Award for heroic conduct

Mick Hills displays the medal awarded to Fireman Thomas E Thompson in 1891.

Mick Hills displays the medal awarded to Fireman Thomas E Thompson in 1891.

Thomas E Thompson, known as Ted, was a hero.  In the early hours of March 25, 1890, Ted Thompson, volunteer fireman, was awakened by voices raised in alarm and the unmistakable sound of a fire in progress. The house next door was ablaze.

The Harrison St cottage, occupied by a Mr Thomas and his family, was an inferno by the time Fireman Thompson had donned his jacket and helmet and rushed to the scene.  He saw Mr Thomas, who had been beaten back by the flames, and learned there were two children, both boys, still inside the house.

Ignoring all warnings for his safety, he entered the house by the front door and reached the room where the boys were asleep in bed. He roused both of them by breaking a window and got them out of the house. On leaving the building he heard that there might still be a girl trapped in the building and set to work with his hatchet to cut into the room where she was supposed to be, only to find she had escaped safely.

“That he had been through the fire was evidenced by the scorching his face and hands received, and his singed hair, and blanket-coat (both front and back marked). In a few minutes Miss Hope, matron of the hospital, had bathed both face and hands in oil and lime water and carefully bandaged up the latter.” (Wanganui Herald)

Fireman Thompson’s burns were later dressed by Dr Earle, honorary surgeon to the Fire Brigade.

More than a year later, Fireman Ted Thompson was awarded the United Fire Brigades Association Medal for Valour, one of only three ever presented.  That medal now resides in the Whanganui Regional Museum and Mick Hills, museum volunteer and firefighter, proudly showed it to this reporter.

Award for heroic conduct IIThe decoration consists of a silver Maltese cross with a point in the centre of each arm and suspended by loops from a red ribbon. The obverse shows the fireman badge of the UFBA within a band inscribed UNITED FIRE BRIGADES ASSOCIATION. The details of the award and its recipient are engraved on the medal.

“He was severely burned in the fire,” says Mick, “and he never did any more firefighting, as far as we can make out from the records.”

A full account of the fire and Fireman Thompson’s role in the rescue are in the Wanganui Herald of March 25, 1890, and details of the presentation in the same paper, September 12, 1891.

A ‘Fireman Thompson’ is recorded as leaving Wanganui to live in Auckland in October 1907.

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