On the night of 22nd November 1940 and through the early hours of the following day during one of Birmingham’s worst WWII blitzes, incendiaries rained around the Coventry Road Works of McGeoch & Company Limited, electrical engineers and brassfounders. Some fell on piles of timber which blazed fiercely.
Among the first to tackle the menace was Mr Walter Heath, then aged 58 of Westridge Road, King’s Heath. He and a fellow employee, William Greene, brought the fire under control.
Soon after it was discovered that another fire bomb had penetrated the roof of a storeroom on the top floor of the works. To tackle it, hose had to be run up a dark and winding staircase and the jet operated in a small and congested area.
It took an hour to get that fire under control but worse was yet to come. Just as Walter and his exhausted helpers had extinguished the last sparks, there was an ominous roar. An oil bomb had fallen in an adjoining yard, setting fire to a pile of timber and the outbuilding right next to the works Walter was protecting.
Two jets were directed from opposite sides of the blaze but were inadequate. It was necessary to direct a jet down onto the roof of the outbuilding if the works was to be saved. So Walter clambered up onto the first flat roof of the works and, with his hose running up the side of the wall, he stood for seven long hours fighting the flames while high explosives fell all around him. For the first hour of this ordeal, he and William Greene worked alone as assistance could not be spared, but the works were saved.
For that memorable exploit, Walter was awarded an OBE. Not only was he a hero that night, he held a firm place in the regard of his fellow workers and his employers for whom he had worked for 42 years. That regard had been won by his unfailing cheerfulness, integrity and devotion to duty.
Walter’s main job in the McGeoch factory was making brass lamp fitting. He made them for the old‘multi-masted ‘Windjammers’, more modern cruise liners, hotels and cinemas. He also made special standard fittings for Sandringham House in Norfolk.
At the outbreak of WWII, Walter was the first McGeoch employee to join the LDV unit and was a member of the Home Guard until the war ended. He held the curious distinction of beaming a corporal in the Home Guard and Captain of the works fire brigade.
Walter had many hobbies including photography, entomology and motoring but spent all his spare time in his beloved garden.
Top: McGeoch’s Walter Heath (centre) with his OBE following the presentation at Buckingham Palace by King George VI in March 1941. Bottom: The buttons and badges from Fire Captain Walter’s uniform.