October 28, 2009
World War II recruitment poster
From Daily Telegraph:
"When war was declared there were over 1,400 regular local fire brigades in the United Kingdom. To them were attached volunteers of the Auxiliary Fire Service which had been established in July 1938. The AFS was mobilised on 31st August 1939 and in the London region there were 32,000 AFS firemen and firewomen compared to 3,000 men of the regular brigades. The AFS had its baptism of fire during the 1940-1941 Blitz in which many important lessons were learnt. On 18th August 1941, local brigades and the AFS were combined into the National Fire Service under Home Secretary Herbert Morrison."
October 22, 2009
At the start of World War II, the London fireboat Massey Shaw performed heroically as a member of the fleet of "Little Ships" that evacuated British soliders from Dunkirk in France.
Navy sailors and London firemen worked side by side to rescue members of the British Expeditionary Force defeated by the German Army.
According to the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships:
"The fires of Dunkirk gave them enough light to work by and the thick blanket of smoke provided some cover from air attack. But the shelling from German guns was relentless. The two Naval officers set a splendid example of calm and the beach party rowed ashore, fixing a line to maintain contact with the fire-float. After four or five journeys, the Massey Shaw was full once more with troops pressed together in the cabin and standing shoulder-to-shoulder on deck. Her load of nearly l00 men was transferred to a troopship at anchor in the channel and she returned to be re-loaded.
"After some engine trouble that the naval stokers who were unused to the Massey Shaw's machinery, eventually managed to overcome, stretcher cases began to arrive and these were hard to handle and transfer to the troopship. They made about five journeys from the beach to a paddle steamer and it was estimated that they embarked 500 men in this way. As dawn broke, the troopship was full and left for England. Massey Shaw returned to the beach and started loading again. At this point, on a falling tide, they began to bump on the sands and were in danger of damaging their propellers but, with their engines throbbing at full power, they just managed to get back into deep water. At 0330 they were the last boat to leave that part of the beach. Halfway across the channel, the Naval skipper began to have doubts about the compass, but then, to his relief, came across a drifter towing two small boats packed with troops. They followed them into Ramsgate where they arrived at 0800 on Sunday 2nd June, landing 30 or 40 more soldiers.
"The Massey Shaw returned to Dunkirk again the next evening with a Fire Service crew. This time they went to the jetty of Dunkirk harbour. It was difficult for soldiers to board her from the towering jetty and she came away empty. After returning to Ramsgate, she was ordered back to London. Off Margate, the Emile Deschamps, a French ship which had sailed to England from Dunkirk laden with troops the previous night, was passing her at a distance of 200 yards when it struck a mine and sank almost immediately. The Massey Shaw picked up 40 men, all severely injured and took them back to Ramsgate. Early on Wednesday 5th, she finally returned to London and as she came up the river she was cheered as she passed each fire station."
From the BBC:
"On 28 July, 1958, a fire started in the electrical wiring of a Central line train between Shepherd's Bush and Holland Park station in west London, with most of the passengers suffering from smoke inhalation and one person later dying from breathing the fumes. Electrical arcing in power cables at the rear of the first carriage had produced an electrical arc which produced a torch-like flame, which blistered and melted the paint and other materials to produce acrid fumes. The current to the tracks was soon removed, and passengers had to be detrained towards both Shepherd's Bush and Holland Park.
"A similar incident occurred two years later on 12 August, 1960 when a fire started in the front carriage of a train between Redbridge and Gants Hill for the same reason. Fortunately no one was killed as the train was only partially full, though a few dozen people were taken to hospital. Precautions recommended after the Holland Park fire meant that the driver's cab had been insulated from the point where the arcing occurred, probably saving the driver's life. Meanwhile, this second accident led to further attempts to improve safety, with most of the 1938 tube stock which had the same type of wiring being altered or decommissioned soon afterwards."
October 21, 2009
Script of BBC Broadcast from Sept. 7, 1940
The German air force has unleashed a wave of heavy bombing raids on London, killing hundreds of civilians and injuring many more.
The Ministry of Home Security said the scale of the attacks was the largest the Germans had yet attempted.
"Our defences have actively engaged the enemy at all points," said a communiqué issued this evening.
"The civil defence services are responding admirably to all calls that are being made upon them."
The first raids came towards the end of the afternoon, and were concentrated on the densely populated East End, along the river by London's docks.
About 300 bombers attacked the city for over an hour and a half. The entire docklands area seemed to be ablaze as hundreds of fires lit up the sky.
Once darkness fell, the fires could be seen more than 10 miles away, and it is believed that the light guided a second wave of German bombers which began coming over at about 2030 BST (1930 GMT).
The night bombing lasted over eight hours, shaking the city with the deafening noise of hundreds of bombs falling so close together there was hardly a pause between them.
One bomb exploded on a crowded air raid shelter in an East London district.
In what was described as "a million to one chance", the bomb fell directly on the 3ft (90cm) by 1ft (30cm) ventilation shaft - the only vulnerable place in a strongly-protected underground shelter which could accommodate over 1,000 people.
About 14 people are believed to have been killed and 40 injured, including children.
Civil defence workers worked through the night, often in the face of heavy bombing, to take people out of the range of fire and find them temporary shelter and food.
An official paid tribute to staff at one London hospital which was hit, saying, "They showed marvellous bravery, keeping on until bomb detonations and gunfire made it absolutely impossible."
In the air, a series of ferocious dogfights developed as the German aircraft flew up the Thames Estuary.
The Air Ministry says at least 15 enemy aircraft crashed into the estuary, and in all, the Ministry said, 88 German aircraft were shot down, against 22 RAF planes lost.
Images of a London fire station teleprinter and a message calling additional fire crews - with "BA" or breathing appartus - to a major incident at King George V Dock in East London on Dec. 29, 1974. The "royal dock" was built in 1912 and closed in the 1980s. Today, it's part of "The Docklands."