In her Honour

A new London Fire rescue boat named after Gillian Tanner, holder of the WW2 George Medal*

A striking new vessel has appeared on the central London Thames recently and her name is TANNER. She is named after Gillian Tanner, who was awarded the George Medal for bravery for her courage in delivering petrol to fire pumps around the docks in Bermondsey during the Blitz in September 1940. Journalist Lynne Wallis wrote in 2017 about “some of the forgotten heroines of the home front” one of whom was Gillian Tanner, and so it’s good to see her achievements memorialised in the naming of a new London Fire Brigade rescue boat.
Her citation listed in the ‘Supplement to the London Gazette, 31 January, 1941′ reads:
“Gillian Kluane Tanner, Auxiliary, Women’s Auxiliary Fire Service, London.
Six serious fires were in progress and for three hours Auxiliary Tanner drove a 30-cwt. lorry loaded with 150 gallons of petrol in cans from fire to fire replenishing petrol supplies, despite intense bombing at the time. She showed remarkable coolness and courage throughout”.

TANNER heading upstream along Lambeth reach
The Women of World War II, in Whitehall, sculpted by John W. Mills

Gillian Tanner was interviewed by BBC Wales in 2005 on the occasion of the unveiling of a monument in Whitehall commemorating the work of millions of women in the Second World War. By then 86 years old, she explained how stationed at Dockhead in Bermondsey, she passed her heavy goods vehicle driving test, gained her licence and went on to drive her fuel-filled lorries even when the area was under attack. She told the BBC reporter: “We used to carry two gallon tins and filled up the fire engine’s trailer pumps with petrol – we had to keep them going.” She added that she didn’t think about “the danger and everything happening when the fires were going. You could hear the bombers, but you just got on with it.”

Memorial plaque on the fireboat TANNER named after her. Photo ©Matt @MYPersonalTrai5
TANNER at her Lambeth River Fire Station base
Thames River Police launch SIR ROBERT PEEL II passing TANNER
Trying out TANNER’s hose
TANNER and FIRE DART, one of the station’s older fireboats, who together with FIRE FLASH, has been in service on the Thames for over 20 years
TANNER on standby

Gillian Tanner was later remembered by the Fire Service training base in Gloucestershire who named one of their buildings ‘Tanner House’. For her “It was a great honour.” How she would have appreciated the naming of a London Fire Brigade fire rescue vessel after her…

New companion for TANNER
Just this last week a second new London fireboat, ERRINGTON, took up her position at the Lambeth River Fire Station.

New fireboat ERRINGTON moves into position next to TANNER

She is named after Harry Errington, who was awarded the George Cross for his exceptional bravery during the Blitz. I will return to his story in a later article.


*Picture of Gillian Tanner from Almay ©Mirrorpix
Picture of Gillian Tanner’s memorial plaque ©Matt @MYPersonalTrai5
All other pictures ©Patricia Stoughton

Sources and further information
LFB article: ‘Women in the fire service’, March 8, 2017
Fire brigades Union ‘Women Blazing a Trail’ Lynne Wallis, July 18, 2017
Medal heroine’s blitz memories: BBC Wales, July 9, 2005

Reach for the Sky…

… to raise funds for a new RNLI Thames Lifeboat Station in the heart of the City.

Not for the faint-hearted this dizzyingly high run up the 1,120 steps to the top of London’s tallest tower, 22 Bishopsgate on Saturday October 22. The goal is to raise funds for a new Thames Lifeboat Station in the heart of the City. And this is a serious challenge which can be achieved by running, walking, or even crawling! But you will not be alone.
Safety measures ensure that “runners will start in staggered groups of a maximum of 30 runners every 30 minutes. And on the day there will be first aid points every five floors and St John Ambulance medics will be in attendance.”

The Base – 22 Bishopsgate ©RNLI

It was in a tavern on this site that the RNLI was founded in 1824, so that the Tower Run assumes a special significance.

The summit with unparalleled views over London ©RNLI

With the promise of unparalleled views over London and a reception, this toughest of Tower Runs will an event to remember.

If you are interested in taking part please follow the link here: The UK’s Tallest Stair Run, where you will find full practical details of the event.

A few stats:
Tower Station’s lifeboats have launched more than 9,000 times since opening on the Thames in 2002, saving more than 350 lives and helping many in danger on the river, trapped on the foreshore, or suffering from a mental health crisis. They also intervene, when called, to help victims of accidents at worksites along the river. They have been there for us twenty-four hours, every day of the year, and now they need our help to build a new “state-of-the-art” station.
There are four Lifeboat Stations covering the tidal Thames, set up after the Marchioness disaster on August 20, 1989: Teddington, Chiswick, Tower and Gravesend.

Some background history of Tower RNLI Lifeboat Station
Rob Jeffries, curator of the Thames River Police Museum in Wapping, told me back in 2019 the story of how Tower RNLI came to be based by Waterloo Bridge : “In the years following the Marchioness Disaster of August 20, 1989, there were increased calls for a dedicated search and rescue service on the Thames in Central London.” Up until then it had been the river police who carried out rescue and recovery missions as just one part of their duties. Finally the RNLI was asked by the UK Government to provide dedicated lifeboat cover along the tidal Thames. They were originally based at Tower Pier next to the Tower of London but they had to share the pier and its facilities with a number of others. When Waterloo Pier ceased operation as a Police Station, it began to deteriorate and as the RNLI were in need of their own space, they were able to take it over for a nominal price of £1.00. Rob explains: “A representative from the RNLI duly handed over a £1.00 coin to an inspector of the Marine Support Unit on the agreed handover date and the Inspector promptly handed the coin back as a ‘Donation’ to the RNLI charity.”
Though the Pier only cost the RNLI £1.00, they had to fund the sizeable expense of refurbishment, much of which was paid for by donations. And, though having moved to below Waterloo Bridge, it was decided to keep their already established name of ‘Tower RNLI’ to avoid confusion, and to call their pier ‘Lifeboat Pier’.

The existing Tower Lifeboat Station by Waterloo Bridge
View from Tower RNLI Station and in the distance, dominating the City skyline, 22 Bishopsgate waiting to be scaled. ©RNLI
On a shout, HEARN MEDICINE CHEST, one of Tower’s two lifeboats, always ready to intervene at a moment’s notice.
Tower RNLI Station on standby, day and night all year, to come to the rescue of anyone in trouble along the central London Thames

Here in the distance, seen from Lambeth Bridge and dominating London’s skyline, is the Challenge: To climb the 1,120 steps of 22 Bishopsgate on Saturday 22 October, in aid of the new RNLI Thames Lifeboat Station for the Tower crew. Clic here for details of how to enter.

Seen in the distance from Lambeth Bridge, the challenge to stair runners from 22 Bishopsgate

Further information
Discover Tower Lifeboat Station
There’s always the Tower Lifeboat Station Appeal for those not taking part in the Challenge.
See my article on Tower Lifeboat Station here.
Follow @TowerRNLI on Twitter.