THE AUXILIARY FIRE SERVICE - preparations and into action.
 
                                                    As the Government prepared for what appeared to be inevitable conflict and that such conflict would almost certainly
                                                    involve the use of bombing from the air, each Fire Authority was required to form an Auxiliary Fire Service, under the
                                                    direction of the local Chief Fire Officer, but whose role was solely to prepare for the eventuality of war and for dealing with
                                                    fires that would follow an air raid. In London the vast London Fire Brigade, covering the County Council area, had a well
                                                    recruited and trained AFS. The LCC had provided vans and towing vehicles and many AFS  men had attended peace-time or
                                                    pre-blitz fires. The outbreak of war saw the requisitioning of 2,000 London taxis as Auxiliary Towing Vehicles (ATV's) often
                                                    together with drivers who by their training were later invaluable at finding routes through bomb damaged areas. Another
                                                    advantage of the LFB was it's infrastructure with command arrangments and experienced commanders.   Recruitment began
                                                    in January 1938 recruiting 28,000 auxiliaries for the London Fire Brigade who only had 2,500 officers and firemen at the
                                                    time. Since most young men had joined the armed forces the AFS had to rely on those too old or young for military service.
                                                    They also setup 360 additional fire stations which were opened in garages, bus stations, schools and other suitable locations,
                                                    some local communities had a local fire station for the first time. There were two types of auxiliary: unpaid part-timers, who
                                                    did their normal jobs and worked as fire fighters when they could and when they were needed; and those who, in the event
                                                    of war, would give up their jobs and become full-time, paid fire fighters. Auxiliary Firemen had to be British subjects of good character, mentally and physically fit, and between the ages of 20 and 50 on enrolment. The AFS was originally an all volunteer organisation and its creation received a mixed reception among the more professional firemen. Some brigades accepted the AFS, willingley trained and took them to real fires to gain experience. At the other extreme some were given only the help legislation demanded and were kept toatlly divorced from the peace-time brigades. On the 1st September 1939 the Home Office sent out a telegram to all fire authorities requiring them to activate their plan and call out the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS). A shortage of AFS uniforms meant that many worked in Postman's uniforms.
By this time there had been a re-organisation of fire cover and the number of brigades reduced from 1,450 to a more manageable 578. After the hectic work of activation, as with the other civil defence services, there was a long period of anti-climax.  The fire services experienced some problems with morale, recruitment and retention.
As part of the build up to war, the recruitment of messenger boys formed a part of the strengthening of the AFS. Officially these boys were aged 16 - 18 years, but it is a fact that many of these lied about their age and some were as young as 15.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Its public image was of firemen being military service dodgers and a wasted workforce. This was hard for them to bear. The public perception was soon changed as the bombing began. The public saw just how brave these people were and how hard their task was. Now they were public heroes. Prime Minister Winston Churchill later referred to them as 'heroes with grimy faces'. The Daily Express referred to the AFS badge as 'a badge of honour'. There is no doubt that the fire service did an excellent job during the blitz on London and else where in the country. For 90% of the auxiliary firemen the blitz was their first experience of fire fighting.
The aerial 'Blitz' started when explosive and incendiary bombs first fell on south-east England in May 1940, by August, incendiaries had caused huge fires in Thameside fuel tank farms in  Essex. Local firefighting units were soon overwhelmed, the first wartime fire service convoys from an unaffected area, in this case London, were despatched to Essex to reinforce the firefighting effort. The first targeted air raid on Central London took place on the 7th September 1940 and marked the beginning of the 'Blitz' when London was bombed for 57 nights.
The intensive blitz on the square mile of the City of London on 29th December 1940 was unparalleled in the entire world history of fires. Not even Rotterdam, on 10th May 1940, had burned to such an extent, although much of the City of London could have been saved had the lessons of Rotterdam been learned. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to use. The Thames, the canals, the emergency supplies - all were there and nearly all were mishandled or forgotten. For 2 hours the Guildhall burned without a drop of water upon it.
Firemen without water are like soldiers without arms, throughout the night there was no proper or adequate Operations Centre, no map-reading, no central and infallible command of the water-supply section of the service; no swift harnessing of Thames and canals and rivers and lakes; there was simply a little room at some nearby station off Fleet Street where two tired men ordered the crews to addresses telephoned through or conveyed by wardens and policemen or even the firemen themselves.
The City of London blitz was on a colossal scale; the magnificent heroism of the London fire-fighters, regulars and auxiliaries alike, was a worthy tribute to their love of their country and their undying faith in the cause for which they were fighting. On that eve of New Year's Eve on the 29th December 1940 the enemy made his most furious effort to fire the City of London. Within the square mile of the City there was no residential quarter, and during the week-end the City was deserted by the hundreds of thousands who pour in during the week to the banks, insurance companies, the Stock Exchange, the Wool Exchange, the law offices, commercial offices, the London offices and branch warehouses of the textile houses and business organisations of every type.
On that Sunday, sleepy caretakers and a few persons alone were left in the City, with an odd family here and there. Many who should have known better had left no caretaker or keys behind and had added this insult to firemen to the injury to themselves and the state of non-provision of fire-watchers for their premises. By December 29th (the 114th night of the Blitz on London) 1,500 fires were burning, from 100,000 bombs dropped.
It proved to be the most carefully calculated and the fiercest attempt at fire-raising on a mass scale that has ever burnt the pages of history. THE AFS BECAME A NATIONAL ORGANISATION, AND WAS TO BE THE KEY FACTOR IN FIGHTING THE BLITZ.
LONDON - the heart of the fire service of Great Britain.
 
The area covered by the London Fire Brigade covered the entire London County Area, an extent of 117 square miles. Within peace-time it had 59 land stations and 3 river service stations, but the wartime expansion into the London Fire Service, which included the Auxiliary Fire Service, brought the numbers of personnel up from less than 2000 peace-time regular firemen to over 20,000 total mixed strength; while the number of fire stations, with emergency stations attached to every peace-time fire station, increased to nearly 400, including new training centres, annexes and supplementary river stations and water units. Within the same county area there were nearly 35,000 hydrants and nearly 2000 fire alarms.
 
The London Fire Brigade was administered from the Headquarters on the Albert Embankment at Lambeth on the south bank of the river, an imposing red-brick building rising 8 floors, covering many acres and with every facility and device for intensive training.
The brigade was organised in two divisions, which are subdivided into six districts. The divisions were in the Northern and Southern Divisions - north and south of the River Thames, respectively - and the districts denoted by the letters A, B and C (North Division) and D, E, and F (Southern Division).
London's regular fire service personnel were standardised in comparison to the rest of the country, men were brought back from retirement to add to the numbers and those due to retire at the beginning of the war were later ordered back under the Police and Fireman's (War Service) Act, 1939 (2 & 3 Geo. 6. ch. 103), to remain at their posts for the duration of the war.
Most of the rank and file, both in London and the provinces, were ex-naval ratings or army privates and men of a similar type who were of the 'old school' and had served 10, 15 and 20 years in the brigade, they were tough, robust, well trained and well disciplined.
Heroes
Grimy
Faces

 

With

 

 

 

Home
Memorial
Group
Gallery
Fire Forces
Appliances
Men's Service
Canadian Corps
Women's Service
Home Front Fire
Contact & Links
THE NATIONAL FIRE SERVICE - born in the stress of war.
 
                                     To overcome some of the earlier problems the fire service was again re-organised into the National Fire Service (NFS) bringing
                                                 together the 16,000-plus fire brigades within the country. This force came into existence on the 18th August 1941 and all
                                                 brigade and AFS personnel were transferred into it. The service was responsible, through regions, to the Home Office directly
                                                 which meant that the chain of command was much simpler and the standardisation of training and equipment could be quickly
                                                 effected.
                                                  
                                                  In a 60 day period beginning September 1st, 1941, London reported:
                                                                                                 
                                                  16,276 small fires (1 pump)
                                                  1,314 medium fires (2 - 10 pumps)
                                                  110 serious fires (11 - 30 pumps)
                                                  14 conflagrations (30+ pumps)
 
A return to attacks on London soon began to test the new NFS and it's procedures. Then followed more provincial raids, but after the 1941 invasion of Russia there were rarely air raids on the UK on the scale of those of the 1940 and early 1941 blitzes. Yet there could be no certainty that they would not come again so the new organisation was quickly developed. Manpower was found to meet the increased needs and centralised control, standard procedures, ranks, equipment and training soon followed. The early years of the NFS were in many ways the best. The organisation was enthusiastic to achieve it's aim; funds were made available and many improvements followed in the service, training and equipment. Sufficient enemy activity together with inevitable conventional fire incidents kept the NFS busy, but from it's formation the service was never stretched to the extent that it's predecessors in the AFS had been nor to the extent that it was designed to cope with. As enemy action tailed off the NFS found itself with too big an organisation for it's role. Spare manpower was used to carry out productive war work and some men were released for the armed services who were by then suffering from a manpower crisis.   At its peak in 1943 the NFS in London alone comprised 50,000 personnel, with a total of  370,000 personnel, including 80,000 women, elsewhere in the country. Shortly before D-Day a long expected threat materialised. Hitler's revenge weapons, initially V-1 pilotless plane began to be launched towards London. The blast effects caused relatively few fires but the NFS became instead more closely involved with the Civil Defence organisation in rescue work. When peace in Europe was finally announced on 8th May 1945, 327 men & women of the London region of the NFS had been killed in action and over 3,000 injured. Of the final total of 875 operational fire stations within the London area, 662 were damaged at some time or other during the years of the war by fire, bombing or blast. Including the V-1 flying-bomb and V-2 rocket incidents, over 50,000 emergency calls had been attended by London's fire  crews. Those who had served in the firefighting services of this country could feel justly proud of the contribution they had made in home defence, which at times had equalled the dangers and rigours of soldiers in the front line.
 
britishpathe.com/record.php?id=82936
World War 2 Fire Services Living History
Crewed by members of the Fire Service Preservation Group

 

"Enthusiasm!     Courage!     Endurance!       They are not enough.
To these admirable qualities must be added knowledge and experience, if an efficient auxiliary fire-fighter is to be made.
Technical knowledge is fundamental if we are to be in a position to conduct a successful fire defence of London - knowledge which will enable us to make the best use of our material - knowledge of our organisation which will ensure that our appliances and personnel are mobilised just where they are wanted in the shortest possible time.
There is a science and an art of fire-fighting. Most of the science can be learnt at a fire station, but the art can only be learnt at fires. As a seaman is made by going to sea,  so a fireman can be made only by attending fires - year after year, as many of them as possible.
The Auxiliary Fire Service is no "paper" force. Its members have enrolled in what must surely be one of the most practical and exacting of A.R.P. jobs -  a vitally important branch of home defence".
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Commander A. Firebrace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
  In March 1944 volunteers from the NFS were invited to join a newly
  formed Contingent to be part of the invasion of France on D-Day.
  Those who volunteered went before selection boards and all had to
  undergo strict tests and medical examinations.
  If  accepted they underwent specialised firefighting training , fitness
  work-outs and long route marches. They practised getting pumps
  on and off  landing craft - sometimes 'under fire'. Five columns were   
  formed and were ready for operation in time for the 6th June -  ready
  to cross the channel to assist the armed forces by putting out fires as
  troops advanced.  Each Column had a Headquarters and 5 Companies.
  Each Company had a Headquarters and 2 Sections each consisting of 6
  pumps plus support vehicles. One Column was formed in each of
  Regions 4, 5, 6, 7 and 12 and the Column would be designated by that
  Region number with Companies designated A, B, C, D and E. Sections
  within each Company were lettered X and Y.
  On the 25th January 1945, on the coldest night for 80 years, No.4
  Column was sent into action, sailing from Tilbury to Ostend. They
  were sent, not to assist the British forces who were being protected by
  the Army Fire Service, but to assist the American Army.  The Column
  Headquarters and one other company went to Namur,  two companies
  to Liege, one to Verdun and one to Etain.
    

 

 

 

 


 

NATIONAL FIRE SERVICE No. FOUR OVERSEAS COLUMN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  Sean Vatcher - firephotos.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within a few hours of arriving at Verdun, the company was in action fighting a severe roof fire in a hotel being used by American troops. In the main, the
NFS units were with the Twelth (US) Army Group and the Quarter Master Corps, others were attached to the US Army Ordnance Corps. Primarily ration, fuel and ammunition dumps were the main risks protected.
It was not long before the whole of N0.4 Column was spread over Holland, France, Belgium and Luxembourg, on the 17th March 1945 the first NFS crews crossed over the Rhine into Germany. 
The column finally boarded  ships home on 15th July 1945. During their time within this theatre of war, personnel attended over 500 recorded large incidents, 120 pipe leaks and special services.
Copyright Website Design Sean Vatcher 2009 -  2014
All marked website images Sean Vatcher - firephotos.co.uk