The ‘Woolwich Angels’.
Amanda and Gemini Donnelly Martin, a mother and daughter, comforted and prayed for Drummer Lee Rigby as he lay dying on the ground, his killers still armed and just a few feet away.
Ingrid Loyau-Kennett (below), the third of the “Woolwich Angels” to have emerged from this week’s terror attack as reluctant national heroes, walked over to the two men and spoke to them, so that they’d be distracted and wouldn’t harm anyone else. “You’re going to lose,” she told them. “It’s only you versus many”.
Most people react to extreme circumstances with what psychologists call “bystander apathy”, a natural reaction that puts self-preservation ahead of the inclination to help others. Others step up as heroes.
1. The men who stayed underground on 7/7.
On 7th July 2005, when explosives were detonated in the London Underground, hundreds of people fled the tube to safety. Timothy Coulson stayed behind. Hearing cries of pain, he smashed through the glass window of a carriage and climbed in to comfort the survivors. He found Alison Sayer, a young Australian office worker who was badly injuring and losing blood. For an hour he waited with her until rescuers arrived, then helped carry her body out of the wreckage. He saved her life.
Another person who fought the incredible compulsion to run up and out into the fresh air was Steve Desborough. Travelling four carriages behind the bombed second carriage, he was one of the first to evacuate the train, but as he was trained in first aid, stayed to help. Finding one trapped man writhing and crying in pain, he stroked his back to comfort him, and later cradled a young woman to help her breathe as doctors searched the rest of the carriage.
3. The man who didn’t just walk past.
Outside on the same day, Paul Dadge happened to walk past the immediate aftermath of the Edgware Road bombing. He immediately set about helping the bewildered injured passangers emerging from the mouth of the station. This image of him helping Davina Turrell - ‘the woman in the mask’ – became one of the defining images of the attack.
4. The man who helped as others rioted.
Walking home from work in early August 2011, Leslie Austin found himself in the midst of the violent riots that besieged London for three days. Spotting a distressed woman in her 70s, he took her and guided her home as fires raged and gangs tore up the streets. After that, he moved debris from the road to allow a bus driver who was being attacked to drive away. But Austin’s heroism didn’t stop there. Spotting a terrified woman clutching a baby in the window of a building as a torched car burned outside, he went in and escorted her to safety. Then he stayed on the smoke-filled street, knocking on doors to see if anyone else needed help.
5. And the woman who stood up to them in the street.
The riots produced many everyday heroes like Austin, but perhaps the best-known is Pauline Pearce, the ‘Heroine of Hackney’. Despite recovering from breast cancer and walking with a cane due to a slipped disc, the mother of four stood her ground in the middle of the riots to confront the youths tearing up her community.
“Why are you burning people’s shops that they have worked hard to build up?” she asked.
“And for what, just to say you are warring and a badman? This is about a man who was shot in Tottenham, this ain’t about busting up the place.
“We’re not gathering together to fight for a cause, we’re running down Foot Locker and thieving shoes, dirty thieves.”
Unbeknown to Pearce, her speech was being recorded by a journalist and would go on to be viewed over a million times on YouTube.
6. The fans at Hillsborough.
Steve Hart (front left) was just one of many fans who, after escaping the horrific crush that resulted in the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, stayed to try and save others pulled from the crowd. He and others carried the injured into the middle of the pitch, using advertising hoarding as stretchers, and tried to administer CPR.
7. The man who died saving a little girl’s life.
In 2012, Plamen Petkov, a Bulgarian immigrant, was taking a stroll along a crowded beach in West Wittering, West Susex. Moments later, he’d die a hero in one of the most selfless acts imaginable. After hearing a mother crying for someone to help her daughter, who had been dragged out to sea on an inflatable rubber ring, the 32 year old raced into the water ‘without a second thought’. He reached the little girl and held her above the waves, swimming her to safety before he was dragged under himself.
8. The pilot who didn’t press eject.
Red Arrow pilot Jon Egging was supposed to be delighting the crowd at the Bournemouth Air Festival in 2011. Instead he ended up sacrificing his own life to save them. After his plane malfunctioned and began to fall, the 33 year old Afghanistan veteran refused to eject knowing the plane could crash into the crowds or residential areas below. He stayed put, directing the plane into an empty field.