Norman Tunna, World War II hero of Birkenhead Docks

Norman Tunna worked as a shunter for the Great Western Railway in Birkenhead and was awarded the George Cross in 1941.

He was born on 29 April 1908 and died on 4 December 1970. At the time of his act of bravery, he was 32 and lived in Rowland Street (Europa Boulevard now occupies this site.)

These are his own words that he used to describe the events of the 26th September 1940, “I was waiting for the signals when incendiary bombs began to fall. As I was passing one wagon containing 250lb bombs, I saw incendiary bombs inside.

“I immediately ran to the engine and got a bucket of water and threw it on the wagon, but the sheet which was covering it continued to burn fiercely. I then went ’round the wagon, untying the ropes, and tore the burning sheet off. I got a stirrup pump and a bucket of water and returned to the wagon.

“When I got inside saw an incendiary bomb burning between two H.E. [High Explosives] bombs, and when I tried to remove it with hands I found it was firmly wedged. I then got my shunter’s pole and prised the big bombs apart. I was able to get hold of the incendiary and throw it out. By this time the top layer of bombs had got very hot, so I used the spray of the stirrup pump to cool them down.”

Tunna’s bravery in preventing what would have been a large explosion was rewarded by the award of the George Cross – this being the first award of the GC to someone from Birkenhead during WWII.

He was awarded the medal on 24 January 1941. The citation reads:-“The KING has been graciously pleased to award the GEORGE CROSS to:-Norman Tunna, Shunter, Great Western Railway, Birkenhead. Enemy action over Liverpool Port Area resulted in a number of serious fires involving railway and dock warehouse properties.

A large number of incendiary bombs fell on and about the goods station and sidings…In the course of these events Shunter Tunna discovered two incendiary bombs burning in a sheeted open wagon, containing 250-lb bombs. With complete disregard for personal risk, Tunna removed the sheet, extinguished the incendiary bombs, and removed them from the truck.

The top layer of these heavy bombs was hot. Tunna’s action displayed courage in a very high degree and eliminated the risk of serious explosions, the result of which it would be difficult to measure.”

There is a memorial at Woodside commemorating his actions and also a plaque at Birkenhead Central Station. He also had a train named in his honour in 1982

Thanks to Birkenhead in Pictures & Postcards for the story and images.

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