Scarborough schoolgirl honoured in new book

The heroism of a former Scarborough schoolgirl who died rescuing passengers from a burning aircraft has been recognised in the latest Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

(Barbara) Jane Harrison, who went to Newby County Primary and Scarborough Girls' High School between 1955 and 1961, was awarded the George Cross posthumously for her bravery. She is only the fourth woman to receive the award, the highest civilian honour, and its only peacetime recipient.

The Oxford Dictionary reports that she first became a children's nanny in Switzerland and San Francisco before joining BOAC - the British Overseas Airways Corporation - as a cabin attendant.

On April 8 1968, the Boeing 707 from Heathrow to Sydney, carrying 115 passengers, was just a minute into its flight when one of its engines exploded.

As the pilot tried to make an emergency landing, the plane banked over Surrey where the engine fell off into a gravel pit. Already on fire as it hit the runway, the aircraft then began to explode along its fuselage. Jane Harrison and her two colleagues were at the rear and as they tried to get the passengers out the plane's escape chute became twisted.

Left alone while they tried to untangle it, Jane managed to get five people out before the chute was destroyed. She continued to help people to jump out, and when the BOAC staff thought the plane had been cleared, they also left. But Jane Harrison ran back to save four who'd been missed, including an elderly disabled woman and an eight-year old girl. All five perished.

Jane Harrison's funeral was held in York and she was buried in the city's cemetery at Fulford.

Recommending her for the George Cross, the Board of Trade praised her "very great courage and self-sacrifice", calling her actions "lonely and courageous and a devotion to duty worthy of the highest civilian award for gallantry."

Jane Harrison's selfless sacrifice is remembered in a number of ways throughout the country. St Laurence's Church in Scalby has a plaque in her memory, while St George's chapel at Heathrow Airport and Bradford City Hall both have memorial windows.

The Barbara Harrison Prize is awarded by the Department of Aviation Medicine at London's King's College to the best student on a Diploma in Aviation medicine whose first language is not English, while her George Cross is on show at the British Airways Museum as part of an exhibition dedicated to her life.

The Oxford DNB is published in print (63 million words in 60 volumes) and online www.oxforddnb.com. The online Oxford DNB is updated in January, May, and October each year. The Dictionary is a research project of the University of Oxford, published and funded by Oxford University Press.