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15 October 2014
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Gas Holder on Fire, February 1944: Home Guard Bravery in Walton-on-Thames

by Surrey History Centre

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Surrey History Centre
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11 November 2003

Recorded at Surrey History Centre
by Roy Moyse

I have lived in Walton-on-Thames in Surrey, which was defined by the government as being a neutral zone which meant that children were not evacuated nor were there any evacuees sent into Walton. However there were numerous factories large and small producing aircraft and other war materials in the area. Furthermore a large oil "Farm" was being built by the river Thames. This was connected by a pipeline from Bristol and subsequently small oil tankers came up the river Thames to loading bays to carry oil to the refineries in the Thames estuary in order to avoid going through the Dover straits, a very neutral area indeed.

I was 16 years old and living in Walton-on-Thames with my mother and father. My father, Reginald Moyse, worked for the gas company in Walton, his job was general maintenance and he was also the first aid attendant. At the time of the following incident he was on home guard duty at the gas works. He was in the RAMC during the First World War.

During the evening an air raid took place and a load of incendiary bombs were dropped in teh vicinity of the gas works. One of these landed on top of the largest of 4 holders (which was 120 feet high) burning a 2 inch hole through the steel plate crown setting it alight causing a 6 foot high flame.

My father, as he was used to climbing the holder, asked for a volunteer to go up with him and one of the stokers - a Mr Charlie Moore - volunteered. My father followed him up the ladder guiding his feet - Mr Moore as a stoker was wearing clogs. When they reached the top they found that the tubs of clay which had been placed around the handrails of the holder in order to seal any holes were frozen solid because it was clear frosty moonlit night. My father and Charlie took some of the forzen clay and built it up around the flame to stop it spreading. My father then went down to the ground and found a rope (which was the tug of war rope) and tied it round his waist and went back up the vertical ladder and hauled up 2 fire extinguishers to try to cool down the area around the fire as the plates were getting red hot.

In the meantime one of the home guard officers came up the ladder with an extinguisher strapped to his back.

Whilst all this was happening the people down below had mixed up a fresh bucket of clay, this was hauled up to the top and my father went as close as he possibly could on the windward side of the flame and upturned the bucket over the flame extinguishing it.

At this point the auxilliary fire service arrived on the scene, they didn't fancy going up the 100 foot verticle ladder, so a hose was hauled up and one of the fireman did come up and cooled the plates down. Had this fire not been extinguised and oxygen entered the holder it is probable that the whole holder would have exploded causing very extensive damage and loss of life in Walton.

During the incident my mother and I were at home and saw the glow in the sky about a mile away and thought it was the local timber yard. It was not until my father came home very dirty with his eyebrows singed that we knew what had happened.

For this act he received a citation from the officer commanding his battalion of the home guard. The stoker received no acknowledgement.

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