George Wylie, a bomb disposal worker who saved St. Paul's Cathedral from an unexploded German bomb during World War II and received Britain's highest civilian medal for his heroism, has died. He was 77.
The Scottish-born Wylie was one of the first three recipients of the George Cross, Britain's highest civilian decoration for bravery during time of war. Wylie spotted the one-ton bomb 27 feet below Dean's Yard adjoining the 18th-Century cathedral after a heavy night of German bombing on Sept. 12, 1940.
A team in which Wylie played the leading role spent three days digging it out, despite burning gas from a main fractured by the bombing. The bomb was blown up at Hackney Marshes on the outskirts of the city, where it left a crater 100 feet wide.
Wylie, an auto worker in peacetime, rarely spoke of the medal after the war and few of his friends knew of his heroism until he sold his cross in 1984. He said he sold it for family reasons and because he said the Britain of the 1980s, with daily muggings of women and elderly people, was far different from the heroic Britain of the 1940s.
He added in disgust that the value of the annual pension of 100 pounds (worth $448 in 1940) that went with the medal had been whittled away under inflation to the equivalent of about 17 pounds (worth $23 dollars in 1984).
The merchant bank Charterhouse Japhet bought the medal for $16,200 and donated it to the cathedral, where it is on display.