Johnstone History Museum
Johnstone History Society • Scotland
Johnstone Hero of the Coventry Blitz
April 16, 2020
The English city of Coventry was bombed many times during the Second World War by the German Luftwaffe. The most devastating of the attacks occurred on the evening of 14 November 1940 and continued into the morning of 15 November, carried out by 515 German bombers from Luftflotte 3 and from pathfinders of Kampfgruppe 100. The attack, codenamed Operation Mondschiensonate (Moonlight Sonata) wars intended to destroy Coventry’s factories and industrial infrastructure, although it was clear the damage to the rest of the city, including monuments and residential areas was considerable.
The following appeared in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, dated Saturday, 9th August 1941 -
Heroes of Fire Fighting and Rescue Work During Air Raid, Coventry. Empire Medal for Rescue Worker.
The British Empire Medal has been awarded to Matthew Wallace, 7 Buchanan Street, Johnstone, Renfrewshire who at the time of the big November raid on Coventry was a member of a Coventry Works Rescue and Demolition Squad. Displaying complete fearlessness, Wallace was on duty during an intensive enemy attack and, in its early stages put out many incendiary bombs. He then went to another section of the Works where three men were buried under debris. Special lifting gear had to be obtained and Wallace went to fetch it through a district which was receiving heavy bombing. On his return he was primarily responsible for the rescue, almost uninjured of the trapped men. A call was then received for assistance at a large public shelter which had received a direct hit. Many people were trapped, and Wallace and a party of men assisted in the rescue work. He left the spot to drive a badly wounded man to hospital. On the return journey the van he was driving was struck by bomb splinters and blown about by blast, but he reached his destination. He then returned to the Works and dealt with more incendiary bombs, and later led a party in the rescue of four persons trapped in a demolished house. Throughout the night Wallace’s leadership was outstanding and he displayed complete fearlessness.
A copy of the original report was found in the U.K. Civil Defence Gallantry Awards, Case No. 1446, which gave the following details -
Matthew Wallace, 36 years, Squad Member, 7 Buchanan Street, Johnstone. Civil occupation - Planer.
Subject - Fire Fighting, Rescue Work and Transfer of Casualties to Hospital at Coventry on 14th and 15th November 1940 (Night).
Recommended by Coventry Chief Constable and Controller, No. 9 (Midland) Regional Commissioner.
Recommends G.M. (George Medal), 14.6.1941.
On the night of the 14/15 November 1940, Wallace was on duty at his works during an intensive enemy air attack on this city.
He put out many incendiary bombs which fell within the Works and then went to an incident in another section where a H/E bomb had buried three Works firemen in the debris. Special lifting gear had to be obtained and Wallace went for this through a district receiving heavy bombing. On his return he was primarily responsible for the rescue, almost uninjured, of the three men by his removal of the debris. A call was then received by the Works for assistance at a large public shelter which had received a direct hit, trapping many people. Wallace took a party of men there and assisted in the rescue work. He left this work to take a Works official to the hospital who had been badly injured. Wallace drove a van and had to make a wide detour owing to the terrific conditions created by heavy bombing. On the journey the van was struck by splinters from H.E. bombs and was blown about by the blast but he reached the hospital . He returned to his Works and dealt with more incendiary bombs which were dropping there. Next he took a party of rescuers to a dwelling house which was demolished by a H/E bomb and led in the rescue of four persons who were trapped. He worked in conditions of extreme danger and did not stop until satisfied that there were no persons left alive inside. Throughout the night his leadership was outstanding and he was completely fearless.
Controllers Observations - Wallace showed outstanding gallantry and by his work saved many lives. His workmates speak in glowing terms of his conduct and his inspiration was such that many who had taken to shelter came out to assist in rescue work and firefighting.
(Signed) S.A. Hector, Chief Constable and ARP Controller.
Although recommended for the George Medal, the civilian award for bravery, Matthew Wallace was given instead the British Empire Medal, as mentioned in the Supplement to the London Gazette, 8th August 1941, Page 4548, as ‘An Expression of Commendation for his Brave Conduct in Civil Defence.
Matthew Wallace is believed to have been born in Johnstone on 14th April 1906, the son of Matthew Gray Wallace, engineer, and Isabella Harrison. The family resided for some years at 7 Buchanan Street, Johnstone.
Matthews father died on 19 September 1925 of pneumonia at the Johnstone ID Hospital, Linwood.
He married Maria Williams on 25 July 1930 at the Co-op Hall, High Street, Johnstone, the Minister if the Baptist Church, officiating. His mother died on 23rd January 1952. An exceptionally brave man,
Matthew Wallace himself, died on 18th April 1951 at 88 Huntersfield Road, Johnstone of bronchitis.
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