Defusing the bomb

Winning the George Cross at Garston Gasworks

During the Liverpool Blitz, a bomb threatened Garston Gasworks.

Royal Navy officer Harold Newgass undertook a perilous two-day mission to defuse it. Amidst freezing, gas-filled waters, he worked with limited-life breathing apparatus to disarm the bomb.

His bravery prevented a catastrophic explosion, sparing the gasworks and nearby properties. Newgass received the George Cross for his valor, exemplifying the courage needed to defuse deadly ordnance amidst wartime chaos.

On the banks of the River Mersey

Located on the southern banks of the Mersey River, adjacent to Liverpool city center and Toxteth, Garston boasts a rich history intertwined with its maritime and industrial heritage. Originally a vital industrial suburb of Liverpool, Garston flourished due to its proximity to the docks and railway network.

The Otterspool serves as a natural boundary between Garston and Toxteth, while two other brooks once traversed the area, one flowing through the village into the river. However, by the early 20th century, coastal erosion emerged as a significant threat, resulting in the loss of 15 yards of land over a span of 25 years. Despite this challenge, the suburb expanded, encompassing Aigburth and Grassendale, which were once characterized by open fields used for grazing livestock.

Ordnance Survey map of Garston from 1907, showing details like the indutrial units and the dense housing.

History of Garston: Liverpool's other docks and the industrial south • Historic Liverpool (

Regarding its name, "Garston," two possible origins exist. One theory traces it back to Old English, where "gar" denotes spear, dart, or javelin, suggesting a historical association with weaponry production or use. Alternatively, "garston" may derive from "geard," Old English for garden, implying an area where livestock were pastured. The ambiguity surrounding its etymology reflects the complex linguistic history of Merseyside, where Norse and English influences converged.

Thus, Garston likely served as a site for either livestock husbandry or the crafting of weapons, reflecting its dual potential as an agricultural or industrial center. The fusion of Norse and English linguistic elements further underscores the area's cultural diversity and historical significance within the broader context of Merseyside's heritage.

Garston in the 1930's.

The Liverpool Blitz

The Liverpool Blitz stands as a harrowing chapter in the city's history, marking a period of intense bombardment and devastation during the Second World War. Beginning in August 1940 and lasting until January 1942, Liverpool faced relentless attacks by the German Luftwaffe, aimed at crippling its vital port facilities and industrial infrastructure.

As one of the United Kingdom's major ports, Liverpool played a crucial role in the war effort, serving as a primary hub for transatlantic trade and military logistics. Its strategic importance made it a prime target for enemy bombing raids, with the docks, warehouses, factories, and residential areas bearing the brunt of the assaults. The bombings caused widespread destruction, leaving large swaths of the city in ruins and claiming the lives of thousands of civilians.

The resilience of Liverpool's population during the Blitz was remarkable. Despite the constant threat of air raids, civilians displayed courage and solidarity, rallying together to support one another and aid in the war effort. Emergency services worked tirelessly to rescue survivors, extinguish fires, and provide medical assistance amidst the chaos and devastation. However, the toll of the bombings was immense, with the city suffering significant physical, emotional, and economic damage.

The scars of war remained visible long after the Blitz ended, with many buildings and neighborhoods left in ruins. The memory of those who perished and the sacrifices made during the conflict continue to be honored in Liverpool, serving as a solemn reminder of the city's resilience in the face of adversity. While the Blitz played a pivotal role in shaping Liverpool's history, its impact also underscores the devastating consequences of war and the importance of peace and reconciliation in the aftermath of conflict.

The bombs reach Garston

On the 29th November 1940, the southern part of Liverpool became a target. The next day, a large unexploded mine was discovered near the Garston Gasworks, dangerously close to a gasholder containing 3.5 million cubic feet of gas.

George Kermode, on standby duty, was alerted by an ARP messenger at 3 am. Unable to light a flame due to the gas leak, Kermode used his hands to navigate and discovered a suspicious piece of fabric. Recognizing it as a parachute mine, he waited until daylight to address the situation.

The bomb's parachute had become entangled in the hole in the roof, obstructing any straightforward approach to defusing it. Moreover, the large entry hole made by the mine facilitated the escape of gas and caused a portion of the roof to sink, adding to the complexity of the situation. Meanwhile, the mine itself rested on the floor, nearly upright, with its nose submerged in approximately seven feet of oily water.

For two arduous days, Temporary Lieutenant Harold Newgass, a seasoned Royal Navy bomb disposal officer, confronted the daunting task of neutralizing the mine. His efforts were compounded by the freezing cold water, which lay stagnant at the bottom of the cylinder, making maneuvering and working conditions extremely challenging.

Adding to the difficulty was the presence of noxious and flammable fumes inside the gasholder, necessitating Newgass to wear breathing apparatus with a limited lifespan of just 30 minutes per use.

Despite these formidable obstacles, Newgass remained resolute in his mission. With unwavering determination and courage, he tirelessly worked to disconnect the bomb from the clock mechanism. Exhausted and physically drained, Newgass finally succeeded in removing the bomb from the bottom of the gasholder. His heroic actions prevented a potential catastrophe, as the detonation of the mine would have resulted in the complete destruction of Garston Works and significant damage to surrounding properties.

In recognition of his exceptional bravery and selfless dedication to duty, Newgass, a distinguished veteran of World War I, was honored with the prestigious George Cross.

The rest of the rescue team's bravery also earned them accolades, including two George Medals, two British Empire Medals, an MBE, and six official commendations.

Further reading