Barbara Jane Harrison

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For other people with this name, see Jane Harrison.
Jane Harrison, GC
Barbara Jane Harrison, GC
Born Barbara Jane Harrison
(1945-05-24)24 May 1945
Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Died 8 April 1968(1968-04-08) (aged 22)
London Heathrow Airport
Cause of death Fire
Resting place Fulford Cemetery, York
Nationality English
Other names Jane Harrison
Occupation Air stewardess
Employer British Overseas Airways Corporation
Known for BOAC Flight 712
Parent(s) 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,[1] was a British air stewardess. She is one of four women to have been awarded the George Cross for heroism,[2] 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).

Early life[edit]

Harrison was born on 24 May 1945 at the family home in Kingsdale Crescent, Bradford, West Riding of 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.[3]


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.[4] While she enjoyed her job, long-haul flights with several stopovers were exhausting for cabin crew, and she had mentioned to a friend that as a reason why she might give up work for BOAC.[5]

On 8 April 1968 Harrison was rostered at her own request to work BOAC Flight 712 Whiskey Echo long-haul to Sydney, Australia, via Zurich, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Bombay (now Mumbai), Singapore and Perth. The reason she gave to fellow 712 stewardess Rosalind Unwin was that she had been invited to a wedding in Sydney, but it is possible that her real reason was a wish to see a Qantas airline pilot she had met three months before, whom she had talked about to close friends.[6] On the day of the accident, as was often her practice when on duty, Harrison was wearing a black wig, as was noticed by steward Andrew McCarthy.[7]

Aeroplane fire and death[edit]

At 16.27 BST (15.27 GMT), twelve minutes late, 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, after about a minute in the air, fell from the plane's port wing. The aircraft managed to land two-and-a-half minutes later, after three minutes thirty-two seconds of flight, but fire continued to engulf the wing and had spread to the fuselage. Harrison and second steward Bryan Taylor inflated the starboard escape chute at the aft of the plane but it became entangled and Taylor, who was responsible for opening the door and deploying the chute, had to climb down to free it for use and was unable to return.[8]

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 over-wing starboard exit of the aircraft became impossible and she led the remaining passengers towards the rear. Here she helped passengers to escape, firstly by them descending down the chute, and then, when it had burnt away, by pushing them out of the starboard rear door, continuing to do so with "flames and smoke licking around her face".[9]

Harrison was seen by survivors and observers on the ground at the exit seemingly preparing to jump, but then, with flames at the door and billowing black smoke all around, she turned back into the burning fuselage.[10] There then occurred another explosion and she was not seen again.[11] It is unknown why exactly Harrison, on the verge of safety, returned to the cabin, although a BAA Fire Officer who entered the burned out aircraft believed it was to assist a severely disabled Israeli woman, Esther Cohen, and several others.[12] Harrison attempted to help her despite the extreme risks involved, and in so doing bravely died at her post in the service of others. The following day, Jane Harrison's body was found in the debris huddled together with four others near the rear door: Mrs Cohen, a widow, Mary Smith, a young Australian teacher, Catherine Shearer and Jacqueline Cooper, an eight-year-old girl on her way with her parents and two brothers to emigrate to Perth in Australia.[13] All had died from "Asphyxia due to Inhalation of Fire Fumes".[14]

Jane Harrison was aged twenty-two when she died. She is buried in Fulford Cemetery in York.[15]

George Cross[edit]

In June 1969 Anthony Crosland, the President of the Board of Trade and the minister with responsibility for civil aviation, wrote to Michael Halls, Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, recommending the award of decorations to the crew of Flight 712. With regard to Jane Harrison, he wrote:

I also feel strongly that Miss Harrison's lonely and courageous action in that part of the aircraft first to be affected by heat and smoke when the integrity of the cabin was breached by an explosion should be recognised. From the evidence available, it is known that without thought for her own safety she returned time and again to the cabin door to push out a passenger before returning for another, until she went back into the aircraft and failed to reappear. I believe that this devotion to duty, in the highest traditions of her calling, is worthy of recognition by the posthumous award of the George Cross.[16]

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.[17][18] The award was published in a supplement to the London Gazette of 7 August 1969 (dated 8 August 1969).[18] Harrison's medal was accepted on her behalf by her father, Alan.[8] Harrison is the youngest female recipient of the George Cross.

The citation for Barbara Jane Harrison's GC reads:-[18][19]

8 August 1969.

The Queen has been graciously pleased to make the undermentioned award.


Miss Barbara Jane Harrison (deceased), Stewardess, British Overseas Airways Corporation.

On 8 April 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, making an 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.


Harrison's gravestone, Fulford Cemetery, York

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.[20]

A plaque in memory of Harrison was unveiled on 23 October 1970.[21] 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".

Also in 1970, a plaque memorial was unveiled in S. George's Interdenominational Chapel in Heathrow Airport dedicated to Harrison.

Harrison's bravery is also commemorated with a memorial window in Bradford City Hall.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Michael Ashcroft, George Cross Heroes, 2010
  2. ^ Other women have received awards that were later replaced by the GC for actions in peacetime
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Ottaway, p. 29.
  6. ^ Ottaway, pp. 26, 29–30.
  7. ^ Ottaway, p. 29; it is likely Miss Harrison is wearing a wig in the formal BOAC photograph which accompanies this article; her natural hair, which she often dyed, can be seen in photographs in Ms Ottaway's book.
  8. ^ a b O'Brien, Tim (June 2008). "The Last Flight of Whiskey Echo". Aeroplane. 36, Number 6 (422): 30–35. ISSN 0143-7240. 
  9. ^ Susan Ottaway, 'Fire Over Heathrow. The Tragedy of Flight 712', pp. 72–74; the above quotation comes from a letter to BOAC written in Perth a fortnight after the accident by Brian and Shirley Cooper, who along with their two sons, had been saved by Harrison but whose daughter, Jacqueline, had died near to Jane, in commendation of Jane Harrison's bravery and courage; p. 136.
  10. ^ Ottaway, pp. 76, 77.
  11. ^ Ottaway, p. 131.
  12. ^ Ottaway, pp. 130–131.
  13. ^ Ottaway, p. 91.
  14. ^ Ottaway, p. 151, quoting 17 September 1968 Inquest, which returned verdict of Accidental Death in all five cases.
  15. ^ "A Memorial to Honour the Bravest". The Friends of the Green Howards. Archived from the original on 31 October 2007. Retrieved 19 November 2007. 
  16. ^ Ottaway, p. 139.
  17. ^ "Barbara Jane Harrison, GC (Posthumously)". Chameleon HH Publishing Ltd. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 19 November 2007. 
  18. ^ a b c The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 44913. p. 8211. 7 August 1969. Retrieved 16 May 2008.
  19. ^ Crown copyright
  20. ^ 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. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ Kilner, Will (27 May 2010). "Bradford air stewardess included in national biography". Bradford Telegraph and Argus. Retrieved 3 June 2014.