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Wartime hero who saved historic building with sandbag held in his teeth honoured

A man who saved one of Wales’ most historic buildings from an incendiary bomb by holding a sandbag between his teeth and climbing to the roof has been honoured on his 100th birthday.

Ronald Brignall, who was 16 years old when he saved Cardiff’s City Hall from destruction during a German air raid in the Second World War, has been praised for his efforts by Cardiff Council.

On February 2 1941, the young man carried a 12lb (5.4kg) sandbag clamped between his teeth with another under his arm while he scaled a 25 foot (7.6 metre) drainpipe to douse the flames on the roof.

Mr Brignall was cheered on by the official fire-watchers as he climbed back up the pipe with a fire hose – also gripped in his teeth – to finish putting out the fire.

He had been walking home from college, where he was studying for his plumbing qualifications when the air raid sirens started, and he saw an incendiary bomb land on the roof of City Hall.

Speaking to a local paper at the time, Mr Brignall’s only comment was that his jaw was sore from carrying the sandbag and that he had ruined his suit.

Ian Brignall and Sue Whelan sit with their father Ronald Brignall before the presentation
Ian Brignall and Sue Whelan sit with their father Ronald Brignall before the presentation (Aaron Chown/PA)

Speaking today, he said: “I was only a teenager, and I didn’t have any fear.

“I just wanted to make sure the bomb didn’t do any damage to City Hall.”

Determined to make more of a contribution to the war effort, he later became an official fire-watcher, helping to protect Cardiff, and in 1944, he joined the RAF and became a rear-gunner on Whitley and Halifax bombers, featuring in Operation Varsity, the crossing of the Rhine by the Allies, in 1945.

The Lord Mayor of Cardiff, Bablin Molik, travelled to the care home in Sussex where Mr Brignall now lives to present him with a special certificate thanking him for his heroism and recording the events of that day in 1941 for posterity.

A newspaper cutting of Mr Brignall's exploits
A newspaper cutting of Mr Brignall’s exploits (Family handout/PA)

Mr Brignall’s son Ian said: “He’s always been a modest man and rarely talked about his war record.

“We only knew of his heroics in Cardiff on that day because he’d kept some newspaper cuttings from the time.

“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.”

Ms Molik said she was delighted to be able to present Mr Brignall with his belated honour.

She 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.”