Blue plaque for Exeter School hero

Former Exeter pupil, Andrea Angel, has been awarded a blue plaque for giving his life to save others in a disastrous munitions accident in the First World War

Exeter School has unveiled a blue plaque dedicated to a former pupil who gave his life to save others, in one of the largest home front disasters of the First World War.

Andrea Angel was chief chemist at a factory given over to the production of explosives in Silvertown, London. On 19 January 1917, when fire broke out in the room where the TNT was processed, Angel began evacuating staff from the building before returning to try to extinguish the blaze.

Despite his efforts, 50 tons of TNT ignited, leaving Angel among the 73 fatalities in a blast that was heard up to 100 miles away. More than 400 people were injured.

A report – not made public until the 1950s – concluded that the TNT had been stored in unsafe containers, too close to the plant, in a precarious production process.

Angel was posthumously given the Edward Medal, awarded to honour acts of bravery by industrial workers in factory accidents and disasters.

The cover of the Sunday Mirror from 28 January 1917, featuring images from Angel’s funeral

After leaving Exeter School, Angel had graduated from Christ Church, Oxford, with a first in chemistry in 1899, eventually lecturing and running the laboratory at his alma mater. His hopes of joining the army having been dashed by the need for his skills in munitions manufacture, he joined the Brunner Mond Company (today known as Tata Chemicals Europe) in 1915.

“Andreas was a true civilian hero in a time of war,” said Duncan Rabagliati, a relative of Angel, as the school honoured its alumnus. “We are humbled by the plaque, thoughtfully placed on the science building.

“It will be a permanent reminder to future generations. It’s clear he has rightfully made a lasting impression on the Exeter School pupils of today.”

Alice Holohan, director of development and alumni relations, said: “The school is very pleased to recognise Andrea Angel’s bravery in this way. I was delighted that the plaque was movingly unveiled at OE Day in front of so many alumni and friends of the school.”

Newspaper image: Imperial War Museum

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