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The Great War Centenary - 1917

From Front Line to White Lund

White Lund Disaster
Two Coronation Seats for White Lund Hero
Drove 49 trucks of live shells away from magazines

Lancaster Guardian and Observer 22 May 1953

A man who received the King Edward medal for his services in the White Lund munition works explosion in 1917 has been awarded two Coronation tickets – one for himself and one for his wife. He is Mr Thomas Kew, aged 73, of 21 Hale Carr Grove, Heysham, but he may not be able to go because of his illness.

He was awarded the King Edward Medal for driving 49 railway trucks full of live shells to safety during the White Lund explosions.

If it had not been for Mr. Kew’s bravery the trucks would have blown up and ignited the nearby ammunition magazines. At the time of the incident it was stated that the saved a quarter of a million shells from blowing up.

A native of York, Mr Kew, was employed as an engine driver at the factory.

On the night of the explosion, 1st October 1917, Mr Kew had been to the Tower Cinema. He returned to his lodgings in West View Terrace and was about to have his supper when he heard a terrific bang. He knew at once that it was the factory and went straight there. When he arrived shells were flying in all directions.

Not far away from the loaded trucks was a big magazine. Without hesitation Mr Kew jumped on to the footplate of the shunting engine and started to move them away. As he draw them down the line four of the trucks blew up. He told a ‘Guardian’ reporter: “They were thrown into the air like footballs”. By that time they were clear of the magazine.

After he had got the trucks clear he helped put out smaller fires.

At one stage a flying shell went clean through a raised water tank from which firemen were drawing their water supply. It made a clean round hole in the bottom of the tank.

Mr Kew climbed up to the tank to repair the hole and managed to block it up so that the firemen could continue playing their hoses on the fire.

For three days and nights Mr Kew did not leave the factory, nor have a wink of sleep nor anything to eat.

He said: “I prayed all the time. Even if they had offered me food I would not have been able to eat it. I was ill for about three weeks after the incident.”


© Images are copyright, Trustees of the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum.
 You must seek permission prior to publication of any of our images.

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