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15-year-old Norwich boy, John Grix, awarded the British Empire Medal after WW2

PUBLISHED: 15:49 25 April 2017 | UPDATED: 15:57 25 April 2017

King George VI talking to young award-winning Norwich hero John Grix (centre):

King George VI talking to young award-winning Norwich hero John Grix (centre): "I understand you are 15". On his right is despatch rider Peter Flo Lomax. Photo from Archant Library.

Archant

As the skies rained bombs over Norwich 75 years ago this week one young men, who had fibbed about his age, was becoming a hero.

Bonds Store from Ber Street. June 28, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.Bonds Store from Ber Street. June 28, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

His name was John Grix and at the height of the Baedeker Raids which caused death and destruction on a terrifying scale he was racing around the city on his cycle delivering vital messages.

Time and time again he was blown off his bike as the bombs dropped and the city exploded but he climbed back on and continued his work.

Once while lying on the ground, a garage exploded nearby sending cars into the air... this was the last week of April 1942 when the Luftwaffe set the city ablaze.

Many heroes emerged from the smoke and ruins but surely the youngest was the boy John, who told the authorities he was 16 so he could become a messenger when he was in fact 15.

Soldiers lent a hand to the N. F. S. in the biggest of the many fires they had to fight in the Norwich blitz. Pictured is Norwich shopping centre, Debenhams.  28 April 1942. Photo from Archant Library.Soldiers lent a hand to the N. F. S. in the biggest of the many fires they had to fight in the Norwich blitz. Pictured is Norwich shopping centre, Debenhams. 28 April 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

And when the Evening News told him, in September of 1942, that he was to receive the British Empire Medal for his “courage and determination” he asked, in a typical Norwich way: “Why?”

He was thought to be the youngest messenger in the land to have been awarded the BEM.

John was introduced to King George VI when he visited Norwich later in 1942 to see the ruins for himself and he said to him: “I understand you are only 15.”

The young messenger boy - who later lost a lung – just grinned.

Waterloo Road looking from Magpie Road junction. Dated: 28th April 1942. Photo from Archant Library.Waterloo Road looking from Magpie Road junction. Dated: 28th April 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

This forgotten hero was one of a family of five who lived on City Road, Norwich, and his grandfather was William Grix who ran a restaurant in the city.

John went to St Mark’s School at Lakenham – where Sidney Day who received the VC in the First World War for his extraordinary bravery was also a pupil - and then the Technical School.

He had applied to join the Civil Defence Messenger Service which did such fine work during the war. He told them he was older than he was and was proudly putting on his new uniform to see if it fitted on April 27 1942 – the first night of the Blitz.

“Come on Dad,” he shouted to his father who was in the Home Guard and he cycled to his report centre as the bombs fell.

Oak Street bomb damage. April 27, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.Oak Street bomb damage. April 27, 1942. Photo from Archant Library.

Again and again he jumped off his bike as high explosives and incendiaries whistled past him. Acid from a burning factory scorched his hand but he carried on, not bothering to tell anyone he had been hurt.

Through the night he passed important messages to fire fighters and come daylight he helped the rescuers trying to find bodies and survivors in the ruins.

John slept at the report centre and after one night of peace the bombers were back and once again John was on his bike. This time his journey from home to the centre was more heavily bombed and he was blown off his bike on five occasions.

Once again he worked through the night and into the day – making sure the messages got through.

Civil defence messenger service, Angel Road School, Norwich. Date: 1943. Picture: SuppliedCivil defence messenger service, Angel Road School, Norwich. Date: 1943. Picture: Supplied

News of his deeds and award made headlines across the world and he was also honoured by the Australian authorities.

John couldn’t serve his country in the armed services because of the injuries he received while out on his bike in the blitz and he later lost a lung.

He went on to work at Laurence Scott & Electromotors most of

his life although for a time he and his brother ran Lings hardware shop in White Lion Street, Norwich.

John and his wife had two sons, Stephen and Ian. He died in 1990 at the age of just 63.

Ten years ago his son Stephen told me: “He was a very quiet man. He never spoke much about what had happened to him. Just said he ‘did his bit.’”

He certainly did.

Surely the time has come to remember and honour John Grix... the boy on a bike.


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