Charity Anne Bick – the youngest holder of the George Medal during the Second World War

RICHARD MADDOX

AN OIL ON CANVAS painting by Alfred Reginald Thomson, showing Charity Anne Bick GM, the youngest woman Civil Defence worker to be decorated with the George Medal, 1941. She is shown on a bicycle, wearing a black ARP helmet together with both her Despatch Rider's armband and her George Medal. IWM catalogue reference ART LD 1207. Image Copyright: © IWM. Original source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/26209

AN OIL ON CANVAS painting by Alfred Reginald Thomson, showing Charity Anne Bick GM, the youngest woman Civil Defence worker to be decorated with the George Medal, 1941. She is shown on a bicycle, wearing a black ARP helmet together with both her Despatch Rider’s armband and her George Medal. IWM catalogue reference ART LD 1207. Image Copyright: © IWM. Original source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/26209

CHARITY BICK was fourteen when during a heavy air raid on West Bromwich in the West Midlands – at the time an industrial part of England.

She had become an Air Raid Protection (ARP) despatch rider by lying about her age, claiming to be sixteen. (1)

During the raid on 19 November 1940 (2) she and her father attempted to neutralise a German incendiary bomb which was lodged in the roofspace of a local shop.

When she discovered that the standard stirrup pump was not working, she successfully doused the fire with handfuls of water.

Then while she was leaving, the damaged roof supports gave way and she fell into the shop below.

Luckily she had only minor injuries and she and father made their way to the local Air Raid Protection (ARP) Post, where her father was the Post Warden.

As they arrived high-explosive bombs were falling and houses nearby were hit.

This and similar situations were to be reported from the (local) ARP post to a (central) ARP Control Room that would prioritise and co-ordinate fire and rescue efforts.

With all the other ARP wardens elsewhere she borrowed a bicycle and finding her way blocked or having to shelter from explosions and falling debris made repeated attempts to reach the Control Room.

She was to make a number journeys between the ARP Post and the Control Room as the raid continued.

She was awarded the George Medal for her actions.

At the time this was primarily awarded to civilians who performed ‘acts of great bravery’ during enemy bombing as well as similar deeds in other circumstances.

Her citation for the award concludes: (3) (4)

Miss Bick… did very valuable work and released other Wardens for duty. She displayed outstanding courage and coolness in very trying circumstances.

After the incident she was presented with a new bicycle for her ARP duties.

Apparently Dispatch Riders with the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) were given a cycle on joining the service. (5)

Charity Bick would later join the Royal Air Force, serving until 1962 when she retired as a Warrant Officer with a total of 22 years service.

Her service medals – including the George Medal – are in IWM’S safe keeping and are displayed at IWM North. (6) (7) (8) (9)

In 2002 the West Bromwich Local History Society erected a commerative plaque in her honour. (10) (11)

The painting was made by Alfred Reginald Thomson, RA for the War Artists Advisory Committee. A trained commercial artist, Thomson was also deaf from birth.

He would become the official RAF War Artist between 1940 and 1944. After the war he continued to paint a variety of commissions including murals for London’s Science Museum. (12) (13)

Sources

(1) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30006528 – retrieved 1 May 2019

(2) https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/90/a2327690.shtml – retrieved 1 May 2019

(3) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/35074/supplement/870 – retrieved 1 May 2019

(4) http://www.portcities.org.uk/london/server/show/ConNarrative.54/chapterId/811/Defending-the-East-End.html – retrieved 1 May 2019

(5) https://www.westbromwichhistory.com/people-places/west-bromwich-blitz-2/ – retrieved 1 May 2019

(6) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30006530 – retrieved 1 May 2019

(7) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30006529 – retrieved 1 May 2019

(8) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30006531 – retrieved 1 May 2019

(9) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30006528 – retrieved 1 May 2019

(10) https://www.westbromwichhistory.com/people-places/commemorative-plaques/ – retrieved 1 May 2019

(11) https://media.nationalarchives.gov.uk/index.php/bombs-bulls-civilian-bravery/ – retrieved 1 May 2019

(12) http://heritage.southwark.gov.uk/people/910/alfred-reginald-thomson-ra;jsessionid=14DE38789D1D96006760CC13396B1743 – retrieved 1 May 2019

(13) http://collection.sciencemuseum.org.uk/people/cp20255/alfred-reginald-thomson – retrieved 1 May 2019