Back in 2005, via the Family History section of this site, I was approached for information about Frederick Cradock, a Glemsford resident, who was awarded
the George Cross for an act of bravery that cost his life.
At the time I knew nothing, but with the help of eager correspondents, we were able to collect a few facts about a case that seemed to have been forgotten.
Now Val Ost has been able to find out more, and she has kindly let me publish her findings here.
Frederick John Cradock was born into a large family in Acton, London in 1888. A boiler-man by trade, he worked for Kensington Borough Council for many years. In 1907 he married Annie Edwards in the Kensington District. He enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery in 1915 and went on to serve in France and Belgium with the 156th. Brigade during the Great War.
He and his wife had 9 children in the East End of London, before moving to Suffolk around 1937. They settled in a cottage at Thurston End, along with their youngest daughter, Joan. Whether any other of their other children, by now grown-up, also moved with them, is not known, nor is the starting date of Fred’s employment at Glemsford Flax Factory, on the Lower Road (where Philips Avent now is.)
On Tuesday 4th.May 1943 a horrific and unimaginable accident occurred in the boiler-room, where Fred was doing routine maintenance on a boiler with his friend, Albert Sterry (who at that time lived at 71, Brook Street). Suddenly the valve, on which Albert was working, burst and filled the room with steam and scalding water, threatening the life of Albert.
Fred was above the boiler and could have climbed down and escaped to safety. However he called for a ladder and climbed down between the boiler and furnace in order to rescue Albert. Despite several determined and brave attempts he, too, was overcome by the heat, and scalded to death. Albert Sterry was later dragged out and found to be dead.
At the time, Fred’s daughter Joan, who had previously married Charles George Plumb, from Pentlow, was working in the canteen at the factory. It must have been a horrific shock for her to learn that her father was involved.
Albert Sterry (age 56) was buried in St. Mary’s Churchyard, Glemsford on 8 May1943, and Fred Cradock (age 57), on the same day in Hawkedon Churchyard. I haven’t looked for Albert’s grave, but do know that there is no gravestone for Fred Cradock at Hawkedon. However Gladys Seabrook told me that he was buried quite close to the lower, or southernmost, gate in the churchyard wall.
At the Inquest, attended by Fred’s son Edward Cradock, the Coroner stated that the two men had been “blowing-out” the boiler – a procedure carried out twice a week in order to remove any sludge from the bottom of the boiler. Apparently Sterry had opened the valve, but was unable to re-close it. When it was later examined by a Factory Inspector a small nut was found lodged in the base of the seating of the valve. It was found not to have come from any bolt inside the boiler, but it might have dropped into the boiler when it was first installed. Nothing visible externally would have warned anyone of this defect. The Verdict was one of Accidental Death, with no evidence of negligence.
Dr.Tylor, who confirmed the causes of both deaths said “…..Cradock appears to have lost his life because he was anxious to save his mate. If he had not been so anxious he probably would have escaped. This is the sort of conduct we must all admire very much.”
As a result of this brave act, Frederick John Cradock was posthumously awarded the George Cross Medal in September 1943. On hearing of the award Fred’s widow, Annie, said “His four soldier sons would be specially proud of their Dad, who sacrificed his life in such brave circumstances.”
Val Ost, who now lives in Albert Sterry’s house, has, after 6 months searching, managed to trace two of Fred’s grandchildren - but the whereabouts of his medal is not yet known.
I would like to publicly acknowledge the following people who have each completed a link in the chain of my research: Angie Linnett : Daphne Seabrook : Gladys Seabrook : Jo Pask : Bill Welsh : Mr. Ablitt ( Bells Lane) : Eric Plumb (Pentlow) : Nellie Smith ( Gt. Missenden) : Mr. And Mrs J.C.Plumb : also thanks to publicity from East Anglian Daily Times, Suffolk Free Press ( for access to their archives) and “ Let’s Talk” magazine.
My motive for doing this research, when originally contacted by a compiler of books on recipients of the George Cross Medal, was to make sure that this local man’s heroism should not be forgotten, as it seemed to have already been.
We surely can’t have so many George Cross Medal holders in Glemsford , that we can afford to forget him!!
A very brave man indeed.