World War Two hero honoured with memorial plaque at L&Q home

Published on 11/10/2023

A plaque has been unveiled in Hackney in honour of Barnett Lewis, a Jewish Air Raid Precaution (APR) warden who rescued several people form a bombed building.

The event was attended by almost 50 people, including Senior Jewish Chaplain to HM Armed Forces, Chief Rabbi Reuben Livingstone, Deputy Lieutenant local politicians, civic dignitaries and members of the family. Speeches were given by Barnett’s daughters during the ceremony, which was followed by refreshments at the Old Fire station.

The permanent tribute was installed at Mr Lewis’ former home in Cottage Walk on Sunday 9 July 2022, a building owned by L&Q and formerly No.9 Brooke Road.

The plaque was installed by L&Q and funded by the Jewish American Society for Historic Preservation (JASHP), a non-profit, volunteer organisation that identifies and recognises sites of Jewish historical interest.

war heros family stood in front of the plaque honouring Barnett Lewis

Born in Stepney in 1912, Mr Lewis led an off-duty rescue in September 1940 after a high-explosive bomb fell on two public shelters containing over 60 people during the Blitz.

After the roof collapsed and water main burst, Mr Lewis’ prompt actions saved the lives of five men trapped in the shelter.

In recognition of his gallantry, Mr Lewis became one of the first people to receive the George Medal. His story came to light thanks to Mr Barnett’s family and the research of Jewish historian, Martin Sugarman.

Shelley Gilbert, Barnett’s daughter said:

“My father had to leave school at 14 to earn wages to support his family.  But with little education, he grew into a man with enormous common sense, energy, determination, positivity, enthusiasm, kindness and thoughtfulness.”

Soeb Pirbhai, Neighbourhood Housing Lead at L&Q said:

“It is a great pleasure to pay tribute to a local hero and the heritage of this neighbourhood. Lewis lived in this very property, so it seems fitting that it is now home to this memorial. We want to thank Mr Lewis’ family and JASHP for organising this event.”

Martin Sugarman, Archivist at the Association of Jewish Ex-Serviceman and Women of the UK (AJEX) and JASHP, said:

“All of us at JASHP and AJEX were delighted to be able to honour Barnett Lewis, a highly regarded member of our community. Barnett returned numerous times to the bombed and burning building at great personal risk. His bravery is inspiring, and this memorial is a lovely way to keep his name alive in the years to come.”

The George Medal is the second level civil decoration of the UK and Commonwealth and is presented to those performing acts of bravery in, or meriting recognition by, the UK. A medal citation appeared in the London Gazette the next day, followed by articles in the Jewish Chronicle, Barking Chronicle and Stratford Express.

Barnett was called to the army in 194, became an instructor with the Royal Fusiliers and Middlesex Regiments, and went on to receive a Defence and War medal for his services to the country.

Mr Lewis passed away in Bournemouth in 1998. His family described him as a kind man and someone who was practical and always willing to help others