George Cross & GC

Catalogue number
  • OMD 6377
Department
Exhibits
Display status
IWM London
Materials
  • whole: silver
Dimensions
  • Ribbon: Width 39 mm
  • whole: Height 50 mm, Width 46 mm
Alternative names
  • full name: George Cross & GC
  • simple name: decoration, British
Creator
Category
Decorations and awards

© IWM (OMD 6377)

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Label

John Bridge won the George Cross for clearing enemy depth charges from Messina Harbour in Sicily in August 1943. During the war he was also awarded the George Medal twice, and a King's Commendation for Brave Conduct; in each instance this was for defusing bombs and mines. His leading role in clearing over 200 devices at Messina showed exceptional bravery - however the citation for his GC published in the London Gazette of 20 June 1944 is brief: 'for great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty.' The late Diana Condell (formerly Curator of Medals at the Imperial War Museum) subsequently offered a more detailed account of his actions: 'In August 1943, following the allied invasion of Sicily, efforts to clear Messina harbour of mines and depth charges had been costly. All the members of one bomb and mine disposal team had been killed or seriously wounded. John Bridge, then a 27-year-old Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve lieutenant, and already the holder of a George Medal and Bar, was instructed to clear the harbour. Little was known about the firing mechanisms employed in the depth charges. So Bridge's first task was to recover one of the devices intact to establish how to make the remaining charges safe. Over 20 hours, with interruptions due to enemy action, Bridge, supported by his three-man team above the water, made 28 dives and cleared all the new types of charges, making safe a total of 207 other explosive devices above and below the water. Thanks to the efforts of Bridge and his party, the harbour was opened on September 3, the day before the assault on the Italian mainland. For his 'conspicuous and prolonged bravery and contempt of death' Bridge was awarded the George Cross on June 20 1944. Two of his diving team received George Medals.

Physical description

silver cross, of Greek form, with the mounted figure of St George (on horseback) and the dragon in a central raised roundel surrounded by a band bearing the text: 'FOR GALLANTRY'. At the base of the circlet bearing the text is a small Tudor rose. The whole superimposed upon an edged cross. In each angle formed by the arms of the cross a small 'GVI' cipher. The cross is suspended from a straight (laurelled) suspender bar and the ribbon is dark blue, often referred to as 'Garter' blue. This example is named and dated on the reverse, in two lines, to 'Lieut. JOHN BRIDGE, G.M., R.N.V.R., / 20 June, 1944.'

History note

Biographical note (recipient): John Bridge (5 February 1915 - 14 December 2006) was born at Culcheth, Warrington. Educated at Leigh grammar school and King's College London, he graduated in 1936 with a BSc Gen (Hons), and a BSc (Hons) in physics in 1937. He gained a teaching diploma in 1939, and became a teacher. With the outbreak of war, Bridge, a pacifist by inclination, but recognising the use of his scientific background in saving lives, volunteered his services. In June 1940, Bridge was interviewed, commissioned into the RNVR and given a week's bomb familiarisation. On July 2, assigned as a bomb safety officer in the Plymouth-Falmouth area he defused his first bomb. During that tour of duty the bomb disposal teams under his command dealt with more than 100 unexploded devices. Bridge's first George Medal, gazetted on December 27, was awarded for his calm courage in making safe a bomb known to be fitted with a delayed action fuse. As the raids intensified, Bridge personally dealt with 50 unexploded bombs dropped during raids on Plymouth in March 1941. For his work in making safe a particularly difficult double-fused bomb with an anti-handling device, he received a King's Commendation for brave conduct. On May 17, Bridge dealt with a bomb lying in some 6ft of water at the bottom of a sluice valve chamber between two of docks at Falmouth. Bridge climbed down the shaft, slid a cable through a hole in the casing and got the bomb winched clear of the water. He then guided the device away until he was able to disarm the bomb. Working in a shaft more than 30ft below ground level, Bridge knew full well that had the bomb exploded there was no chance of escape. For what the citation called his 'cold courage', he was awarded a Bar to his George Medal - the first person to be so awarded. Bridge was subsequently drafted to the naval base at Simon's Town in South Africa, where he underwent diving training and from there was sent to the Mediterranean. But by June 7 1944 he was at Arromanches supervising the clearance of the D-Day landing beaches. Sent to Antwerp to work on harbour clearance in September 1944, Bridge found himself summoned to deal with a number of specially designed charges the Germans had floated down stream on the River Waal, one of which was lodged against the pier at the Nijmegen end of the road bridge, holding up the advance of General Brian Horrocks's 30 Corps. Bridge, finished the war as a Lieutenant Commander. He was one of only two men, both bomb and mine disposal officers, awarded the George Cross, George Medal and Bar. In 1947 he became Assistant Education Officer for Southport. In 1963, he was appointed Director of Education for Sunderland.

Engraved, reverse

Lieut. JOHN BRIDGE, G.M., R.N.V.R., 20 June, 1944.

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