George Tolson EM

b. 17/04/1891 Walker, Northumberland. d. 29/09/1937 Wallsend, Northumberland.

DATE OF EM ACTION: 26/07/1930 Billingham, near Stockton on Tees.

George was the fourth of five children born to Thomas and Janet Tolson (nee Leighton), on the 17th April 1891 in Walker, Northumberland. He was baptised less than a month later on 13th May 1891. Sadly, his mother died in 1906, when George was 15, and his father quickly remarried and had a further five children (the youngest died as an infant) and George also gained two half siblings from his step-mother’s first marriage. His father moved around a lot due to work, living in various parts of both Lancashire and Yorkshire. though George would remain in the North East where he boarded whilst being employed. On 20th September 1914, he married Annie Franks in Wallsend, and they would have eight children over the next 20 years. George worked mostly at the Synthetic Ammonia & Nitrates Company in Billingham, near Stockton on Tees, but lived mostly at Tynemoutb with his wife and children. George sadly died aged just 46 on 29th September 1937 in Wallsend, just three years after the birth of his last child.



About 8.30 a.m. on the 26th July, 1930, one of a series of large tanks, about eighteen inches apart, containing acetic acid exploded at the works of Synthetic Ammonia & Nitrates Limited, Billingham, near Stockton-on-Tees. The explosion ignited the acetaldehyde vapour, burst the tank and allowed the acid to escape. The works Fire Squad, under George Tolson, immediately attacked the fire and in about 15 minutes had it under control. Tolson’s attention was then called to a smouldering object lying between the burst tank and the next one. He at once directed a stream of water on to the object and, in order the better to direct the stream, he left the raised platform on which he was standing and went nearer to the object. As he did so it moved and he realised that it was a man. Although he must have fully realised the serious risk to which he was exposing himself, Tolson immediately drew his coat collar about his throat and rushed into the narrow space between the tanks in an attempt to rescue the burning man. On reaching him Tolson found that the man had been caught by the hand, and he was unable to release him without assistance. A second rescuer then joined Tolson, who was by this time so severely burned by the escaping acid and so overcome by the fumes that he was forced to leave the place and go into the fresh air. His place was taken by a third man, wearing breathing apparatus, and the rescue was then completed.

It is estimated that Tolson was exposed to risk from escaping acid and fumes for about five minutes, and in that period he was severely burned by the acid and was partially overcome by the fumes.