Lt. Cmdr. Ernest Oliver Gidden (1910 - 1961)
OBE, GC, GM – wartime Naval officer/ bomb disposal specialist.
During the second World War, Ernest Gidden was a temporary Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. On 17th April 1941 an unexploded parachute mine dropped on Hungerford Bridge, during the Blitz of London. Some trains and many carriages were set on fire and the Charing Cross Hotel was burning in the background. Lieutenant Gidden was sent to defuse the bomb, which took him 6 hours. For this brave task he was awarded the George Cross.
Ernest Oliver Gidden was born in Hampstead on 15th March 1910, one of two twin boys. His father was a harness maker, living in Adelaide Road. He went to school at UCS in Hampstead, and joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant in 1940. He served in HMS Collingwood (Gosport) and HMS President (London), both shore establishments, and became an expert in bomb and mine disposal.
In the summer of 1940 he was called out to defuse a mine that had landed between two houses in Harlesden, London. For this he was awarded the George Medal. A few months later he married Mary Daniel in Gosport.
During an air raid in April 1941 a mine was dropped on Hungerford Bridge, London that failed to explode. Some trains and carriages were set on fire, as well as the Charing Cross Hotel (over the station). Both main line and underground trains had to be stopped and many buildings were evacuated, including the War Office. Lieutenant Gidden arrived at the bridge shortly after dawn and found the mine lying across the live electric rail, with the bomb fuse primer release mechanism face downwards. The bomb had first to be turned over before the fuse, which was a highly sensitive clockwork one that could be detonated by movement, could be tackled. At last he managed to turn the mine over, prised a lump of molten metal from the surface of the fuse and tried to insert a gag to stop the mechanism. The gag would not fit because of damage to the mine’s outer casing, and Lieutenant Gidden had to work at it with a hammer and chisel for 6 hours. This operation earned him the George Cross Medal of Honour for Civilian Bravery. His citation reads:
“The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the George Cross for great gallantry and undaunted devotion to duty to Temporary Lieutenant Ernest Oliver Gidden, G.M., R.N.V.R.”
He rose to command a mine clearance section and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander in 1942. Records show he was appointed to HMS Nile, Egypt at that time. In 1944 he was Staff Officer to the Commander in Chief, Mediterranean (HMS Byrsa), and took part in the clearance of mines from the Scheldt channel in Nov 1944. He returned to HMS President in London in 1945.
Gidden survived the war and returned to civilian life, living later at 2 Elsworthy Road. He died in 1981 and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, London, on the 23rd December 1961. He is commemorated on his family grave at Hampstead Parish Church. His medals were exhibited by his son Michael on the Antiques Roadshow in Feb 2003. The expert valued them at £16,000.
WW2: A day by day account – https://ww2days.com/
Find a Grave project – http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=8480093
Burgh House, Hampstead has an exhibition of the History of Hampstead; this includes war time information and an aerial photo of where bombs were dropped in Hampstead and the surrounding area
Westminster City Archives: Bomb Map of Hungerford Bridge.
Imperial War Museum archives – http://www.iwm.org.uk/visits/iwm-london
This page was last updated on November 28th, 2020.