scrap metal, mostly of vehicles.
Jack left school at the age of 15 and followed his father into Moorgreen Colliery as a fitter. He would later move onto the coal face when he turned 18. Jack had only just started at Moorgreen when the incident that would change his and his family’s lives occurred in the early hours of Sunday October 19th 1952.
At about 2am, a fire broke out in the Bamfords’ three-bedroom house at 85 Baker Road, Newthorpe. Parents John and Rachel Bamford had returned earlier from a night out at Ilkeston fair. Barking from their pet greyhound Mick alerted John that something was wrong. He woke Jack and they went downstairs. The best source to describe what happened next is Jack Bamford himself from his newspaper article from 2015 on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the creation of the George Cross.
“When we opened the living room door we were hit by a huge blast of flame,” recalls Jack. “We went outside because we couldn’t get back upstairs. We climbed on to the flat roof on top of the bay window and got my mother and what we thought was all of them [his sister and four younger brothers] out through the bedroom window. But then we had a count up and two were missing.”
They were Roy, four, and Brian, six, who was deaf and dumb. “So, me and my dad went back again. We could hear Roy shouting from the back bedroom. My dad tried to get through the flames by wrapping a blanket round him but the blanket caught fire. I told him to go round the back [of the house] and I would get into their room and chuck them out the window.”
“But it was hot – very hot – and I couldn’t see anything because of the smoke. I got down on my hands and knees because it was the best place with the smoke rising. When I found them in the bedroom I had Roy between my knees and Brian was next to us by the window. I slammed the sash window up but the bloody thing came down again and slammed my fingers. So I banged it up again and this time it stayed . I chucked Roy out to my dad who caught him below. But when I turned round Brian had gone – he was frightened so he had got back into bed.”
“I knew where the bed was so I got him and chucked Brian out too. I somehow got out of the window too. The next thing I can remember was lying on the hearth in front of our neighbour’s fire and our doctor kept saying to her, ‘Give him weak tea’, even though all I wanted was lots of water.”
The fire brigade eventually put out the blaze which had apparently been caused by an electrical fault. Jack and his two brothers were taken to hospital. The younger boys were soon off the danger list but Jack spent weeks in intensive care at Nottingham General Hospital. He was left with such severe burns to his face, neck, chest, stomach, back, arms and hands that he was left fighting for his life. Even now the tips of his ears are missing having melted away in the inferno that so nearly claimed the lives of several family members.
On December 16th, 1952, his GC was announced. The lengthy citation ended: “John Bamford displayed courage of the highest order and in spite of excruciating pain succeeded in rescuing his two brothers.” On March 9th, 1953, Jack, his mother, sister Jean and ward sister Marjorie Odey, who had nursed him back to health barely leaving his bedside for an entire week, were all driven to London in a Rolls Royce belonging to Nottingham funeral directors and spent a week in the capital as the guests of the National Coal Board. He was presented with his GC by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
Jack had remained in hospital for five months. He then had to learn to walk and talk again – the smoke had affected his throat while his legs had suffered badly from the removal of so much skin to use as grafts on his burned body. It was not until early 1954 that he returned to work and when he was 18, he moved to the coalface. He left the colliery in 1959 and went to work with his father and two brothers as scrap metal and vehicle dealers.
Jack Bamford stayed in touch with the ward sister who nursed him back to health and years later, after an accident at the family’s scrapyard, he was treated by her in hospital again, this time for a broken right leg. In 1965 he married Madge Starbuck, and they went on to have four sons. In 1971, he and Madge moved the family to Awsworth, Nottinghamshire, where they have spent most of their married life together, except for a short time in Cornwall. Having retired in 1993, his passion is restoring vintage cars and tractors. Jack is an active member of the VC and GC Association and regularly attends the bi-annual reunions, and the afore-mentioned 75th anniversary of the George Cross event in 2015. Jack’s medals including his GC, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal, 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal and 2002 QEII Golden Jubilee Medal are currently on loan to the Imperial War Museum where they are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: ON LOAN TO LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IWM.
Jack Bamford's medals including his George Cross on loan to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London
The letter to John "Jack" Bamford announcing his George Cross. Letter kindly supplied by Andrew Bamford.