Three men volunteered to defuse 17 unexploded mines dropped over London near the start of the Blitz

By Ben Miller | 21 September 2016

The George Cross medal given to Richard Moore, a mine disposal volunteer who helped to seek out 17 unexploded parachutes during five September days in 1940, goes on display today

A photo of a george cross awarded to richard v moore after the world war two blitz
© Museum of London
The 25 naval mines dropped over London on the night of September 16 1940 posed a malignant threat when 17 of them failed to explode. For five days, three people travelled across London, Essex and Kent defusing these dormant bombs: Lieutenant-Commander Dick Ryan, Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth and Richard V Moore, a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve’s Naval Unexploded Bomb Department.

Moore, who was 24, had earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering at London University and worked for an electricity company before becoming a reserve when war broke out, serving as an assistant torpedo officer from HMS Effingham.

A photo of a george cross awarded to richard v moore after the world war two blitz
© Museum of London
It was his job to tackle a mine outside a factory in Dagenham on the last of the five days of defusing. Ryan and Ellingworth both died: the mine they were neutralising, hanging from a parachute in a warehouse in North Oval Road, exploded without warning.

Moore carefully examined his mine, realising that its fuse ring had become distorted. He borrowed a drill from the factory outside and used it to make two holes on either side of the ring, breaking it and allowing him to remove a fuse which could have exploded at any time.

A photo of a george cross awarded to richard v moore after the world war two blitz
© Museum of London
All three men won George Cross medals for “great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty” – only 12 of the medals had been directly awarded before the one given to Moore, who went on to work for the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell in Oxfordshire, where he was appointed maintenance manager of a research reactor and carried out a study on whether a larger reactor could produce heat at cheaper prices.

Seventy-six years on, his medal is part of a new display in a gallery, Docklands at War, at the Museum of London Docklands. Moore’s son, Nick, gifted the cross to the museum, commemorating his father’s two friends.

The interactive exhibition also features a graphic novel and a 3D puzzle, aimed at telling this little-known story from the Blitz to a new generation.

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A photo of a george cross awarded to richard v moore after the world war two blitz
© Museum of London
Three museums to see medals

The Museum in the Park, Stroud
Stroud in the First World War: Medals, Souvenirs and Legacy forms part of a series of foyer case exhibition across the World War One centenary period. Until November 25 2018.

The Hunterian Museum and Art Gallery, Glasgow
Moments in History is the first exhibition ever to focus on William Hunter’s British medals - an outstanding collection considered to be one of the best in the world. There are 932 British medals in Hunter’s collection and this special new exhibition highlights 108 of them. Until January 29 2017.

National Maritime Museum, London
Forgotten Fighters foregrounds the personal stories of those who participated through a wide range of objects including weaponry, photographs, medals and ship models, set in a gallery which takes visitors from the heroism of merchant mariners to the shattering realities of naval battle, and from the Falkland Islands and the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and the North Sea. Until November 1 2018.
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