Leo Francis O’Hagan GC (EGM exchanger)

b. 26/04/1914 East Tottenham, Middlesex. d. 03/05/1968 Frating, Essex.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 18/01/1940 Waltham Abbey, Essex.

Leo Francis O’Hagen (1914-1968) was born on 26th April 1914 in East Tottenham, Middlesex, one of four sons of James Charles and Frieda Linda Amy O’Hagen (nee Snelgrove). He also had two sisters. He was brought up in Stoke Newington, but spent part of his childhood and his schooling in Southampton. In 1937, he married Alice May Walter and they went on to have four daughters named Valerie, Maureen, Carol and Margaret. He then took employment at the Royal Gunpowder Factory in Waltham Abbey, Essex as an Explosives Worker. Due to it being a “reserved” occupation, he didn’t enlist at the outbreak of World War II.

Leo F O’Hagan GC

On 18th January 1940, an explosion ripped through the no. 5 mixing house, killing the three men working there as well as two men working in no. 20 stove nearby. O’Hagan, Stanley Sewell and William Sylvester were working in no. 2 washing house only 150 yards from the explosion, which damaged the hot water and air services. At the time, over 1,000lb of unstable nitroglycerine was being processed. The three men stood by their post for some two hours until the services were restored and then continued with their work until the whole charge had been brought to a state of stability. During this time there were further explosions.

Less than a month later, on 6th February 1940, all three men were awarded the Empire Gallantry Medal of the Civil Division. Later that year following the creation of the George Cross, all three men were entitled to exchange their medals. Leo decided to do his bit in the armed services and enlisted with the Royal Navy in 1943 serving on HMS Patricia.

After the war, Leo served as a Special Constable and then took night classes at college in Ipswich, trained as a barber and opened Leo’s Barbers in St Osyth in 1958. Leo, nicknamed “Gypsy Rose Lee”, due to his itchy feet, soon changed careers and location. In 1962, he and his wife Alice May moved to Redhill in Surrey and ran a corner shop. In 1965, they quit the shop when their first grandchild was born, and they moved to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex to be near their family. They moved into a mobile home and Leo took a job as a porter at the University of Essex.

Tragically, whilst at work in March 1968, he slipped on a patch of ice and hit his head. The injury was so severe that he died two months later in Frating, Essex. He was cremated at Colchester Crematorium. Leo’s medals including his GC, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Italy Star, War Medal 1939-45, and 1953 QEII Coronation Medal are believed to have been sold at Sotheby’s in March 1983, and are in private ownership.