The incredible story of Yorkshire's bravest woman

An appeal has gone out to trace the remaining relatives of the only woman ever to be awarded the George Cross in peacetime.

By The Newsroom
Wednesday, 4th October 2017, 11:36 am
Updated Wednesday, 4th October 2017, 3:13 pm

The charity Memorial Mob are planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the death of Barbara Jane Harrison, who was given the gallantry award posthumously for her heroic actions during a fatal plane fire at Heathrow Airport in 1968.

The air stewardess, who was born in Bradford and grew up in both Scarborough and Doncaster, sacrificed her own life to remain with passengers trapped on the stricken British Overseas Airways Corporation aircraft she was working on.

The Memorial Mob wish to trace any remaining relatives of Barbara, who was only 22 and unmarried when she died.

Barbara attended Scarborough Girls' High School until 1961, when she moved with her family to Doncaster and completed her final year of education at the town's girls' high school.

She worked as a nanny in both Switzerland and San Francisco before joining BOAC as cabin crew when she was 21 and moving to London to live with other stewardesses. She was assigned to the airline's long-haul Boeing 707 fleet.

On April 8, 1968, was was working the London Heathrow-Sydney flight, having requested it so she could attend a wedding in Australia. Her friends also believed she had begun a romance with a Qantas Airlines pilot.

Soon after take-off, one of the plane's engines caught fire and fell from the port wing. The pilot managed to land the aircraft, but fire soon spread to the fuselage and cabin crew began evacuating passengers. Barbara was stationed above an escape chute, and as the fire raged, she pushed passengers down the slide until the exit became blocked with smoke.

She then led the remaining passengers towards the rear of the aircraft, where those on the ground witnessed 'flames and smoke licking around her face' as she continued to desperately push people out of the plane.

She was seen preparing to jump herself, but at the last moment and returned back to help passengers still trapped on the plane, including a disabled Israeli woman. Soon after there was an explosion and she was not seen again.

Her body was later found in the wreckage, alongside that of the disabled woman, Esther Cohen; a widow named Mary Smith; a young Australian teacher called Catherine Shearer and an eight-year-old girl, Jacqueline Cooper, who had been emigrating to Perth with her parents and brothers.

Barbara is buried in Fulford Cemetery, near York. In 1969, the president of the Board of Trade wrote to the prime minister, Harold Wilson, recommending the crew of the doomed flight for gallantry awards. The Queen awarded Barbara the George Cross, and it was collected by her father, Alan.

Only four women in history have ever received the medal, three of them Special Operations Executive agents who served in occupied France during World War Two. Barbara is the youngest of the group and the only one to be awarded the honour in peacetime.

Her mother died during her childhood and she had an elder sister, Susan, who was born in 1941.

If you believe you are related to Barbara, contact Iain Henderson from The Memorial Mob at [email protected]