The NAV Bedenham Explosion
Thirteen people were killed and more than 50 admitted to hospital when the 1,192-tons naval armament vessel Bedenham laden with 500 tons of depth charges and high explosive shells blew up at Gun Wharf on the 27 April 1951. The dead included Julius Abudarham, Bartolome Delgado Marin, Laureano Escriba Rodriguez, Sub Officer George Henderson, Dockyard Fire Brigade, Chief Fire Officer Albert Indoe, Dockyard Fire Brigade, John Lane, Francisco Martin Amador, Juan Moreno Serrano, Joseph Moss, Carlos Muiño Postigo, Leopold Perez, Florencio Ruiz and Joseph Zammit. A number of Firemen were injured on that day they were; Fireman-mechanic Alfred McGrail (City Fire Brigade) who had his left arm amputated, Fireman-driver Benny Ryan, suffered lacerations, Firemen Alfred Ochello, had both legs broken, Austin Wilding, lacerations and Albert Castro, lacerations and bruising. It was estimated that damage to property exceeded £300,000 (approximately £6,000,000 million) in today’s money.
The Crew Escapes
The Bedenham had arrived from UK on the 24 April and was scheduled to sail to Malta on the 1 May with the rest of it’s cargo. None of her crew was injured by the explosion.
According to eyewitness reports ammunition was being passed from the Bedenham to a lighter (storage vessel) alongside. A small explosion in the lighter started a fire. The Dockyard Fire Brigade was quickly in attendance, but by this time the fire had spread to the Bedenham which within four minutes blew up with terrific force. The blast blew the bows of Bedenham onto the wharf, where they damaged a crane. The remains of the hull listed and sank, and a shower of red-hot plating and shell splinters fell within a radius of 3 Km. The City Fire Brigade under Chief Fire Officer, Keith Hoare and firefighters from the Armed Services were quickly on the scene. They afforded fire cover and also sent the wounded to a naval sick bay a short distance from the wharf. Hundreds of people were treated at hospitals for lacerations and bruises, the telephone service was collapsed and because of the condition of buildings the firing of the sunset gun was suspended.
A Second Fire
On Sunday 29 April there was a fire onboard the RAF vessel Prestol. The Dockyard Fire Brigade under ACFO Barnes and the City Fire Brigade speedily quelled the outbreak, which was in clothing, bedding and wood-work. The CFB afforded cover until the next day. General Sir Kenneth Anderson, Governor, Rear-Admiral Lord Ashbourne, the Spanish consular body, the Mayor and Corporation attended the funerals of the victims. The Dockyard and City Fire Brigades rendered full Service honours at the internment of CFO Indoe and Sub Officer Henderson.
The George Cross Citation
Sub-officer Henderson was in charge of the first fire appliance sent to fight an ammunition fire in a lighter alongside Bedenham. In spite of the great heat and intensity of the fire which, he must have realised, was virtually out of control and would cause a violent explosion of ammunition at any moment,Sub-officer Henderson managed, single-handed, to direct a jet of water into the lighter from a position on board Bedenham, immediately alongside and above the blazing lighter. Bedenham had by this time been abandoned but Sub-officer Henderson remained at his place of duty alone, doing what he could to prevent the explosion although he must have known his chance of survival was slight. He was killed when the ammunition blew up. Sub-officer Henderson displayed courage of the highest order in the face of almost certain death.
Other awards presented in connection with the disaster are:
The King’s Police and Fire Services Medal
Chief Fire Officer Alexander Indoe of the Dockyard Fire Brigade.
The George Medal
Mr Juan Manuel Cruz, chargehand, Mr James Keen, naval armament supply officer, and Constable Michael Orfila, Gibraltar Police.
The British Empire Medal
Mr Anthony Ballantine, assistant surgery attendant HM Dockyard, and Mr Vicente Pisarello, foreman garrison workshops.
The King’s Commendation
Mr Alfred Banda, ambulance driver, Mr David Stewart Hutcheon, first-class master of yard craft, Mr Cecil Neville Knowles, chargeman of skilled labourers, Fireman-driver Alfred McGrail, City Fire Brigade, and Mr Francis John Parody, surgery attendant.
The above extracts courtesy of Fire magazine page 8 June 1951, and page 138 January 1952 editions.
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