War hero who saved Cardiff City Hall from bomb honoured on 100th birthday

Ronald Brignall is presented with a certificate of civilian heroism by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor Bablin Molik
Ronald Brignall is presented with a certificate of civilian heroism by the Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Councillor Bablin Molik - Aaron Chown/PA Wire

A 16-year-old who saved Cardiff City Hall from a Second World War bomb by shimmying up a drainpipe with a 12lb sandbag between his teeth is being honoured on his 100th birthday.

Ronald Brignall was walking home from college when he saved the building from a German incendiary bomb in February 1941 – but he was never officially recognised for the feat.

The centenarian never even shared his heroics with his family.

The munition had ignited the roof of the Edwardian baroque building in Wales’s capital, prompting Mr Brignall to leap into action as anti-aircraft fire and other incendiary bombs raged around him.

“I was only a teenager, and I didn’t have any fear,” he recalled. “I just wanted to make sure the bomb didn’t do any damage to City Hall.”

‘The job was all over in about 10 minutes’

Having witnessed the bomb strike the building, the then apprentice plumber picked up a sandbag in the crook of one arm and clutched another between his teeth before climbing up a 25ft drainpipe onto the burning roof.

Mr Brignall then came back down to collect a fire hose, which he also carried using his teeth and used to extinguish the flames as cheering fire watchers below supplied water with a stirrup pump.

“The job was all over in about 10 minutes,” he told the South Wales Echo at the time. “But I found my suit was ruined and that my jaw was aching a bit.”

Mr Brignall was lauded for his daring and courage in the local press.

“The roof appeared inaccessible except perhaps to a steeplejack or an expert in cat-climbing or to a young fellow who would be daunted by nothing,” the South Wales Echo’s The Stroller column wrote.

Mr Brignall went on to become an official fire-watcher in Cardiff before joining the RAF in 1944, with whom he served as a rear-gunner on Whitley and Halifax bombers during the Allied crossing of the Rhine in 1945.

But he was never given official recognition for his actions on the night of Feb 2, 1941, until Thursday.

“He’s always been a modest man and rarely talked about his war record,” said Ian Brignall, his son. “We only knew of his heroics in Cardiff on that day because he’d kept some newspaper cuttings.

The Stroller column in the South Wales Echo which reported Ronald Brignall's efforts to save Cardiff City Hall
The Stroller column in the South Wales Echo which reported Ronald Brignall's efforts to save Cardiff City Hall

“When I asked dad about it and asked, ‘why haven’t you mentioned this in the past’, he said, ‘well, it just never seemed relevant’,” Mr Brignall said.

“It’s one of those things, maybe if the conversation had come up about City Hall over the years he would have said something.

“Maybe he thought that it was the past so, ‘do I need to say anything?’. It’s often said about people who fought in the war that they don’t always talk about it.”

The family asked Cardiff City Hall for any further information and that set in train the events that led to Mr Brignall finally receiving recognition for his acts.

Civic chiefs had wanted to hold a reception in Cardiff to mark the occasion, but Mr Brignall’s age means the journey would have been too arduous.

Instead, the Lord Mayor is coming to his party at the care home, and three RAF personnel will also be in attendance.

‘A perfect present on his birthday’

After the war ended, Mr Brignall became a draughtsman and mechanical engineer and raised two children, Ian and Susan, with his late wife Betty, who died in 2006.

Mr Brignall moved from Cardiff to Sussex in 2021 to be closer to his children.

The Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Cllr Bablin Molik, will present Mr Brignall with a certificate thanking him for his heroism.

“His actions, completed while other incendiary bombs and anti-aircraft gunfire splinters were falling around him, were hailed by those who stood watching, and demonstrated the highest level of civilian bravery,” the certificate reads.

“Mr Brignall, on the occasion of your 100th birthday, the people of Cardiff thank you for your outstanding heroism, salute your courage on that day and commemorate it with the award of this special certificate.”

Cllr Molik said: “The best part of my work as Lord Mayor is meeting remarkable people and Mr Brignall is a great example of those who have so much civic pride in Cardiff.

“I know this is a rather belated honour but it is no less heartfelt and I assured Mr Brignall and his family that the whole of Cardiff expresses its gratitude for the heroics he performed on that day in 1941.”

Ian Brignall added: “Dad’s a little frail now, as you’d expect from someone who is 100, but I know he is thrilled to have this recognition and the certificate from the council.

“It’s a perfect present on his birthday.”

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