Two RAF Air Cadets from 2200 (Oldham) Squadron received awards from royalty for their brave actions on the night of the Manchester Arena bombing, the day after the first anniversary of the tragedy.
On Monday 22nd May 2017, Cadet Warrant Officer Zak Warburton and Cadet Sergeant Georgia Blakeney, both aged 18 at the time, where working as event first aiders at an Ariana Grande concert, when a terrorist detonated a bomb in the foyer area of the Manchester Arena.
CWO Warburton was on the scene immediately after the explosion, having been stood a few meters away from the foyer at the time. Without thought for his own safety, Zak entered the danger zone to attend to the many causalities who lay dead or dying. It was not known at the time whether there was a secondary device or not, but despite this Zak helped to triage the injured – providing basic lifesaving treatment including applying tourniquets and advising the walking wounded how to control their wounds, as well as guiding them to safety. Sadly many people, including some children, lay beyond help. Zak provided comfort to their relatives and covering up their loved ones who had sadly not survived. CWO Warburton commented, “It was so hard, having to tell parents that their child had died and that there’s nothing you can do to help. It goes against everything that we train to do.”
Zak was then asked to go an assist Sgt Blakeney, who at this point, had been sent to the Arena First Aid room and was working there alone. During these critical minutes after the explosion, Georgia treated numerous casualties with injuries ranging from severe shock/anxiety attacks to limb amputations and shrapnel wounds. On arrival at the first aid room, Georgia cared for an elderly gentleman who had been stood on the outskirts of the foyer when the explosion went off; his ear had been amputated by the force of the explosion and the wound was bleeding heavily.
Supported by Zak on his arrival, together they provided reassurance to the male whilst applying pressure to the haemorrhage, the male was drifting in and out of consciousness so they kept him talking & treated him for shock. He was close to death, but they did not give up. His grandson, who was traumatised by the incident and deeply distressed by witnessing his grandad’s critical condition, was also with him – they kept him calm, reassuring him that his grandad was being cared for.
At this point, several other people had presented at the first aid room. Zak & Georgia prioritised them and utilised ShowSec staff & passers-by to assist with treating casualties, providing them with advice on how to care for the injured. Amongst these casualties were Arena Staff with shrapnel wounds, one female with a suspected broken ankle and a male with a severe laceration on his neck.
Once the first paramedics arrived at the first aid room, sometime after the explosion, Georgia directed them to the most critical patient (the elderly male) and continued to assist them with providing treatment until the patients were taken away. Zak & Georgia assisted the paramedics by taking observations (pulse, blood pressures, etc) and assisting them to use their equipment. There where finally allowed to leave the Arena at around 1am, once all the casualties had been taken by ambulance crews.
Both Zak & Georgia have been praised by their employer as well as Paramedics for the care they provided, who stated that without their intervention the elderly male with an arterial bleed from his ear certainly would not have survived. They were also honoured to meet HRH The Prince of Wales who met with responders in the aftermath of the event. His Royal Highness was pleased to hear about their actions and that they were both RAF Air Cadets.
Officer Commanding 2200 Squadron, Flying Officer Joe Lord, who nominated both cadets for their awards, said: “I am extremely proud of both Zak & Georgia. Having taught them both First Aid, it fills me with great pride to see them use their skills under such pressure. I have no doubt that the care they provided to the injured not only saved lives but also provided a great deal of support to those affected by this incident.”
“One of the main aims of the RAF Air Cadets is to provide training that will be useful in life, and Zak & Georgia certainly proved its value on that night.”
The presentation took place at the Royal Humane Society’s Annual Court at London’s Haberdasher’s Hall on 23rd May 2018, which was founded in 1774 and honours human bravery in the saving of life. A variety of awards are made depending on the bravery involved. They were presented with the Royal Humane Society “Testimonial on Vellum”, which is awarded where someone has put themselves in considerable danger to save, or attempt to save life. They received their national awards from the Society’s President, HRH Princess Alexandra, who personally praised & thanked them after the ceremony for what they had done.
Both Cadets completed their first aid training with the Air Training Corps, completing both the St John’s Ambulance Youth & Activity First Aid Awards. CWO Warburton is now hoping to apply to become a Paramedic with the Ambulance Service & continue to save lives. Sgt Blakeney is currently at University, but is still working for Emergency Training UK and continues to provide first aid support at hundreds of national concerts & events.