Although Police Constable George Stephen Funnell (1868 - 1900) was seriously injured when he raced into a blazing pub to rescue a barmaid on 22nd December 1899.
Despite receiving appalling injuries, he managed to cling to life for over a week, and he didn't actually die until the 2nd of January 1900..
His memorial plaque carries the inscription, "George Stephen Funnell, Police Constable, Dec 22 1899, In A Fire At The Elephant And Castle, Wick Road, Hackney Wick, After Rescuing Two Lives, Went Back Into The Flames, Saving A Barmaid, At The Risk Of His Own Life."
On 24th December 1899 Reynold's Newspaper carried a brief mention of the conflagration, albeit it spelt his name as Tunnel:-
"Shortly after one on Friday morning, the Elephant and Castle, 304, Wick Road, Hackney, occupied by Mr J. Fowler, was destroyed by a fire, the source of which has not been traced.
G. Tunnell, thirty-four, and Jane Fowler, thirty-eight, were very severely burned, and were taken to an infirmary, whilst Alice Maryon, twenty, sustained less serious injuries from the flames."
Sadly, the injuries that Constable Funnell had received proved fatal and he died on 2nd of January 1900.
His inquest was held on Thursday 4th January 1900 and, the next day, The Evening Standard carried a full report on the proceedings:-
"Dr. Wynn Westcott, Coroner, held an inquest at Hackney. yesterday, concerning the death of George Stephen Funnell, aged 33 years, a Metropolitan police-constable, 261-J, lately stationed at Victoria-Park, who was fatally burned while endeavouring to save life at a fire which occurred at the Elephant and Castle Public-house. 302, Wick-road, Victoria Park.
Alice Marrion, a barmaid. stated that she retired to bed about 12.35 on the morning of the 22d inst., when all appeared safe.
About an hour later she was aroused by a knocking at the front door, and then found the house was on fire.
She awoke the landlady, the other barmaid, and the potman, and they all succeeded in making their escape.
The fire appeared to hare originated in the office behind the counter.
Police-constable Baker, 322-J, stated that on being admitted by the potman, he, the deceased, and the potman had endeavoured to extinguish the fire, but were beaten back by the flames.
Deceased apparently had entered too far, and became overpowered by the smoke.
When rescued by Witness and some other comrades, he was so badly burned and suffering from the effects of the smoke that he died in the Hackney Infirmary on Tuesday last.
Police-sergeant Danzey, 20-J, stated that when Funnell was found to be missing he and Police-constables Reed, Weaver, and Baker made a search for him, and found him unconscious in the bar parlour.
With considerable difficulty and danger to themselves they succeeded in dragging him out.
Police-constable Reed was still on the sick list as a result of his endeavours to save his comrade.
The Jury returned a verdict of "Accidental Death", and expressed their admiration of the conduct of all the police officers concerned and their sympathy with the widow."
At the time of George Funnell's demise, the Second Boer War was being fought in South Africa, and several newspapers were quick to compare the constable's heroism with the courage being displayed by the soldiers fighting in the conflict.
On 6th January 1900, The Western Times carried the following report:-
"Whilst many deeds of heroism are being done nearly every day in the fierce struggle in South Africa, there are also things being done at home and in our midst which deserve not to be left unnoticed.
There are civilian as well as military heroes, who lay down their lives for others.
The late Police Constable George Stephen Funnell (261-J) was one of these.
He was not killed in battle; it was only a fire in a public-house in Hackney, and he went in to rescue the occupants. "He got over the counter and went towards the spot where the fire was fiercest, " was the evidence.
Ho rescued the landlady and one of the barmaids, and then went back for the other, but appears to have been overcome by the smoke, and subsequently died in hospital from the burns he suffered.
The name of George Stephen Funnel! (261-J) well deserves to be written on the roll of heroes."
However, several newspapers began to question the paltriness of the pension that had been awarded to his widow, Jane; and a public subscription fund was duly launched to raise further money with which to support her and their two children.
The Globe was one of the newspapers that encouraged reader to give generously to the bereaved woman in its issue of the 29th January 1900:-
"Some time ago we referred to the great gallantry of Constable George Stephen Funnell, who, after rescuing two lives from a burning house, re-entered it to save a third, and thereby lost his own.
He leaves a widow, who receives a pension of £15 a year and £2 10s. for each of her two little boys until they reach fifteen.
That is a miserable pittance indeed, and an appeal is made for public help.
Subscriptions may be sent to Mr. A. R. Cluer, Worship-street Police-court, or to Mr. H. Seymour Trower, 9, Bryanston-square, W."
The courage displayed by PC Funnell's colleagues at the fire was remembered in March 1900, when they were each awarded bronze medals by the Society For The Protection Of Life From Fire.
The Illustrated Police News carried a report on the swards on 31st March 1900:-
"At North London Police Court, five policemen who took part in saving life at a fire at the Elephant and Castle public-house at Hackney Wick, in December last, were called before Mr. E. G. Fordham to receive bronze medals awarded them by the Society For The Protection Of Life From Fire.
The men were drawn up in the solicitors' box, and the Magistrate, addressing them, said:-
"The facts of the case are that at a quarter to one on the morning of December 22, Sergeant Danyie arrived on the scene of the fire, and was followed by Constables Weavers, Reeves, Elrich, Baker, and Funnell.
They entered the house, and all were driven hack by fire, smoke, and heat, with the exception of Funnell.
He managed to get through to three women who were in the burning house, and those three women, whom he was no doubt the means of saving, are very grateful.
All of you behaved very courageously, for when you found that your fellow constable (Funnell) did not come out you went in search of him, and found the poor fellow insensible in the burning mass.
You got him out, and, very sad to relate, he succumbed to his injuries on January 2 of this year. He laid down his life for those three women, who were, so far as I know, absolute strangers to him.
He has gone, and left behind him a memory which anyone would be proud to have. He died the death of a thoroughly brave and sincere man. And it is satisfactory to know that, through the efforts of this society and others, his widow and children are very fairly provided for.
You, as I have said, behaved very well indeed; you behaved as Englishmen almost always do, and certainly should do."
Chief Inspector Waters, of the J Division, said these presentations would be appreciated throughout the force, and by none more than the policemen now in South Africa, and who might bring back with them medals for heroism on the battlefield."