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Blue plaque honours First World War hero who saved people from fire

PUBLISHED: 16:35 08 May 2019 | UPDATED: 09:34 09 May 2019

Tony Robson and John Norman, from The Ipswich Society, alongside James Goodwin, great nephew of Arthur Edwards, in front of the blue plaque dedicated to the Ipswich hero. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Tony Robson and John Norman, from The Ipswich Society, alongside James Goodwin, great nephew of Arthur Edwards, in front of the blue plaque dedicated to the Ipswich hero. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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An Ipswich hero who battled through raging fires to save workers trapped in a blaze during the First World War has been commemorated with a blue plaque in his home town.

A blue plaque has been placed above the O2 shop in Tavern Street to honour Arthur Edwards  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNA blue plaque has been placed above the O2 shop in Tavern Street to honour Arthur Edwards Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Arthur Edwards, who was born in Ipswich in 1884 and later worked at J&J Edwards department store in Tavern Street, earned his colours after he bravely entered an explosives store in 1916 to rescue those with injuries as 500 tonnes of TNT sporadically exploded around him.

Flanked by his four colleagues - Acting Sergeant Charles Harris GC, Lieutenant John Stebbings, Bombardier Bert Dugdale and Corporal Charles Ashley - Mr Edwards entered the store in Kent to carry out the daring rescue, pulling out injured workers and managing the ongoing fire to prevent further explosions.

A total of 112 men and boys died during the explosion, which is known as the most deadly in British ammunitions industry history.

However that number would have been higher without the bravery of Mr Edwards, who also inspired others to help out.

James Goodwin in front of the plaque dedicated to his great uncle, Arthur Edwards  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNJames Goodwin in front of the plaque dedicated to his great uncle, Arthur Edwards Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Two years later, Mr Edwards and his four friends received Edwards medals at Buckingham Palace, an award to recognise acts of bravery of miners and quarrymen in endangering their lives to rescue their fellow workers.

In the coming years Mr Edwards was also awarded with the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Meritorious Service Medal.

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However, in 1971, following a change to the Royal Warrant, his Edward Medal was upgraded to the George Cross, the second highest decoration for bravery in the UK.

Tony Robson, John Norman and James Goodwin in front of the blue plaque dedicated to Arthur Edwards  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTony Robson, John Norman and James Goodwin in front of the blue plaque dedicated to Arthur Edwards Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The George Cross has only been awarded 414 times in its history.

Now, 103 years on from his heroic act, a blue plaque has been unveiled on the side of the former building which housed J&J Edward, the store opened by Mr Edward's farther in 1900 where he later became director until it closed in 1968.

During the unveiling, Mr Edward's great nephew James Goodwin who lobbied for the plaque to be erected said: "I feel very proud. He was very warm hearted, kind, gentle type of person who probably thought nothing of it.

"I think a lot of people who are truly tough are often quiet and nice and they care about other human beings and I think that's what he was like.

"He would probably be shocked to know he was remembered at all. But, I'm from a different generation and I think we should celebrate him and what he did."

John Norman, chairman of the Ipswich Society, said: "It is important to commemorate Arthur because he is different to most.

"He's done two clearly different things for Ipswich. One is he ran a department store here and he, himself is also worthy of note because of his bravery during the First World War."

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