Yorkshire air hostess who died in Heathrow plane fire to be honoured for her heroism

Barbara Jane Harrison was an ordinary girl from Bradford who became one of the bravest British women ever to have lived.

Bradford City Hall, where Barbara Harrison's blue plaque will be unveiled
Bradford City Hall, where Barbara Harrison's blue plaque will be unveiled

She was just 22 when she was killed in a plane fire on the tarmac of Heathrow Airport in 1968, while working as a flight attendant for British Airways' predecessor airline, BOAC.

Now, her heroic actions on that day - when she died at her post after refusing to abandon four passengers who could not escape - are to be remembered with a blue plaque which will be displayed on the wall of her childhood home.

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You can see inside the Victorian prison cells underneath Bradford City Hall after dark this HalloweenBarbara is the only woman to have received the George Cross for bravery during peacetime, and one of only four women who have ever been awarded the gallantry medal .The other three were SOE operatives who served in occupied France during World War Two.

Barbara Harrison was a BOAC air stewardess who died on duty

British Airways have sponsored Bradford Civic Society to commission the plaque, which will be unveiled in a ceremony at Bradford City Hall on October 29. It will then go on display at Kingsdale Crescent, off Bolton Road.

Who was Barbara Harrison?

Barbara was a peace baby, born in Bradford in May 1945, the month World War Two came to an end. She lived with her parents and older sister Susan at Kingsdale Crescent, and attended Greystones School. The family later moved to Scarborough, and she completed her O Levels at Scarborough Girls' High School. Her mother died in 1955, and in 1961 her father moved to Doncaster. She spent two terms in the sixth form at Doncaster High School for Girls before leaving in 1962.

Why this Georgian 'leech house' is the most blood-chilling building in BedaleShe worked in a bank for two years, and then took a job as a nanny in Switzerland to improve her French. She later moved to San Francisco for another nannying job, and while in the US applied to train as a flight attendant with BOAC. She joined the airline in 1966, and worked on the Boeing 707 fleet.

She moved to London and shared a flat with several other BOAC air hostesses who were based at Heathrow. She still did some nannying on the side - one of her clients was Sean Connery, whose son she babysat. She had also told friends that she was struggling with the exhaustion caused by working long-haul flights. In the 1960s the longest routes often had numerous stopovers.

On April 8, 1968, Barbara had asked to work Flight 712, from London Heathrow to Sydney. The plane would call at Zurich, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Mumbai, Singapore and Perth en route. She had wanted to be on board to attend a wedding in Australia.

The tragedy of Flight 712

The plane took off just before 4.30pm. Almost immediately, one of the engines caught fire and fell from the aircraft, leaving a fire where it has been attached. The pilots managed to make an emergency landing as the fire intensified and smoke began to fill the cabin.

Barbara was assigned to the rear door, where she and a male steward inflated the escape chute to begin the evacuation. The slide became twisted, and her colleague climbed down to straighten it. He was unable to return. Barbara began shepherding passengers out of the burning plane, pushing those who refused to jump. When flames overcame the tail section, she directed the remaining passengers to another exit while she stayed at her post to try and save an elderly disabled woman.

A witness on the ground saw her pushing people out even once the slide had burned away. One said they saw her preparing to jump herself before she turned back inside and disappeared.

Her body was later found in the wreckage, alongside that of the disabled woman, Israeli national Esther Cohen; a widow named Mary Smith; a young Australian teacher called Catherine Shearer and an eight-year-old girl, Jacqueline Cooper, who had been emigrating to Perth with her parents and brothers.

Barbara is buried in Fulford Cemetery, near York.

Fellow stewardess Anne Woods, who moved to Pateley Bridge in North Yorkshire after retirement, still remembers witnessing Barbara's final act of heroism.

These are some of Yorkshire's prettiest estate villages"She had plenty of opportunity to escape but did not feel right about leaving a wheelchair passenger and three others on board. The captain kept screaming at her to jump.

"It still upsets me even now."

George Cross

The citation for her George Cross praised her 'devotion to duty, in the highest traditions of her calling.' The medal was presented to her father in August 1969 and is now on display at the Speedbird Centre, a museum dedicated to the history of British Airways.

A memorial fund set up in her name raised enough money to buy a computer for the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery, for use in research into muscular dystrophy.

There is a plaque in the chapel at Heathrow and one on the wall of St Laurence's Church in Scalby, near Scarborough, but there has never been a permanent memorial in her birthplace of Bradford.