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Ex-fireman Barry Davison joins calls for a memorial to victims of The Crypt fire in Bench Street, Dover where six people and a firefighter perished

By Sam Lennon

A fireman freed from rubble from a falling roof dived back into danger to rescue trapped colleagues.

John Davison had been chest deep in debris in the Crypt Restaurant fire in Dover in1977.

But when he and other firemen were freed they battled on to help those still stuck inside.

John Davison was not seriously hurt but fellow fireman John Sharp was killed along with six women and children.

Now John's son, Barry Davison (pictured above) wants all who were there that night to be honoured with a memorial to both those who perished and survived.

John Davison had been struck with his colleagues when the roof collapsed, going right through the four storeys and falling on them in the ground floor.

Barry told Kentonline: "The firemen, with breathing apparatus, had gone into the centre of the building to fight the fire at its seat.

"The roof gave way and a larger girder came down, which crushed John Sharp, who was near my father, along with a lot of other crew members.

"John lost his life, others were severely injured and several were trapped after the fall of the debris.

"My father was lucky, he was only buried up to his chest but the rest were totally buried and had to be cut out and conveyed to hospital by ambulance.

"One fireman, Ian Radford, who was next to my father, managed get himself free. He then dug round dad and got him out.

"My father and the rest of the crew members went back in three times to carry out rescues with other crews to dig for other lads that were buried.

"They wouldn't leave the scene until everybody was brought out. My father refused to go to hospital until all the men were out of there."

Our newspaper group pictures at the time of the Crypte fire
Our newspaper group pictures at the time of the Crypte fire

Dover firemen had arrived first and already got the civilans out.

John Davison and his men were all Folkestone retained and with all remaining firemen, were ordered to finally snuff out the blaze and make sure all firemen were out.

Mr Davison, a sub-officer, was in charge of five men, leading fireman David Walters and firemen Malcolm Carollan, Roman Casinoboth corr , Michael Page and Mr Radford.

The two most injured survivors had been Mr Walters and full-time Folkestone fireman Jim Wraight.

At the time of the tragedy Barry Davison was a 14-year-old living with his family in Watkin Road, Folkestone.

He said: "That morning I woke up and my mother said: 'Dad's on a big fire in Dover and there have been a lot of people killed. I'm very worried.'

"Within the next 10 minutes the telephone rang and it was the station commander Fred Goodburn who said that dad had been involved in the collapse at the Crypt but he was all right.

"But when my father came home he was still in a state of shock for obvious reasons.

"Being the officer in charge of the retained section of Folkestone, he had to look after his men's welfare with Mr Goodburn.

"They pulled everyone together. In the first couple of shouts after the Crypt fire you could see they were very tired from the shock.

"But as time went by and fire calls kept coming in, they got back to normal.

"Dad did suffer nightmares for a little while but in those days post-traumatic stress disorder wasn't recognised.

"I think it was the most challenging jobs in his career because it was the whole of his crew involved.

"Everyone on the station was in one big family, one big brotherhood."

John Davison
John Davison

Barry at the time attended the then Wyndgate School at Park Farm Road, Folkestone.

Now 56 and married with grown-up children, he lives in Chalcroft Road, in the town's Golden Valley and is a tipper driver for Brett Aggregate at Lydd Quarry.

John Davison's full-time job was as an engine driver for British Rail.

He was a Folkestone retained firefighter from the late 1960s to the mid-1990s and died of cancer in his 60s in September 2005.

John Sharp was 31 when he died and had a wife and two children.

He was a full-time Folkestone fireman, based at the existing station in Park Farm Road, and lived in Canterbury.

He was posthumously awarded the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct.

Barry Davison is calling for a Crypt fire memorial beneath the Banksy mural at York Street.

He wants it at the anchor structure by the foot of the artwork.

The gap between buildngs at the Crypt restaurant site today. The land has never been used since
The gap between buildngs at the Crypt restaurant site today. The land has never been used since

He said: "I feel strongly about having one as this is about children's lives and one firemen died in efforts to save them.

"People should know what happened.

"The memorial would be in the area where there would be a lot of footfall and people could stop to read the inscription."

Barry is contacting the Fire Brigades Union to see if it can help. He is a member of the South East branch of the fire brigade history group the Fire Service Preservation Group.

He would like the opening ceremony for it to include 1977 fire vehicles and for present and past firefighters to be dressed in uniforms from that time.

Barry had been encouraged to tell his story after Kentonline last month interviewed one of the civilian survivors, Christine McCaughan, nee Clay, who was 14 at the time.

His call for a commemorative plaque follows those of Dover town councillors Graham Wanstall and Lesley-Ann Burke.

Cllr Wanstall's preference is to have a plaque in the subway just a few feet from the site.

He chairs the Crypt Group, which is campaigning for a memorial.

The Crypt restaurant in Bench Street in the 1960s
The Crypt restaurant in Bench Street in the 1960s

Its members also include Mr Sharps's widow Glenda and two firemen who were on the scene that night.

The Crypt building, in Bench Street, was made up of four storeys plus a basement.

It was all demolished after the fire and the site was never re-used, remaining a gap between the existing buildings ever since.

The site is next to the disused structure whose rear has the Banksy Brexit mural that was earmarked for demolition before the art appeared overnight in 2017.

The fire happened in the early hours of Sunday, March 27, 1977.

Ignition started at ground level and quickly spread to the upper floors through a number of voids.

It then spread laterally through the building's flats.

The alarm was raised at 2.49am by dog walker Peter Waters, who saw smoke coming from the restaurant.

The first fire engine arrived at 2.55am and a total 20 ended up at the scene, from Dover, Folkestone, St Margaret's-at-Cliffe, Whitfield and Deal.

By 4am nine people were carried out of the burning building by firemen, two confirmed dead.

Firemen had gone inside to confirm everyone was accounted for but while checking, part of the building collapsed, burying some of them.

The inquest found that the fire had been caused by an electrical fault.

Our newspaper group pictures at the time of the Crypt fire
Our newspaper group pictures at the time of the Crypt fire

The hearing was told that the blaze would not have happened if an electric mains switch in a downstairs bar had been turned off.

Six people died with John Sharp.

Three were victims of the same family, who lived upstairs in the building.

These were Marion Clay, 32, wife of licensee Alec, and two of their children, Shane Clay, six, and Charlotte Clay, 18 months.

A family friend who was there that night, Phyllis Conlon, 43, died in Buckland Hospital three days later and her grandaughter Janusia Ashton, five, had also perished.

Live-in nanny and restaurant worker Anita Lee, 19, was the seventh person killed.

The Crypt restaurant in the 1970s which has since been demolished
The Crypt restaurant in the 1970s which has since been demolished

Barry Davison had his own brush with death a decade after his father's at the Crypt.

He also became a firefighter and once a flashover threw him across the road in Folkestone in the late 1980s.

He explains: "We got called to a fire at Grace Hill at the Mandolin's fancy dress shop.

"Ours was the first appliance there.

"A flashover came out of the front door, which knocked me off my feet and sent me 15ft across the road into a chainlink fence.

"The two breathing apparatus wearers that were going to go into the building ended up on the floor, covered in glass and ended up in hospital."

Barry, continually a Folkestone retained firefighter, joined as a junior fireman in 1979, aged 16.

He became an operational retained firefigher in 1980 and left in 1999.

Another dangerous call out was the massive fire at the B&Q superstore in Charlton Green, Dover, on the evening of November 16, 1995.

A flashover caused a fireball to envelop the building and two out of five firefighters went temporarily missing inside.

They eventually appeared, with their uniforms smouldering.

All five were taken to hospital, one to the specialist burns unit at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead.

The site is now occupied by Morrisons.

Barry said: "I joined the fire service because it's in the family, it's in the blood. My grandad was a fireman during the Second World War in the Folkestone and Hawkinge area.

"My uncle was a senior divisional fire commander in Gravesend and he was the one who spurred my father on to to join the fire service and my father spurred me on."

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