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Labourer saves man stuck in steel tube at Hackney Wick Stadium

Year 1938

Read by David Swain – Supporter, Royal Humane Society

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Kent, Ernest William, Labourer, Hackney Wick Stadium, London.

Boring operations for the erection of a totalizator in the Hackney Wick Stadium at Hackney, were in progress, and steel tubes of 14 1/2 inch internal diameter were being sunk in connection with the foundation piles.

At 3 a.m. on 25th October, 1938, an obstruction took place in one of these tubes, which had been sunk 18 feet into the ground. Baker who was in charge of the gang, descended feet first on the winch cable to try and clear the tube, and when about 12 feet down was heard to be gasping for breath. The winch was reversed and Baker was hauled up to within 4 feet of the top, when he released his hold and fell to the bottom of the tube in an upright position, with his arms about his head.

Kent, in spite of being warned of the gas he would encounter, at once volunteered to go down. Had his feet tied to the winch cable and was lowered head first into the tube, with instructions to keep talking all the way down. On hearing Kent also gasping for breath, the winch was reversed and he was hauled up quickly in a semi-conscious state and bleeding from the mouth. First aid was rendered to him and, on the arrival of the fire brigade and ambulance, an oxygen bottle, partly opened, was lowered down the tube close to Baker’s mouth in the hope of dispersing the gas and keeping the man alive until rescued.

Attempts were then made to dig out the tube, and after unscrewing the top section (3 1/2 feet) it was realized that it would take too long to save Baker by this means. As the gas should have been partly dispersed by now, it was decided to send another man down. Kent though not fully recovered, again volunteered, but Davlin was sent first. His shoulders caught in an obstruction in the tube when he too, had been lowered head first into the tube, and he had therefore to be hauled up again.

Though there were numerous volunteers to go down the tube, no one was small enough to do so. Kent, fully realizing the risk he would incur, was again lowered into the tube head first, caught Baker’s wrists, was again heard gasping for breath, and calling “Quick, quick”, was hauled up and managed to retain his hold of the man’s wrists, until others were able to get hold of Baker’s arms and take the weight. Kent then collapsed (and was again bleeding from the mouth), but was quickly restored with oxygen and removed to hospital.

All attempts to restore Baker failed, due to the tube being full of gas, as, in spite of a partly-opened oxygen cylinder, it only contained 3.1% of oxygen instead of the usual 21%.

A Silver Medal was awarded to Ernest William Kent, and a Vellum Testimonial to Frank Davlin.

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