David Powlett-Jones, a teacher in Bamfylde School became a hero when he risked his life
to save two Indian boys from a fire.
It was twenty minutes after midnight and Towser's long, spine-chilling howls
made me jump out of the armchair. I shouted, 'What is it, Towser? What's up?'
The dog stopped howling and began to whine. I felt my own flesh crawl as my
senses grappled with various possibilities. A ghost? Boys, perhaps out on the
prowl? That was more likely. I reached the door in three strides and flung it
The stench and unmistakable sounds that greeted me were more frightening
than any ghost. Something was burning! Leaping down the stone stairs, with the
terrified dog at my heels, I tore open the heavy door of the passage, grabbed the
bell and swung it. Seconds later I was half-way up the stairs leading to the
dormitories. A stream of boys collided with me, some in their dressing gowns,
some in their pyjamas, all pouring down the steps in a flood so that I had to grab
the iron rail to prevent myself being carried away with the rush. I managed to
grab Dobson somewhere in the middle of the bunch, and bellowed, 'Junior dorm
... boys beyond? Are they all out?'
Dobson shouted back, 'Yes, sir! Think so! Ridgeway was there counting them
' and then Dobson was swept away. Ridgeway, the duty prefect appeared just
above me bawling, 'Steady, there! .... Take it easy! The stairs can't burn ... !'
I fought my way up. I grabbed Ridgeway by the shoulders and shouted,
'Counted' the juniors? They're all out?' Ridgeway replied, 'Counted eighteen, sir!
That's the lot in there, but the annexe ...! The two Kassavas sleep in there! I'm
almost sure they didn't pass me!' At once I said, 'Go down and line 'em up and
send someone over to the head's house to phone the brigade.'
'Yes, sir,' and Ridgeway was gone, leaving me alone on the stairs. The smoke
was thickening and the glow beyond it spreading. What obsessed me now was
the safety of the two Kassava brothers. I thought, with a sickening fatality, 'They
probably don't even know the geography of the building!' Clapping a handkerchief to my face, I dashed into the disordered senior dormitory. But here, I was
checked. The adjacent junior dormitory was blazing end to end. I could not go on
but I was terribly unwilling to leave. I stood there, dithering a moment. Then
somebody coughed at my elbow and in the light of the flames I saw Boyer, who
gasped, 'They're out on the roof, sir! Ridgeway's shouting to them to move along
.... Better go, sir ... before the floor caves in!'
When I was at the quadrangle, I saw Ridgeway pointing to the roof. I could see
two small figures, peering down and right below them some senior boys were
carrying a tarpaulin. I realized that the Kassava brothers would never jump; they
had to be pushed. So, I grabbed Boyer by the arm, saying, 'The rope in the gym ...
the one with the hook ... we'll have to get it!'
We ran across the quadrangle, elbowing boys out of the way and in ninety seconds were back with the rope. I said, 'I could make it from the window. There's
all that creeper and the drainpipe. Keep that tarpaulin team in position.' Then I
ran to the window. I lifted one foot and wedged it into a clutch of creeper, then
hoisted myself up another foot or two, with the rope around my neck. The
drainpipe was rusty under my palms but the creeper seemed tough. At last I was
on the roof. I managed to secure the hook under a window ledge. Now I had to
persuade the boys to trust themselves to the rope. I addressed the elder Kassava.
'It's the rope from the gym, strong enough to support a horse. Can you shin down
it? If you slip, there's a tarpaulin to catch you.' Kassava's voice seemed steady
enough as he said, 'I'll do it, sir ... but the kid ....'
He was right, of course. The younger Kassava, only a boy of eleven, was rigid
with terror. Nothing would induce him to go over the edge of the gutter. I made
up my mind on the spot. 'We'll have to lower him .... Explain what he has to do
... he'll take it better from you.' Above the roar of the flames, I could hear the
elder Kassava repeating, 'It'll be all right, Jimmy .... Do what sir says .... Just do
what he says.' Between us, we managed to slip the loop over the child's shoulders
and tighten it round his waist. However, the boy clung to the gutter with both
hands and refused to move. I did not know what to do but at that moment, I saw
the bigger boy's right hand move, just once and very swiftly, up and then down.
Then, he lifted his brother and lowered him down.
There was no time to peer down to see that the boy had made a safe landing.
Showers of sparks shot from the windows and smoke was thickening. I might not
have realized I was alone up on the roof had not the roar from the crowd
announced the plucky elder Kassava's arrival thirty feet below. I tested the
anchorage of the rope before I climbed down. After what seemed like ages, I
reached almost the ground and felt myself half-lifted and carried away. The next
thing I knew was that I was sharing a sofa with the elder Kassava. He was
grinning and rubbing the knuckles of his right hand. I asked, 'Where's your
brother, Kassava?' He replied, almost apologetically, 'He's still unconscious, sir. I
had to do it.' He looked up, grinned again and held up his bruised knuckles for
Sometime passed after the incident. One day I received a wrapped package
bearing a New Delhi postmark. Inside was a slim, very elegant pen, inscribed
with my initials and a card that read, 'In deepest appreciation', from S.E. Kassava, M.D. (Edin.), F.R.C.S.