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Dorothy Louise Thomas - Foley Street, London, UK
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member Master Mariner
N 51° 31.196 W 000° 08.345
30U E 698478 N 5711526
Quick Description: This plaque, to an act of heroism, is on the north west side of Foley Street on John Astor House a part of the Middlesex Hospital. The name on the plaque is Sister Dorothy Louise Thomas.
Location: London, United Kingdom
Date Posted: 1/1/2014 6:03:52 AM
Waymark Code: WMJV0M
Published By: Groundspeak Premium Member bill&ben
Views: 1

Long Description:

The grren plaque was placed by the City of Westminster and reads:

City of Westminster

Dorothy Louise
Thomas GC
1905 - 1989
Nursing Sister awarded
the Geroge Cross for her
brave actions following a
main theatre explosion at the
Middlesex Hospital
on 26 January 1934

The City of Westminster website tells us of the events leading to the plaque being installed:

Sister Thomas was born in London on 11 August 1905 but grew up in Dovercourt, Essex. It was her ambition to be a nurse and as a young woman she was the first probationer at the new Dovercourt Cottage Hospital before continuing her training at the Chelsea Hospital for Women and the Middlesex Hospital.

She gave over 40 years of distinguished service to the Middlesex and among her famous patients was Sir Winston Churchill. During the Second World War she advised Clementine Churchill on equipping hospitals in Russia. After her retirement she moved to Chelmsford, Essex where she was a member of the Trinity Methodist Church and helped out with the work of a local home for unmarried mothers. She died 22 November 1989 at 84.

On the morning of 26 January 1934, staff were preparing for another busy day. The dispensary porter was changing the reducing valve on a large oxygen cylinder in the anaesthetic room of the main ground floor operating theatre, when an explosion occurred. The explosion, as the oxygen was turned on, was probably due to a piece of grit violently impinging upon the reducing valve and causing a spark.

Following the explosion the escaping oxygen caught fire and a stream of sparks and flames leapt 15 feet through the open door of the anaesthetic room and across the theatre. Confusion ensued, and with debris showered in all directions and a general fear that the cylinder would explode at any moment, the theatre was immediately vacated by staff and nurses.

Sister Thomas, who was by this time theatre superintendent, stopped behind until all were clear, removed the ether from the anaesthetic room and shut the doors to minimise the effect of the explosion she expected. After a moment's reflection, however, she decided it was her duty to avert the wrecking of the theatre and with great courage, shutting the doors behind her, she re-entered the anaesthetic room, ran up to the cylinder and turned it off by the tap below the valve.

The flames had been so fierce that part of the steel collar on the oxygen cylinder had melted away. When all was safe Sister Thomas called her staff back to clear the debris and the theatre was soon operational again.

Sister Thomas's bravery almost certainly averted serious damage to the Middlesex Hospital's Main Operating Theatre. She was praised by her colleagues and patients but with quiet modesty that was entirely typical of her, she dismissed it all as part of her duties. For this selfless act in preventing a catastrophe she was awarded the Medal of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

A few weeks later King George V and Queen Mary visited the Middlesex Hospital and the King decorated Sister Thomas with the Empire Gallantry Medal in front of large crowds in the hospital forecourt. This was a unique and special tribute, a demonstration of both royal and public gratitude to a brave lady. (Unique for the Green Plaques series, a Pathe News clip of the presentation can be viewed via link)

The highest gallantry award for civilians, the GC is also awarded to military personnel for those acts for which military honours would not normally granted, such as acts of gallantry not in presence of the enemy. As Britain came under intense air attack during the summer of 1940, Winston Churchill thought that a new medal, to recognise the many acts of gallantry being performed by civilians, should be introduced. Although awards to recognise civilian gallantry not in presence of the enemy already existed, none held the prestige of the equivalent award for gallantry in battle, the Victoria Cross.

The King agreed and in January 1941 the Warrant relating to award of the George Cross was published. Those holders of the Empire Gallantry Medal, Albert Medal and the Edward Medal which had been awarded prior to the introduction of the GC, were all invited to exchange their awards for the GC. Sister Thomas received the George Cross from King George VI at a Buckingham Palace investiture on 7 February 1942. She thus became one of  the few women to have been honoured by two monarchs for her "heroic and self sacrificing action".

Dorothy Thomas later became a member of the executive committee of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, serving for many years.

Blue Plaque managing agency: City of Westminster

Individual Recognized: Sister Dorothy Louise Thomas GC

Physical Address:
John Astor House
Foley Street
London, United Kingdom

Web Address: [Web Link]

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