LOOKING BACK: Tribute to courageous teenager

Peggy Harland was awarded the Girl Guide movement's Victoria Cross for bravery
Peggy Harland was awarded the Girl Guide movement's Victoria Cross for bravery

A roll of honour to members of the Girl Guide movement who lost their lives during the Second World War has been uncovered.

Archivist for Eastbourne Division Guides Pat Lambie sent in the roll of honour which names Peggy Harland, the Eastbourne teenager who died following a German bombing raid in Eastbourne town centre.

Peggy was awarded the Girl Guides Victoria Cross for bravery. The 17-year-old was having tea with her friend Myrtle Wilkinson at 69 Cavendish Place when a bomb dropped.

Myrtle (32) was killed but Peggy, having dropped into the cellar, was trapped by a steel girder on her ankles. Here she lay for 36 hours until Dr Roy Barron, the First Air Commander, and surgeon Dr Laurence Snowball from Princess Alice Hospital, reached her but found it impossible to extract her and had no alternative but to amputate her legs.

The situation was acute with another bomb which had dropped but not exploded lying 200 yards away and the water mains had burst so pumping operations had to be put in place by the Fire Brigade.

Throughout all this Peggy was remarkable despite great pain and stress, the initial darkness and sense of despair. She remained a very brave young lady obviously stemming from her service in the 1st Stone Cross Company of the Girl Guides.

One of the doctors tending her at the time told an Eastbourne Gazette reporter, “She had more pluck than any person I have ever known”.

Peggy was eventually rescued and was taken to Princess Alice Hospital where it was found she had also suffered a broken back.

Despite a great fight for life, she died on the morning of September 30 and is buried in St Mary’s Churchyard, Westham.

On her headstone the insignia of the Girl Guides Gold Cross for Fortitude, the highest award to the Guides for Gallantry, is featured.

In 1941 Peggy was recommended for the award by Dame Alice Godman, the County Commissioner for Sussex, and in June 1941 the awards committee put forward a request that it be awarded posthumously.

The citation reads, “Gallantry in face of danger and great suffering before her death after an air raid”.

On top of the medal with its green ribbon are the immortal words For Gallantry and is thought of as the Guides’ Victoria Cross.

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