John William Hersey Shepherd GC (EM exchanger)

b. 15/12/1898 Jarrow, County Durham.  d. 16/03/1983 Jarrow, County Durham.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 16/10/1929 Jarrow, County Durham.

John William Hersey Shepherd (1898-1983) was born in 67 South Street, Jarrow, County Durham on 15th December 1898, the son of John and Sarah Jane Shepherd (nee Lupton). His father, John Snr, was a leadwork labourer in the local shipyard. John Jnr had one sister, Mary, and the children both attended Dunn Street School in Jarrow. On leaving school, John Jnr began work in 1913 at the Palmers Blast Furnaces in Jarrow, where he worked until 1931. On 3rd April 1920, John married Lily Moore and they went on to have 11 children (five boys and six girls).

John W H Shepherd GC

On 16th October 1929, John and Hugh Black were detailed to clean a steam boiler at Palmers Blast Furnaces. Black entered the boiler and Shepherd was about to follow when he detected traces of gas. He called out to Black but received only a faint reply and immediately climbed inside to go to his aid. Shepherd found Black half conscious 25ft from the boiler manhole. He endeavoured to drag him to the opening but had to abandon the attempt as he was succumbing to the gas himself. He made his way out of the boiler, called for help and, though still seriously affected by the gas, returned with a rope which he tried to fasten around his comrade, who was by now unconscious. Both men were rescued shortly afterwards, though Black died a few hours later.

On 14th February 1930, the London Gazette published the citation for the award of the Edward Medal in Bronze to John Shepherd. He was also awarded the Carnegie Hero Fund Certificate and a cheque for £25. The other two men involved in the rescue, Thomas Wright and Joseph Patrick O’Connor also received Certificates. Sadly soon after the incident, the Great Depression hit the North East of England, and John found himself, like many others, unemployed, and the family suffered great hardship.

In 1939, he was able to take up work again as the demand for steel increased and he worked as a labourer in the Jarrow Steel Works as well as serving in Civil Defence during the Second World War. He retired from his full-time job in 1943. In 1971, John chose to exchange his Edward Medal for a George Cross, and two years later, had a massive slice of good fortune, when he won £56,000 on the Littlewoods Pools. Sadly, his wife had passed away and couldn’t share the money. Taking advice from Barclays Bank, he set up a trust fund for himself and his children so they could have a comfortable retirement. In later life, he was cared for by his daughter Nancy (who moved in with him after her own husband died).

John died on 16th March 1983 in Jarrow, and was buried with his wife Lily in Jarrow Cemetery. Following his death, Barclays kept to the terms of his will and his trust fund was paid out to his surviving children and grandchildren. John’s GC and his 1977 Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal are privately held.