Auxilliary Fire Service - Qualified Fireman
In April 1941 I had my 17th birthday and I
became a full-blown fireman, for which I was given
the proper fireman's uniform, and the usual fireman's axe which I was
very proud of. This was just in time for
the next blitz which was in May 1941.
I spent a goodly part of that time down on
London Bridge - because the water was running short
in the mains, we had to dangle a big hose thing over the side, pump
water up from the bridge, and then along
a series of hoses to the next pump so that they could get water to
wherever the fires were. Apart from standing by and making sure the
Thames didn't run dry, it entailed
trotting along the hose every few minutes just to make sure all the
connections were OK and nothing else was
Auxilliary Fire Service Fireman's Axe
One night when there was a raid on I was
upstairs in the fire station chatting, when the Station Officer came
"Quick! Come with me!" - so I
followed him outside. Right opposite the Salvage Corps Station
there's a small Wren church. "Quick, I've seen a fire bomb land
on the roof - come with me!".
The doors of these churches for obvious reasons
were always open at that time, so we went in,
found our way upstairs and out on to the roof. An incendiary bomb
was smouldering away on the lead roof.
"Right, you keep it under control and I'll
go and get us a bucket of sand!"
So he disappeared downstairs, pulling the door
closed behind him. Moments later I heard 'the
bells go down' [Fire Brigade talk -
Tommy Trinder appeared in a film entitled "The Bells Go Down"]
which meant the Station had been
called out, and of course he disappeared up the road with the fire
appliances, leaving me on the church roof. I decided
I'd better go down and get the bucket of sand, but I found that the
door was one where you could only open it from the inside unless you
had a key, which of course I didn't
So I was stuck up there with an air raid going on, and this thing smouldering away, and me chopping bits of lead off so that the fire didn't spread until eventually - must've been a good hour and a half later - the appliances came back. I was shouting "Oy!
Oy! Oy!" but nobody took any notice, so I did the only thing I could do - I threw my axe over the top. They heard that clink on the road, and the Station Officer suddenly realised there was somebody up there, me! He came up with profuse apologies and a bucket of sand, but by that time it was too late because the fire was already out. Not all that fun being up on the roof during an air raid with a burning fire bomb and no way down!
It quietened down after that, and we just had
an occasional raid with nothing much else happening.
They had a series of duty crews which went out, and during the rest
of my time with the AFS I spent a good
few nights down at the Yacht Club headquarters, which was down the
side by Cannon Street Railway Station - and the reason for a pump
being stationed there was mainly that it would be right on the job if
we ever needed extra water again.
Auxilliary Fire Service Fireman's Helmet
St Paul's Cathedral
We also spent one night on duty at St Paul's
Choir School; and for several nights I was on the
Duty Crew at St Paul's itself, where we used to put the pump out on
the side of the cathedral and spend the
night inside, sleeping in the Crypt. We had to make sure we knew
exactly where was where in the Cathedral which entailed, amongst
other things, going up into all the
walkways which run between the bit you can see inside of the dome and
the outside of the dome. There are walkways all over the place. We
used to go up there and get lost regularly, which didn't matter so
much because there were all these telephone extensions, and you'd
just pick one up, tell them what number you were on, and they sent
somebody up to fetch you.
Mind you it wasn't a very cheap method of fire
watching because we used to get embroiled in card games with the
Sextons, and they were the biggest cheats you can imagine!
But we couldn't do much about it. One of the things we did do was get
right up, not only inside the cross, but
up where the ball is on the top which is the highest point you can
get. And from there, St Paul's, I could see fires burning over as far
as Barking. I don't think all that many people have been up that far,
apart from the people who actually work in the Cathedral.
At the end of 1942 I had to resign. I was told
I was about to be called up and was instructed
to retire from the Fire Service, and to attend the Air Training Corps
which had a place in llford. So I duly
went there, but I don't know why I bothered because I learnt
precisely nothing I didn't already know. Then March 1943 I was told
to report to Lord’s Cricket Ground.
An interesting newspaper article at this link: