Wartime gallantry in St John's Wood

George Peerless G.M. & Winifred Ortweiler B.E.M. May 1941

George Peerless, G.M.
Westminster Archives
All Saints Parish group with George second from left in back row
Westminster Archives
George Medal
British Empire Medal
Mrs Peerless and her air raid shelter in Aquila Street
Westminster Archives
All Saints church and the Finchley Road
Westminster Archives
11 St John's Wood Terrace
Bridget Clarke
Post war flats in Aquila Street
Bridget Clarke
Aquila Street on 1937 map
Westminster Archives

George Peerless

Miss Winifred Ortweiller

George Peerless was awarded the George Medal in May 1941 for bravery as an ARP warden in St John’s Wood. The medal had only been instituted in September 1940 at the height of the Blitz as a reward for civilian courage and acts of great bravery. Miss Winifred Ortweiler received the British Empire Medal for her work in the same incident.

The George Medal is a circular silver medal hanging from red ribbon with five equally spaced thin blue stripes.  The obverse has the crowned effigy of the reigning monarch and the reverse has St George on horseback slaying the dragon on the coast of England.  THE GEORGE MEDAL is inscribed round the top edge. The British Empire Medal was first established in 1917 and in 1940 could be awarded for gallantry and acts of bravery (not in the face of the enemy)  which were below the level required for the George Medal.

From the electoral roll in 1935 we find that George and Alice Maud Peerless were living in 11 Aquila St, St John’s Wood;  he was the verger of All Saints Church, Finchley Road.  Along the road at 2 Aquila St  lived James and Emma Twitcher, and Henry Cronin.

A little way away at 11 St Johns Wood Terrace lived Miss Winifred Ortweiler, born in 1906. Her parents had been born in Germany but were  naturalised  British subjects by the time of the 1911 census.  Her father was a prosperous manufacturer of fancy leather goods and she had been brought up in a large house in  Cavendish Road, Brondesbury, with cook, housekeeper and nanny, before moving to St John’s Wood in 1935, presumably when her parents died.The Peerless home was equipped with an air raid shelter and George joined the ARP when war began, as did Miss Ortweiler.

One night No 2 Aquila St was wrecked by a bomb and Miss Ortweiler scrambled down a very small hole into the basement and found four people trapped and unable to move.  She reassured them but was not strong enough to effect their release.  There was an escape of gas and to avoid an explosion she put out the kitchen fire.  Warden Peerless then entered the hole.  He obtained a saw and cut away the corner of a dresser until it was possible , with the help of Miss Ortweiler, to free three persons who were then helped out of the basement.  Warden Peerless stayed behind and made a most gallant effort to rescue the remaining victim. Both wardens behaved with great gallantry, being fully aware of the danger from coal gas.[Citation in the London Gazette, 9 May 1941]

After the war Aquila Street was almost completely rebuilt and St Marylebone council flats  replaced the bombed buildings.


 

 

This page was added on 07/03/2012.

Comments about this page

  • Hello, Lorraine Dalgleish,
    It was so nice to learn “the rest of the story.” So often these stories get lost. I shall makes sure that the
    descendant of George Peerless know this family history and how it changed lives.

    By Jane Peerless Baldwin (21/11/2017)
  • I think it was maybe my grandmother, Mrs Vincent and her three small children ( one being my future mother, June ) who your brave grandfather and brave Miss Ortweiller rescued from the debris. A big thank you! They had been buried alive by the bomb blast. My mum often spoke about the rescue and how miraculous it seemed when she heard a man’s voice saying “they are still alive ” and they were pulled out of the darkness one by one. When they saw their bombed house it was split in half. My grandfather was working at the local power station ( one of the Luftwaffe’s regular targets ) and had been told that his house and family had been killed by the bomb. He ran off to Aquila Street. Imagine his relief to see them all there alive.

    By Lorraine Dalgleish (20/01/2016)
  • I am the granddaughter of George Peerless. He and Alice had twin sons on April 7, 1925, David and Neville. Neville served in the Navy in WWII. After the war, David and his wife, Irene, lived at 2 Aquila St. until the 1990’s. After the death of his son David, and Irene, he moved to the Lake District to be near a niece. Neville, his wife, Margaret Joan Pepper Peerless, and 3 year old daughter Jane (me) emigrated to Canada through a government relocation program. In 1954, they emigrated to Denver, Colorado to be near Margaret’s sister, Irene. There they had 3 more children. Neville died in August of 1997. Margaret is still living in Denver, CO. She has 8 grandchildren, and just recently her first great grandchild.

    Until I read the story above, I did not know the details about my grandfather’s bravery. I only knew that he had saved someone during the war. Thank you for the history.

    By Jane Peerless Baldwin (13/05/2014)

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