Personal info

  • Name: John William Hesry SHEPHERD
  • D.O.B: 15th Dec, 1898
  • D.O.A: 16th Oct, 1929
  • D.O.D: 16th Mar, 1983
  • Award: Edward Medal translated to George Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Workman/Boiler Fireman, Palmer's Shipbuilding and Iron Company Ltd, Jarrow
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
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Sources & Acknowledgements



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 However, an Allied North Russia Expeditionary Force had to be withdrawn once it became clear that internal opposition to the Bolsheviks had been defeated.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.


 John Shepherd together with Hugh Black were detailed to clean a steam boiler at Palmer’s Shipbuilding and Iron Company Limited, Jarrow. On October 16th, 1929, Black entered the boiler and Shepherd was about to follow when he detected traces of gas. In reply to a call, he received only a faint reply from Black, and immediately climbed inside to go to his help. He found Black half conscious some twenty-five feet from the boiler manhole. He endeavoured to drag him to the opening but had to abandon the attempt as he was succumbing to the action of the gas. 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 round his comrade who was then unconscious. He collapsed, however, before being able to do so. Further assistance was procured. Compressed air was used to clear the gas out of the boiler, and eventually a rescue party wearing respirators succeeded in extricating both Black and Shepherd. Black unfortunately died a few hours later. Twice during the course of the rescue operation Shepherd put his life in grave danger in a brave attempt to save the life of his fellow workman. 

(The London Gazette of 14 February 1930, Numb. 33579, pp. 959-60)

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