Wartime gallantry in St John's Wood
George Peerless G.M. & Winifred Ortweiler B.E.M. May 1941
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.