Barbara Jane Harrison
|Jane Harrison, GC|
Barbara Jane Harrison, GC
|Born||Barbara Jane Harrison
24 May 1945
|Died||8 April 1968
London Heathrow Airport
Cause of death
|Fulford Cemetery, York|
|Other names||Jane Harrison|
|Employer||British Overseas Airways Corporation|
|Known for||BOAC Flight 712|
|Parents||Alan Harrison, Lena Harrison (neé Adlard)|
|Awards||George Cross (posthumously)|
Barbara Jane Harrison GC (24 May 1945 – 8 April 1968), typically known as Jane Harrison, was a British air stewardess. She is one of four women to have been awarded the George Cross for heroism, and is the only woman to be awarded the medal for gallantry in peacetime (the other three female George Cross recipients served with the Special Operations Executive in occupied France during the Second World War).
Harrison was born on 24 May 1945 at the family home in Kingsdale Crescent, Bradford, Yorkshire to Lena and Alan Harrison. She was their second child, another daughter, Susan Elizabeth, having been born in 1941. Harrison attended Greystones School, Bradford. The family later moved to Scarborough, where Harrison attended Newby County Primary School. During the summer of 1955, Harrison's mother became seriously ill and the girls were sent to stay with an aunt for the holidays, during which time Harrison's mother died. Harrison passed her 11-plus and attended Scarborough Girls' High School. In 1961, her father moved to Doncaster. Harrison stayed on at Scarborough to complete her O levels before joining her father in the summer of 1961. She then attended Doncaster High School until Easter 1962.
After leaving school, Harrison worked at Martins Bank from 1962 until 1964, when she decided that she wanted a change of career. She took a job as a nanny for a Swiss farmer in the Canton of Neuchâtel in order to improve her French. Harrison later took another job as a nanny in San Francisco. It was while working in San Francisco that she applied for a job as an air stewardess with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). She passed the interview and joined BOAC in May 1966, just after her twenty-first birthday. After completing her training, Harrison was assigned to work onboard BOAC's Boeing 707 fleet. Harrison moved to Emperor's Gate, Kensington, London, where she shared a flat with other BOAC stewardesses. She purchased a Ford Anglia car, which she used to drive to Heathrow for work. Harrison also joined Universal Aunts, which provided staff to do any number of odd jobs. One assignment was babysitting Jason Connery.
Aeroplane fire and death
On 8 April 1968, BOAC Flight 712 left Heathrow Airport, bound indirectly for Sydney. Soon after take-off, the Boeing 707's number two engine caught fire and fell from the plane's port wing. The aircraft managed to land two-and-a-half minutes later, but fire continued to engulf the wing and spread to the fuselage. Harrison and a steward inflated the escape chute at the aft of the plane but it became entangled and the steward had to climb down to free it for use and was unable to return.
Harrison stayed at her station and helped passengers to escape as fire consumed the plane, encouraging them to jump and in some cases simply pushing them out to safety. As the fire spread, escape from the rear of the aircraft became impossible and she led the remaining passengers to another exit. She refused to leave the plane to save herself and her body was found near that of a disabled pensioner, seated in one of the last rows. She is buried in Fulford Cemetery in York.
For the gallantry she showed in helping the passengers escape the burning aircraft, Queen Elizabeth II awarded Harrison a posthumous George Cross (GC), the only GC awarded to a woman in peacetime. The award was published in a supplement to the London Gazette of 7 August 1968 (dated 8 August 1969). Harrison's medal was accepted on her behalf by her father, Alan. Harrison is the youngest female recipient of the George Cross.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD ST. JAMES'S PALACE, LONDON S.W.1
8th August 1969.
The QUEEN has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.
Miss Barbara Jane HARRISON (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.
On April 8th 1968, soon after take-off from Heathrow Airport, No. 2 engine of B.O.A.C. Boeing 707 G-ARWE caught fire and subsequently fell from the aircraft, leaving a fierce fire burning at No. 2 engine position. About two and a half minutes later the aircraft made an emergency landing at the airport and the fire on the port wing intensified. Miss Harrison was one of the stewardesses in this aircraft and the duties assigned to her in an emergency were to help the steward at the aft station to open the appropriate rear door and inflate the escape chute and then to assist the passengers at the rear of the aircraft to leave in an orderly manner. When the aircraft landed Miss Harrison and the steward concerned opened the rear galley door and inflated the chute, which unfortunately became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down it to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to the task of shepherding passengers to the rear door and helping them out of the aircraft. She encouraged some passengers to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her and escape from the tail of the machine impossible she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post. She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the stewardess. Miss Harrison was a very brave young lady who gave her life in her utter devotion to duty.
The George Cross is now located at British Airways' Speedbird Centre which is dedicated to the history of the crew and story of British Airways.
The Barbara Jane Harrison, GC, Memorial Fund was set up in October 1969 with the aim of raising £1,000 by October 1970. Almost £1,500 was raised which was used to buy a computer for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, London, for use by the muscular dystrophy laboratories for research into the disease.
A plaque in memory of Harrison was unveiled on 23 October 1970. The Barbara Harrison Prize was established in 1968 by the Royal Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine. It is awarded to the best student on a Diploma in Aviation Medicine course whose first language is not English. The prize is now under the remit of the Department of Aviation Medicine at King's College, London. Since 2010, the Barbara Harrison Memorial Prize is awarded to the student of the Diploma in Aviation Medicine Course "who has demonstrated commitment to others and determination to succeed through the course and in gaining the Diploma".
- Michael Ashcroft, George Cross Heroes, 2010
- Other women have received awards that were later replaced by the GC for actions in peacetime
- Ottaway, Susan (2008). "Chapter 1". Fire over Heathrow, The Tragedy of Flight 712. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. pp. 1–9. ISBN 978-1-84415-739-6.
- Ottaway, Susan (2008). "Chapter 3". Fire over Heathrow, The Tragedy of Flight 712. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. pp. 19–40. ISBN 978-1-84415-739-6.
- O'Brien, Tim (June 2008). "The Last Flight of Whiskey Echo". Aeroplane 36 (422): 30–35. ISSN 0143-7240.
- "A Memorial to Honour the Bravest". The Friends of the Green Howards. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
- "Barbara Jane HARRISON, GC (Posthumously)". Chameleon HH Publishing Ltd. Archived from the original on 2007-10-13. Retrieved 2007-11-19.
- The London Gazette: . 7 August 1969. Retrieved 2008-05-16.
- Crown copyright
- Ottaway, Susan (2008). "Chapter 11". Fire over Heathrow, The Tragedy of Flight 712. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. pp. 157–63. ISBN 978-1-84415-739-6.
- Ottaway, Susan (2008). "Appendix 2". Fire over Heathrow, The Tragedy of Flight 712. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books. p. 166. ISBN 978-1-84415-739-6.