Obituary: Harry Errington

George Cross fireman hero of the London blitz

Harry Errington, who has died aged 94, was awarded the George Cross in 1941 for rescuing two colleagues from the burning basement of a building that had taken a direct hit during the London blitz.

Harry, a master tailor, was a volunteer fireman with the Auxiliary Fire Service. Just before midnight on September 17 1940, together with other AFS men, he was in the basement of a three-storey garage in Soho used as a private air raid shelter and rest area for the fire services. A bomb hit and all three floors collapsed, killing some 20 people, including six firemen.

Thrown across the basement by the blast, Harry came to his senses to find fierce fires around him. As he dashed for the emergency exit, he heard the cries of a fellow fireman trapped beneath debris. Harry could have kept going and summoned help when he got outside, but he didn't; he turned round and went back.

Wrapping a blanket around his head and shoulders for protection against the heat and flames, Harry made his way to where the man was trapped and started to dig him out of the rubble with his bare hands. He then dragged the injured man up the narrow staircase, out into a courtyard, and then to an adjoining street. Despite bad burns to his hands (which he admitted caused him concern because they threatened his livelihood), he went back down into the basement to rescue a second man pinned against a wall by a heavy radiator. Harry freed him and carried him to safety.

All three suffered serious burns, but after medical treatment recovered enough to return to duty some months later. Neither of those men Harry rescued, or their families, forgot that night and they kept in touch with him over the years.

For his courageous and selfless act Harry was awarded the George Cross in August 1941. Only three such awards were made to fireman during the second world war; Harry was the only London fireman so honoured. He received his GC from King George VI at an investiture in October 1942.

Harry Errington was born in Soho, one of four children of Soloman and Bella Ehregott, who had emigrated from Lublin, Poland, in 1908, anglicising their surname shortly before his birth. After attending Westminster free school, Harry won a trade scholarship to train as an engraver, but Bella decided that his health would be adversely affected by exposure to the nitric acid used in engraving, and he went to work for his uncle's tailoring business as a trainee cutter.

Errington and Whyte eventually moved to premises in Savile Row. Harry remained with the family firm until 1992, when he retired as a director. He was honorary treasurer of the VC & GC Association for 12 years and a committee member for over 30. He attended his last gathering in May 2003, in Westminster Abbey, when the Queen unveiled the Victoria Cross and George Cross Memorial.

He maintained his connections with the fire services, and was always a welcome visitor to his local station in Soho, where he was given a 90th birthday party in 2000. He was especially proud that the Fire Services College at Moreton-in-the-Marsh named a road after him.

His great interest was basketball. He coached the team from Regent Street Polytechnic, one of the most successful in the English amateur game in the years after the war. He was also involved in managing the basketball during the London Olympics of 1948, and travelled far and wide to promote the sport.

He became vice-chairman of the UK Amateur Basketball Association and, later, a life vice-president. He remained committed to the sport and, not long before his death, enjoyed having the English Basketball Federation's newsletter read to him.

Harry was a gentleman, self-contained - you did not take liberties with him. He was dignified without being pompous, modest, but with a proper sense of his worth. He had great charm and could be very funny.

· Harry Errington, GC, fireman, born August 20 1910; died December 15 2004

Diana Condell

The GuardianTramp

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