Along with many brave local people helping the trapped and injured on the night of 19 October, three brave police officers were crucial in saving several lives – Inspector Frederick Wright, PC Robert Melton, and PC Jesse Christmas.
Local historian Stephen Bourne (who spoke on Black Poppies as part of our commemorations) has researched the three men and compiled this account. He is striving to have the men properly recognised locally.
Hearing the bomb, and despite the threat of another explosion due to a gas leak, Inspector Frederick Wright, PC Jesse Christmas and PC Robert Melton, who was off duty at home just a few houses down from the blast, raced to the scene.
The brave Camberwell bobbies cut a hole in the floor and dropped down into the basement, where they managed to find two children in the smoke and chaos. Ignoring the threat of the building collapsing and the toxic gas fumes, they led the children and a group of shell-shocked adults to safety.
Inspector Wright collapsed, received medical care, went home, and then returned to his rescue efforts later on in the night.
An eye-witness spoke of ‘the great bravery’ of the three police officers in a letter to a local paper that week. He said: ‘I can assert that their conduct was exemplary, deserving the highest possible praise and public gratitude.’
Inspector Frederick Wright was awarded the Albert Medal for his bravery, while the two police constables were decorated with the King’s Police Medals.
In 1919 PC Robert Melton’s career was cut short when he was sacked for taking part in the police strike which attempted to improve the pay and conditions of police officers. He died in Southwark in 1934 at the age of 53.
The Salvation Army were also on the scene very early after the bomb hit. They assisted in the rescue efforts, and alleviated the suffering with meals from their travelling kitchen. Prime Minister Lloyd George met and congratulated them on their efforts the following day. On Saturday afternoon they continued by salvaging furniture from the ruins. In the longer term, their public food kitchen a couple of streets away fed around 50 people made homeless in the raids.