- Name: James Sidney PURVIS
- D.O.B: 2nd Jul, 1904
- D.O.A: 17th May, 1929
- D.O.D: 12th Feb, 1992
- Award: Edward Medal translated to George Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Miner, South Garesfield Colliery, Burnopfield
- Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
BETWEEN THE WARS
The stresses of the First World War led to political revolution in much of Europe and, in extreme cases, social collapse. Even the victors, Britain and France, were not immune to the economic upheaval and labour unrest resulting from the transition from war to peace and the demobilization of hundreds of thousands of men. This made them extremely nervous of the rise of the Bolsheviks in Russia and they decided to send aid to the anti-Bolshevik forces. However, an Allied North Russia Expeditionary Force had to be withdrawn once it became clear that internal opposition to the Bolsheviks had been defeated. In Britain a postwar boom failed to prove long-lasting and in May 1926 there was a General Strike, triggered by a crisis in the Mining Industry. The Great Depression followed in 1929 and by 1931 Britain was forced to abandon the Gold Standard. In large parts of the country and especially in the traditional industries there was widespread unemployment throughout the 1930s, symbolized by the Jarrow Crusade of 1936. Conditions were much worse on the Continent and the interwar period witnessed the rise of the Dictators. The coming to power in Germany of Hitler in 1933 was to lead inexorably to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. In the years of increasingly uneasy peace between 1919 and September 1939 only eleven VCs were awarded and of these only one, the award to Captain G P Meynell in 1935, took place outside the period 1919-21. Of the eleven awards, five related to actions against the Bolsheviks, four to actions on the North-West Frontier of India and one to an an engagement in what is now Iraq. The remaining award was that in 1921 to the American Unknown Warrior. Of the Albert, Edward and Empire Gallantry Medals awarded in the same period, 142 recipients lived long enough for their awards to be converted to the GC. The geographical distribution of the actions that occasioned the awards is witness to the Global spread of the British Empire, which reached its widest extent after the First World War. However, some of the awards, for gallantry in India, Egypt and the Sudan, and Palestine, reflected both the stresses in maintaining that dominion and the duties it entailed. After service personnel and policemen, coal miners formed the largest group of recipients, demonstrating the central importance of coal to the British economy and the dangers inherent in securing it. Those who worked in coal and gold mines in India and Africa were also honoured. Both in the mines and in industry as a whole, the threat posed by poisonous gases led to many awards. New industries brought new hazards with them. Other dangers overcome were of a more basic sort. Awards were also made to those who, throughout the Empire, confronted mad elephants, rabid dogs and marauding sharks.
On Friday, 17th May, 1929, at about 4.30 p.m., a telephone message was received at the office of the South Garesfield Colliery, Durham, that Richard Lowes, one of the Colliery deputies, had been injured during blasting operations. Robert Glendenning, an over-man, 55 years of age, who was in the office, at once set off down the pit and, collecting two lads, James Sidney Purvis and John Thomas Baker, at the bottom of the shaft, and a tram and stretcher, went in search of Lowes. They were joined by two hewers, John Kenny and Samuel Hughff. Meanwhile, five other men had been trying to rescue Lowes. Four of them were overcome by carbon monoxide gas, while the fifth managed to crawl out just in time. It was on meeting this man some quarter of a mile from the scene of the accident that Glendenning realised the serious nature of the occurrence. He hurriedly organised his party and, by repeated efforts, they succeeded in extricating the five men who had been gassed. They were fortunately able to save the lives of two but the other three were found to be dead. The rescue party took such precautions as were possible at the time but first Kenny and then Hughff were rendered unconscious. After they had, with difficulty, been removed from the danger area Glendenning sent Purvis for further help and continued the rescue work with the assistance of Baker. Baker was next overcome, and Glendenning was also affected by the fumes, but he continued his efforts until, when further help had arrived, he was able to bring out the last of the victims of the accident. He then collapsed and had to be carried out from the pit. For an hour, during the whole of which time the atmosphere was thick with smoke and carbon monoxide gas, Glendenning showed great courage and resource and displayed high qualities of organisation in directing the rescue operations. He himself and Baker, Hughff, Kenny and Purvis under his leadership, knowingly and repeatedly risked their lives in determined and sustained efforts to save the lives of their fellows, and there is no doubt that, but for their courageous action the death toll would have been heavier than it was.