THE story of Charity Bick, the West Bromwich girl who became the youngest ever George Medal recipient following her efforts during an air raid on her home town, is one of which all of West Bromwich is justifiably proud.
Charity was the girl who, having lied about her age so that she could become a dispatch rider in the early days of the Second World War, performed so heroically on the night of West Bromwich's worst air raids. She was awarded the George Medal, despite being injured after falling through a ceiling while tackling a blaze.
She was, and remains, the youngest ever recipient of that award, and was immortalised in an oil painting which hangs at the Imperial War Museum. But to one Bugle reader, the nationally recognised wartime heroine will always be the girl next door.
Elsie Cartwright of Stourbridge grew up in the same part of the town as Charity, and though she lost touch with her for many years, met up with her again after they had both retired.
"As a girl, I lived in Dora Road, and Charity lived in Maud Road; her garden came up to the bottom of ours so I knew her well, though she was a couple of years younger than me.
"In 1987, someone put a letter in a local paper asking where Charity was, and I wrote back to say that I'd known her from years ago. Then, I got a phone call from Charity, who by then was living in Scotland. She told me she remembered my mother giving her my bicycle when we moved!
"In 1996 my husband George and I went up to see her in Scotland. She was a character! The sad part was she eventually sold her medal to buy herself some heating."
Charity Bick had earned that medal as a bicycle dispatch rider attached to the ARP Wardens' Post at Sams Lane. Her father William Bick was a warden on duty at the time of an alarm which went up on the night of November 19/20, 1940.
Incendiary bombs began to rain down on the town and Charity, despite her tender years (she was 14, but had pretended to be 16 so that she could become a messenger) helped her father to put some of them out with the aid of a stirrup pump and a bucket of water.
While they were thus engaged, they saw a bomb land on top of a nearby shop. They left their equipment with other blaze tacklers and headed for the building in question. They went up to the bedroom to find that the incendiary had crashed through the roof and was now lodged in the roof space, burning against a wooden joist.
Armed with a bucket of water and a pump given to them by the owner of the shop, they climbed into the loft. But having not been used in years, this pump wouldn't work, so the Bicks had to cup their hands and literally throw water at the blaze until it was finally put out.
But their problems weren't over. As they tried to make their way back down from into the bedroom, Mr Bick put his foot through the ceiling and Charity fell straight through into the room beneath. She landed awkwardly, half across a bed, but she sustained only minor injuries and shock. Once the incendiaries had been dropped and the targets lit up, a second wave of bombers dropped high explosives over West Bromwich. Not only were several targets already hit in Mr Bick's area, all the telephone lines from the control room (in West Bromwich Town Hall) to the wardens' posts had been knocked out by one of the explosions.
One bomb completely destroyed three houses right opposite Mr Bick's station, Post B13, and Charity, still reeling from her fall, set off to take a message to the Town Hall control room asking for assistance. She borrowed a bike but such was the intensity of the bombing by now that she had to get off it five times and lie flat in the gutter as explosions rang out around her.
With the phones dead and every available pair of hands turned to digging out survivors and putting out fires, Charity was the only means by which any messages could be passed between the site of the explosions and the control room, and she found herself having to make the same journey a total of three times while the bombs continued to whistle down around her.
She then made a further journey to Mayers Green, where there was a reserve control room. By now there were four large fires raging in different parts of the town, and she had to pass very close to all of them before she got her message to its destination.
After the third raid, according to Major D.V. Henderson's account in his book Fashioned Into a Bow, Charity "stayed at the post for the remainder of the night in physical pain, limping very badly at the end. Except when she was actually cycling on her duties she carried out, calmly and efficiently, tasks which release for other duties, wardens who would otherwise have been unavailable. On June 17, 1941, she went to Buckingham Palace where she was invested with her George Medal by HM The King – the youngest female up to date to receive it."
In 1943 Charity joined the Women's Auxiliary Air Force and moved to Wiltshire. She left the force in the late 60s to work for the Department of Health and Social Security moving to Morayshire in Scotland, where she remained after she retired. She died in 2002 at the age of 77.