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Auxiliary Fire Service & National Fire Service in the Second World War 1939-1945 - The Wartime Memories Project -

The Wartime Memories Project

- Auxiliary Fire Service & National Fire Service during the Second World War -

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Auxiliary Fire Service & National Fire Service

       The Auxiliary Fire Service was formed from volunteers at the outbreak of war, to assist the regular fire brigades. Initially many wrongly saw firemen as dodging the forces, but when the bombing began their value was realised. Fire was a huge threat to the British people, emergency firewater tanks were installed in many towns and where a large water supply such as a river was available pipes were laid to provide water for fire fighting. Many of the ranks were made up of women, in March 1943 there were 32,200 women serving with the National Fire Service. For the part time fire fighters, men were on duty every fourth night and women every sixth night.

    The name was changed to The National Fire Service in August 1941 when the regional regular Fire Brigades and the AFS were merged. After the war the Fire Brigades were split and one again were organised on a regional basis.

    3rd Mar 1940 Excerise

    If you can provide any additional information, especially on actions and locations at specific dates, please add it here.

    Those known to have served with

    Auxiliary Fire Service & National Fire Service

    during the Second World War 1939-1945.

    • Ackland Henry.
    • Ackland Henry. Fireman
    • Andrews James.
    • Armitage Benjamin.
    • Bagnall Edward Cornelius.
    • Ball Margery Gladys . Fire Warden
    • Barnes Harry Francis.
    • Barrett . Fire Force Commander
    • Bateman .
    • Bathie Jack. (d.17th/18th Sep 1940)
    • Belton L. W..
    • Bennett L. E..
    • Bennett M..
    • Bennett Margery.
    • Bighall W..
    • Bilsby . Driver Fireman
    • Blake Robert.
    • Bookerk .
    • Boxall E..
    • Brackpool S. J..
    • Bridge Stan.
    • Brooks C. G..
    • Brooks Vera.
    • Brown Reginald Harold.
    • Buckler J..
    • Budgen J. P..
    • Bull F. T..
    • Bullen John Henry.
    • Burd E. E..
    • Burrage G. H..
    • Burrell Doreen.
    • Bush H. C..
    • Cadd J..
    • Campell Ian . (d.1940)
    • Carpenter Daniel Joseph.
    • Cheal A. .
    • Chriss S. H. .
    • Churchman Margery Ivy .
    • Clark John Sheldon Wesley. Fireman
    • Clayton E. .
    • Cohen Aaron.
    • Constable Jack . (d.1940)
    • Cook George A..
    • Cornes Sidney Arthur.
    • Cowles W. S..
    • Davey Allan .
    • Denham E. E. .
    • Denny .
    • Dimmock A. W. .
    • Dodd P. G. .
    • Doick William . (d.1940)
    • Duffield T. W. .
    • Dullfield F. .
    • Edinborough George .
    • Elcome N. R..
    • Elliott Ernest.
    • Etheridge A. .
    • Evershed B. .
    • Everson Alfred James.
    • Everson Stella Eliza.
    • Exworth Samuel Ralph .
    • Farnham Elizabeth Mary .
    • Featherstone Guy Ivor. (d.23rd April 1941)
    • Fisher Mark.
    • Foreman J. M. .
    • Francis H. R. .
    • Gawn Reg.
    • Gawn Reginal Horace. Leading Fireman
    • Gledhill Arthur.
    • Halliwell Oswald George. Fire Off.
    • Hanks James Aubrey.
    • Henly Lillian May.
    • Hughes Vincent.
    • Justice Frances Simpson. Drvr.
    • Keen George Frederick.
    • Kidman Albert Edward.
    • Knight Harry.
    • Leach George Henry.
    • Lee James William.
    • Levy Marga. Cook.
    • Metalli Luigi Aldo.
    • Peters Edward.
    • Pettifer Philip George. Section Officer.
    • Sargent Arthur Shepherd.
    • Scales Frederick.
    • Sharp William Palmer. Station Commander.
    • Thornton Vernon .
    • Vail Gilbert William .
    • Waring John.

    The names on this list have been submitted by relatives, friends, neighbours and others who wish to remember them, if you have any names to add or any recollections or photos of those listed, please Add a Name to this List

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    James Aubrey Hanks

    James Aubrey Hanks served with the Auxiliary Fire Service in Bishop's Stortford, Herts and spent much of his time in London during the Blitz, attending the big fire at Purfleet refinery.

    I'm trying to find out about his service record and where it might be kept. My father died in Oct 1998. Unfortunately like many of his generation he never spoke about his wartime experiences. I have recently retired from the Fire Service, serving in both Essex and South Yorkshire.

    Michael Hanks

    Arthur Shepherd Sargent

    My father, Arthur Shepherd Sargent, was with the Auxiliary Fire Service and was stationed in Middlesbrough. This photo was taken around 1940.

    Ken Sargent

    George A. Cook

    I am now 80years of age and before I pass on I would like to find out more about my dear father, George Cook to pass on to further generations. I, like so many other young men was only interested in chasing young girls and not taking all that much interest in my fathers war. Just lately I have found out that he must have been in the thick of battles having been into hospital at Etaples in 1917 for a gunshot wound and then into Rouen hospital 9th August 1918 for results of a gas shell. He apparently served 4years and 303 days with the 1st Btn Cambridge Regiment and then the 7th Btn Suffolk Regiment, so must have seen a vast amount of fighting. I would love to know in what battles he must have fought and any other aspects of his war.

    He had great courage and joined the AFS in Ipswich during WW11, going to the dock area where he came home with a live, perfect condition incendiary bomb which I de-fused and used the contents to make fireworks. I kept this bomb on display in my hall until about four years ago when I presented it to the Ipswich museum and I only hope it has been saved and not destroyed.

    Russell G. S. Cook

    Vernon Thornton

    I am trying to find out about the service of my father Vernon Thornton in the AFS/NFS during WW2. I believe that he served in a special group that dealt with chemical fires up and down the east coast of Yorkishire from Hull up to Newcastle and possibly in Coventry. He was based in Dewsbury in the West Riding. As all the archive records seem to have been destroyed, I would appreciate any information.

    Jeremy Thornton

    Fireman John Sheldon Wesley "A" Clark

    Taken in 1942 behind the NFS garage in Front Street, South Hetton. It was later used by William Sinclair’s St Clare Coaches. My Dad is at front right and third from the left, is his friend, colleague and Church Warden Emeritus, George Stewart, he was a bricklayer down the mine.

    Like most of the young men in the village, my Dad, Sheldon Clark, was a miner at South Hetton Colliery. Nevertheless, he joined the AFS and "did his bit" whilst continuing to do his duties underground; I believe he was at this time a "shot firer", which entailed driving "roadways" underground by means of drilling holes and packing them with explosives. He never told me details of any fires; South Hetton is a long way from Germany, Denmark and Norway and had only one target worth mentioning (the coal mine with its associated railway installations) and, with one exception, never attracted the attention of the Luftwaffe. There were, however, two incidents which he did mention.

    The first occurred one night when the rig (which I believe was a van towing a trailer) was called out to the nearby village of Murton. There was (and still is) no direct road, so the van was driven at high speed in the blackout through the village of Easington Lane, where it turned off for Murton, which was to be reached via a notorious right-angle bend known as "Tattenham Corner". I believe the name has some significance to race goers. The night was dark, the illumination fron the van's lights was poor and the speed was excessive. Inevitably, at Tattenham Corner, the rig left the road. Fortunately, damage and injuries (apart from to their pride) were slight. What about the fire? Dad never said, but I assume it was attended to by a crew from one of the neighbouring towns.

    The second incident did involve Dad personally. One night he was on his way home, whether from work or the decrepit shed where the fire rig was housed, I cannot recall. Dad was walking behind a couple of colleagues who were deep in conversation. He heard an aircraft approach and looked up to see a couple of parachutes heading his way. The two in front of him were completely oblivious; correctly surmising the 'chutes were attached to land mines rather than to Fallschirmjaeger, he jumped on the two unsuspecting lads, knocking them to the ground, and told them to keep still. The first projectile hit the railway embankment, causing some damage but the earthwork protected the three young men sheltering on the other side. The second fell further away, in some allotments behind a street of houses (Fallowfield Terrace, for those familiar with the area).

    Expecting carnage amongst the chickens he knew to be kept there, Dad went to investigate the outcome. Surprisingly, however, despite the drogue effect of the parachute, the land mine had sunk deep into the boggy ground before going of, with the result that almost all of the explosive force had been directed harmlessly upwards and, like the humans involved, most of the chickens had got away with it (I'm tempted to say "by the skin of their teeth", but I'll try not to).

    Sheldon Clark

    Edward "Micky" Peters Station 34 D 4

    My relative Edward Peters was in the Auxiliary & National Fire Service, and served at station 34 D 4, has anyone got any idea where this station was? All I know was that it was West London.

    Bob Peters

    Lillian May "Hen" Henly Telephonist

    Mum is now 88 and enjoyed her shifts as a telephone operator on an obviously extremely busy switchboard directing the crews all over London in the Blitz. She is extremely well, living in Catford, and would love to hear from any colleagues.

    Moira Early

    Edward Cornelius Bagnall

    My father Ted Bagnall worked at the BSA during the Second World war and served in the Auxiliary Fire Service based in Birmingham city. My mother also worked at the BSA for part of the war. Her name was Maud Ellen Bagnall. She must have left employment before 1943, as I was born in February of that year. I believe my father sustained an accident to his eye around this time and spent a considerable amount of time at Blackwell Hospital (Lickey Hills). If anyone knows of them, I would be very, very grateful to hear from them.

    Valerie Lewis

    John Henry Bullen Station A-4X

    My father, Jack Bullen and his brother both served in the AFS as volunteers, stationed at Ash under Guildford Station, both men were on reserved occupations. The photograph is of my Father with three other crew members, and one of their trailer pumps outside of the Station. My Father is the second on the right, but unfortunately I am unsure of the names of the other men.

    David Bullen

    Station Commander. William Palmer Sharp West Float, Birkenhead

    He joined the Auxiliary Fire Service in 1937 after a long period of unemployment having previously been a steward in the Merchant Navy. I understand that he rose to the rank of Station Commander and was stationed at West Float dock in Birkenhead until 1943 when he was discharged due to ill health, suffering from duodenal ulcers after contracting malaria whilst at sea.

    John Sharp

    Luigi Aldo "Lou" Metalli

    Peter Metalli

    Vincent Hughes

    Born 1919 and a native of Salford my Dad, Vincent Hughes was unable to join the regular forces because of a childhood injury to his elbow. He served in the Auxiliary Fire Service and National Fire Service fighting the Blitz in Manchester and also being shuttled down to Liverpool Docks on a few of the worst nights. He and a pal managed to get into the doorway of a building and sheltered while they were surrounded by fire. That night a good part of Deansgate blazed when they lost water pressure from the canal.

    Dad has been gone a few years now but when I was little I had a wallet with various of his unit badges studded on to it. I'd love to hear from anyone who knew anything about the AFS and NFS units in the Manchester area, especially anyone who knew my father in those years.

    Brian Hughes

    Reginald Harold Brown

    I am trying to trace my late father's Fire Service history. I know he served at Robertsbridge when doodle bugs were falling short but little else. I think he also served at Rushden Fire Station at one time.

    Roger Brown

    Section Officer. Philip George "Pip" Pettifer Grimsby

    My father, Pip Pettifer was an auctioneer and estate agent before the war and was in the AFS in Grimsby so, on call up, he joined the newly formed National Fire Service along with his great friend Charlie Brow. He served in Grimsby throughout the war, with spells as relief officer in the Blitz in both London and Liverpool.

    When he married in 1941 he and his bride, May, travelled from the church on a fire engine. He was a keen cricketer and, at some point, played for the National Fire Brigade team at Lords, but who against I don't know. After the war he continued full time in the fire service until 1974, serving in the Holland County Fire brigade as Divisional officer and Deputy Chief.

    Diana Pettifer

    Reg Gawn

    My Dad, Reg Gawn, served in the AFS at Pinner Road Harrow Fire Station. As kids we had some of his old kit to dress up in. At times he was on the same crew as Ernest Lough “Oh for the Wings of a Dove” . I recall him telling us very little of what he went through, but I know that he was a driver, and at times on the top of a 100ft turntable ladder in the City of London. He and Ernest Lough were on the same crew the night the City Temple was destroyed, and that was where Ernest had recorded as a boy soprano. Any links with my dad would be welcome

    Ian Gawn

    Albert Edward Kidman Dockhead

    I have been trying to find out under which 'division' my father Bert Kidman, served from 1939-45. He received, or should I say through the help of my cousin, post-humously a Civil Service Medal. I have his Fireman's axe, photos of him in uniform & with his 'section' and his medal. I want to create a 'display' incorporating the pre-mentioned items in a case for my son & grandson - is it possible to be sent a 'logo' or emblem that my father would have served under to that I can carve it for the display. Was it the Auxiliary or LFB he belonged to? Can anyone help me, I have tried the LFB museum - they wouldn't help.

    John Kidman

    Henry Ackland

    My Grandfather was Harry Ackland who joined the AFS full time on the 24/08/1939, Class 'B' AFS number 18393. He was stationed at Bethnal Green Fire Station (East London) where he served until the end of the war. He covered most of the East/ West End especially the Docks, after narrowly escaping death on several occasions tackling fires he had to contend with UXB's (Unexploded Bombs). He used to drive the fire engine to the blazes and he was the one fighting the fires whilst up the long ladders.

    My Grandfather wasn't the one to talk about his experiences apart from the fact that he was buried alive for several hours before being rescued and after losing several of his fellow fireman to falling buildings.

    He was one of the first on the scene at the Bethnal Green Tube Disaster. Due to the fact that he was stationed so close to the disaster and living in Mendip Houses on Globe Rd, which are situated at the rear of Bethnal Green Fire Station, his station was virtually the first on the scene of the disaster so he was one of many fireman to help carry out the injured and those who died as they we're being taken to the waiting ambulances. He said it was absolute chaos as so many people were trying to get out of the station at the same time that people were trampelling on one another while he was trying to help the injured and at the same time there were bombs still being dropped. He said he would never forgot that night.

    If anyone recognises my Grandfather or those who were stationed at Bethnal Green Fire Station during the war, I would be interested in hearing from you.

    Perry Martin

    Ernest Elliott

    My Grandfather, Ernest Elliott lived in Chatham Kent and I believe he served in Kent. His brother Charles Edwin Elliott also served in the same unit. Does anyone remember either of them? Records for these Services are very difficult to find. Any further ideas? Where can one find photographic evidence? I am tracing my family tree and would like to learn more about the National Fire Service and the Auxiliary Fire Service in WW2. Are there any books dedicated to their heroic efforts?

    I discovered this site by chance and am very impressed and much in awe of the tales to be read. Thank you for any assistance that you may be able to pass on. Keep up the good work.

    Ann Webb

    Sidney Arthur Cornes

    My father, Sidney Arthur Cornes, joined the AFS prior to the war aged about 30. In due course he became a member of the NFS when the merger took place. Because he could drive (he was a commercial traveller for a coal factory) he became a driver and remained in the Fire Service in South London throughout the War. I know very little about his service and would be grateful for any sources of information about this time.

    David Cornes

    Fireman Henry Ackland National Fire Service

    My Grandfather was Harry Ackland joined the AFS full time on the 24/08/1939, Class 'B' AFS number 18393. He was stationed at Bethnal Green Fire Station, East London where he served until the end of the war. He covered most of the East End especially the Docks, after narrowly escaping death on several occasions, in tackling fires he had to contend with UXB's (Unexploded Bombs). He used to drive the fire engine to the blazes and he was the one fighting the fires whilst up the long ladders. My Grandfather wasn't the one to talk about his experiences apart from the fact that he was buried alive for several hours before being rescued and after losing several of his fellow fireman to falling buildings.

    When the Bethnal Green Tube disaster happened, as he was stationed so close to the disaster and living in Mendip houses (Globe Rd) which are situated at the rear of Bethnal Green Fire Station, his station was virtually the first on the scene of the disaster so he was one of many fireman to help carry out the injured and those who died as they we're being taken to the waiting ambulances. He said it was absolute chaos as so many people we're trying to get out of the station at the same time that people we're trampelling on one another while he was trying to help the injured and at the same time there we're bombs still being dropped. He said he would never forgot that night.

    If anyone recognises my Grandfather or those who we're stationed at Bethnal Green Fire Station during the war, I would be interested in hearing from you.

    Perry Martin

    Leading Fireman Reginal Horace Gawn Harrow Central

    Dad. Reg Gawn, was a volunteer fireman, aged 30 at the start of the war. He served at Harrow Central Fire Station (Pinner Road, N Harrow). I am trying to find out more about his war record - I do know he learned to drive in the Fire Brigade and that he was involved in the Blitz in London and in Portsmouth. He was at City Temple the night it was blitzed in May 1941, and on the same crew that night as Ernest Lough, who as a boy had recorded "Oh For The Wing of Dove" at the City Temple.

    Ian Gawn

    Cook. Marga Levy

    Marga Forester, 90, of Wynnewood, a Holocaust survivor who escaped from Nazi Germany to England on the famous Kindertransport, died Sunday, Feb. 9 at home. Mrs. Forester, the former Marga Levy, was married to fellow Holocaust survivor Frank Forester, who died of respiratory failure Dec. 3, also at home in Wynnewood. He was 88. They were together 69 years.

    As children - she was 16, he was 13 - the two left Germany on separate Kindertransports, the rescue effort in which Britain agreed to take in 10,000 predominantly Jewish children from Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland when the Nazis were gaining power. Although the transports saved 10,000 Jewish children and babies from the Holocaust, most of the youngsters never saw their parents again, according to the Kindertransport Association.

    "I vaguely remember being given 10 days' notice that I was going to be able to leave Germany and travel to England on a 'children's transport.' I was so excited, I felt sick all the time and spent my last 10 days at home in bed," Mrs. Forester wrote in a memoir. On the train platform in Berlin, she recalled thinking her parents looked sad. "I wonder in retrospect if they had an intuition that they would never see me again," she wrote. As the train from Berlin neared the border with the Netherlands, SS men boarded to check passports. "We were petrified in case they would stop us from leaving Germany. . . . Once in Holland, we felt free!" she wrote. The children took a ferry to Harwich, England, where they were met by the Jewish Refugee Committee. She was lodged in a boardinghouse in Birmingham before being sent to the countryside to escape German bombing.

    She later learned her transport in July 1939 had been one of last ones to get children out of Germany. Once Britain entered World War II in September 1939, the rescue missions stopped. She also learned that her parents and younger brother died in a concentration camp.

    Frank Forester had arrived on an earlier transport, in December 1938. His parents disappeared; he never learned their fate. "That's what brought them together. They were both orphans," said the couple's daughter, Carole Parker. They met at the boardinghouse where they both lived. He served in the British army; she cooked for the British Fire Service, the agency responsible for fighting the fires started by German air raids. The two married in 1944. After moving to London in 1950, the couple and their daughter came to the United States in 1956 and settled in Chicago


    Harry Francis Barnes

    My grandfather Harry Francis Barnes born 1905 served with the Auxillary Fire Service. I know nothing about his time working for them. I only know that he served in the Kentish town area. We have two photographs of him, one standing in front of an engine numbered 75X. what does this stand for? They have been awarded a trophy, what would this be for? Can any other information be found from the photograph?

    Donna Miller

    Drvr. Frances Simpson Justice

    My mother, Frances Justice, learnt to drive at age 17 in 1934 and, I believe, worked as a chauffeur to a managing director at a steel works in Manchester. During the war she worked as a driver for the Fire Service in Manchester, tasked with driving the fire chief. She spoke of an amazing fire when a magnesium 'dump' went on fire and lit up the sky with a very white light.


    Daniel Joseph Carpenter

    My grandfather never spoke about what happened and until he died I never even knew he was part of the AFS. His name was Daniel Joseph Carpenter he lived in Kentish Town so I assume he was based in the area as well. I'm amazed when I read what these men and women did during the war. I write this as I watch a documentary on the Blitz that is bringing it all alive to me and I must admit bringing a lump to my throat.

    It would be great if others who may recognise anyone in the photos could contact me.

    Carole Carpenter

    John Waring

    My dad told me of his memories serving in the AFS in our home city Liverpool. He was John Waring, known as Jack. He drove fire engines and one can imagine how scary it was to do this through potholed and rubble strewn streets often without street lights and shaded driving lights. He said that he and the crew christened his engine "Limping Lena"!

    His greatest memories was working at the time of the "May Blitz" in Liverpool in 1941. The German air raids caused havoc amongst the Liverpool docks and the Atlantic conveys having arrived in the port. The city centre had many beautiful department stores including the famous Blacklers store, a majestic building which caught fire due to a hit. My dad then became a member of the merged force as the NFS. At least for some time he worked out of the Dale Street, City Centre Fire Station.

    I can remember when later, as a young lad, I played amongst the rubble of bombed buildings with my friends just across from the rear pedestrian entrance to the station in Old Swan.

    Ray Waring

    George Frederick Keen

    George Frederick Keen and George Henry Leach, were members of the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Home Guard. They attended a bombed munitions train in Tongham, Surrey around 22nd of August 1940. Read more.

    George Henry Leach

    George Henry Leach and George Frederick Keen, were members of the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Home Guard. They attended a bombed munitions train in Tongham, Surrey around 22nd August 1940. Read more.

    Guy Ivor Featherstone (d.23rd April 1941)

    My uncle Guy was killed, aged 40, in the bombing of Plymouth while serving with the Auxiliary Fire Service. He was injured on 23rd April 1941 and died the same day in Swilly Hospital.

    Mary Hind

    Fire Off. Oswald George Halliwell

    My father, Ossie Halliwell was working for British Aluminium before the war. Born 1908 at 31 he was too old to be called up. He was also in a reserved occupation. Collecting pranged aircraft, Spitfires or Heinkels, any type, as long as they were Aluminium. They would be melted down into ingots at the Banbury Foundry. The ingots were then shipped (by Lorry) to Southampton (Spitfires) Bristol (bombers) or Manchester.

    He was involved in the Conventry Blitz and I believe he qualified for the War and Defence medals. I believe he may also have qualified for the 39-45 star occasionally awarded for major action in the UK? Viz the London and Coventry Blitzes.

    Any info on this would be welcome. I have also found the Bar to an Auxiliery Fire Service Medal. Six Months service? Recommended for OBE? Any help would be welcome

    Mike Halliwell

    Frederick Scales

    My father-in-law, Frederick Scales NFS No 721370, served with the local authorty 39 to 41 and then with the NFS 41 to 45. He was discharged due to reduction of establishment from area 31 on 24th September 1945. Could anyone please tell me if Frederick was entitled to any medals for his service and if so how his daughter can apply for them or them?

    Peter Maher

    Benjamin Armitage King's Own (Royal) Lancashire Rgt.

    I joined the AFS (Fire Service) for three years, then I was called up for military service and served in the King's Own at Lancaster. There were eleven from Wallasey. I was the only survivor, the last one from Wallasey and still around. My company was sent to Swansea to be in charge of the wooden bridge. It was a past-time and Lil came down, she was here for four or five days. We were also in charge of the fish market. The Sally Army came around with tea and cakes for a nominal fee. We were billeted behind the church hall and I had just got to bed when someone came and kicked me and said a couple was getting married and no best man had turned up, so I was the dogs body. So I went to the church and stood for them. After, I went to their house, had a drink, wished them good luck, and back to my sleep.

    We were called back to Lancaster and on to the Pollock Camp, where we were rigged out with tropical kit to go to a hot country. But on the way to Port Said, we were then changed to winter gear and landed at Port Said. We found a NAAFI with clean table cloths. You paid one peasta for bacon, one for tea, one for chips, one for egg, and finally one for cake. One for bread if one wanted. Approximate total about two shillings.

    We were the first convoy to travel through the Mediterranean. There were destroyers on the flanks, and cruisers and battleships guarding the merchant men. One particular ship had a red flag, which meant it was carrying ammunition. It was struck and blew to pieces. There were two destroyers and most of the merchant ships went. We entered Pantolere Straits and the heavy battleships and the Arc Royal pulled out. HMS Manchester, which I was on, got torpedoed in the back and a four-inch gun turret. Quite a number of sailors and soldiers were lost. We had to turn around and go back to Gibraltar. You could touch the water from the top deck of the ship and I could not swim, very dicey.

    We stayed at Gib for four days, then we embarked on the cruiser HMS Hermione and set sail at midnight, destination again Malta. I was on the upper deck talking to a sailor when the skipper said 'Hear this - we are not stopping at all.' Then we cut an Italian submarine in two. We did not pick up any survivors, just kept on moving. We arrived at Malta and Maltese stood on the walls of Grand Harbour cheering the cruiser in. Malta is only seventeen miles by nine and it had over 9,000 tons of bombs on it. '9020' did not have quite so many and 'Cos' had nothing at all.

    Malta was the only island unoccupied. If the Germans had taken it the war may have lasted much longer. But Hitler decided not to send his Eleven division in. 'Haw Haw' said he will leave Malta to starve, which it nearly did. I went down from eleven stone to around eight stone. It was so bad, notices were put up: 'Anyone caught stealing would be severely dealt with.' The cruiser HMS Welshman' and a submarine would come once a fortnight, mostly with ammunition and mail. HMS Welshman was one of the fastest in the Navy, but Jerry got it because of lack of planes, so that Jerry could land and take off at will. The American aircraft carrier USS Wasp had forty-five planes on it and every one was shot before it could operate. One great feature was the oil tanker called the Ohio. It had a hole in it where you could drive two double decker buses through. Either side of the tanker was a destroyer tied to the tanker, to get it into the harbour. One Friday night, a dozen 'E' boats came to attack but our gunners knocked hell out of them. One of our gunners had his arm blown off being too slow to pass an order. Things eased up in Malta and we were off.

    Doc Cole was a great fellow and he told me that I could not go as I was downgraded, so I asked him who signed the medical records. He said I did and had better writing than him. So I said 'Here goes, I am upgraded as from now H.A. Cole, doctor.'

    We had a few weeks before we left Malta so we still had SLEK parades. Salkeld had a bad neck, full of inflammation. I was treating it using my scalpel. I cut the bad stuff and told him to hold the chair arms while I put on lotion, and he nearly hit the roof. I told him he could go on duty at the airfield, he was chuffed. He was killed before lunch.

    It was my turn to go to Luca aerodrome. I got friendly with an airforce officer. He said that he blew up bombs, I said I was medical and would look after him. Then he called me over and said would I listen to this bomb ticking [at] both ends. He put a fuse in both and said 'Over the wall with!' And it nearly blew the wall down. I invited him over to our canteen. He was lucky, a large lump of shrapnel shot through the wall and stuck in his bedding. He was very lucky to be at our place.

    This is now cheerio to Malta and we boarded a cruiser, destination: unknown. Crossing the water we got mixed up with Captain Potato Jones's convoy watch. To our advantage we were due to attack Leros but we were too late and the First Battalion went forward in our place and got a severe bashing, so we became the First Battalion King's Own.

    We left Egypt and sailed for Italy. Landing at Taranto we moved forward to Ancona. There was a large hotel. Jerry held one part of it, we held the other. We eventually got shut of Jerry, but he left some booby traps for the engineers to sort out. We could climb on to the roof and count how many he had on sick parade. If his red flag was not out our gunners would give him a few shells to liven him up. Sewion Singh was my first Sikh driver, but he ran away to the Tenth Indian Field Section. Sikh number two was worse than the other. I gave him an instruction: straight on and turn right. The poor chap put his head lamps on and Jerry woke him up. [I] jumped in to the ambulance [and] took him back. Captain Jones said he had a good man, an ex-taxi driver, So'an Sing. He was crazy but a good driver. He took control of the ambulance [and] mad, I even got scared he would get off his seat and bang like Hell out of the ambulance. He was a good driver, a little erratic. Threatened him with a big stick. He said: 'give me stick and I will fight you.' [I said]: 'Get behind that wheel and drive or I will fight you without the stick.' I asked him if he had food. He told me that there was only one sheep a marrators cut the sheep's throat across and a Muslim cut the sheep down. An argument ensued, who will win? In the meantime someone did not mind up or down: they swiped it.

    Next day we moved on to 'Forlee' and Forlee in Poplar. These were divided by a wooden bridge. Forlee was on time covered by our unit and on the other side was the Devon Light Infantry. We were knocking hell out of each other and to handle the fray Jerry flew over and dropped a bomb right in the centre of the bridge and there endeth that lesson. I still had my mule (Elmer) going toward the River Po. There was a rope stretched across. I had a medical pannier on one side of the mule and a stretcher on the other side. I was up to my armpits but managed to make the trip but Tyson, a Liverpudlian, had a big radio on his back but the weight took him down stream. We found him later on the sand and on the riverside. We went further up and twelve feet back and reburied him.

    We caught up with Doc Cole and the padre. Captain Bill Beresford, he was not too happy being so far ahead. We found a deserted Jerry first aid post, all it contained was a full operating kit and paper bandages. The operating kit was worth over five hundred pounds, so I stuck [it] in my medical kit. Doc Cole and I went forward to find a better place for a medical unit. The padre said 'Don't leave me here' and tagged on behind us and lo and behold a six-foot Jerry jumped out of [the] bushes shouting [in English], Bombers, mercy, mercy,' and put his hands up. None of us had a gun to hold him. I persuaded Doc Cole to book out two Tommy guns and ammunition for self preservation. Because you can feel safer with guns than Red Cross armbands at night. We ditched the padre as he was nuisance value. We went to 'A' company and met a Scotch Church army man. He had a mule with pannier with cakes in and a tea urn full. But, alas, the lid was loose and the tea was going over the mule. The faster it was going the faster the tea spilt. The mule was going towards Jerry lines so they got tea and cakes and even a mule for nothing.

    The following day we were to attack the Germans, the Canadians on the left and the British on the right. We had a good house for a medical post. Jerry started to shell the post: if the shell burst of the right I dodged to the left and vice versa. I was fixing a Gerry's leg which was badly fractured but I failed to hear this shell and received a big hole in my head. That ended my partnership. It took twelve hours to get to hospital and a further five hours treatment. I had a local anaesthetic. I got over this then I flew to Naples, went into Ninety Second Hospital. After a few weeks I was demobbed long-term. Released from hospital, [I] went on the liner the Oranjee. Left Naples, back to Liverpool. Put on a train to Shaftesbury, Dorset and got my discharge.

    Philip Handyside

    Aaron "Arky" Cohen Glasgow

    My father, Aaron Cohen, served in the Glasgow AFS during WWII and attended fires during the Glasgow blitz. Any further information about him would be welcome. I have a couple of photos of him with colleagues in his unit.

    Bernard Cohen

    Mark Fisher


    Jack Bathie (d.17th/18th Sep 1940)

    Jack Bathie, died on 17/18th September 1940, whilst on duty, serving in the Aux Fire Service during the Blitz. The night he was killed he was in a 3 story building at 7-9 Rathbone Place, London. German raiders apparently pounded the city for 10 consecutive hours. He died with 8 other AFS. From what I can find on the internet, the building at 7-9 Rathbone Place was in the HQ 722, B District, South Division and was used for Mess and Sleeping Accommodation only.

    He lived in Islington with his family and on the day of his funeral their house was bombed, leaving the family unable to say goodbye. His son's name is George and was evacuated to Cornwall shortly after this, he would dearly love to pay his respects to his father. I have searched a few cemetery listings around the Islington area, to no avail. I was informed that because he lived in Islington but died in Soho this might make his grave harder to locate.

    I would appreciate any information or advice on how to find where Jack was laid to rest.

    Lianne James

    Gilbert William Vail

    This picture was taken around 1941. The machine Fireman Vail is standing in front of is a 'Morris Commercial' fire engine which was quite popular in the 1930's. (Katmandu Fire Brigade in Nepal still have one!)

    Firemen who served at Surbiton Fire Station during WW2. Rear Line: Driver Fireman Bilsby, Fireman Sherwood, Fireman Vail (standing) Front line: Fireman Mumford and Fireman Howark with a 250 gallon Dennis Fire Engine. It would be interesting to know if any serving Firefighters are related to the men on the pump.

    My paternal grandfather, Gilbert William Vail, lived in Surbiton all his life. He worked on the railway when he first left school and had a number of other jobs, including a motor fitter and general handiman. He was born in the early 1900's. Thus in the 1930's when rumours of a pending war where in the air he was of an age that he could be called up. He, and his brothers-in-law, believed that war was inevitable and came up with a plan. It was quiet simple, if they were in a reserved occupation they could avoid being called-up! So he volunteered to become retained firemen. My grandfather's house was very near the fire station and thus he could cycle there in good time. A bell was installed in the house in Richmond Grove via a line from the GPO pole. Presumably he had another job as well. Sure enough war was declared and the retained firemen became fulltime. My grandfather became fulltime in 1937/38, and received nearly £4 per week, a good wage then. Gilbert helped train recruits for the Auxiliary Fire Service. He was a trained motor fitter and served at the Brigade workshop at the Cattle Market at Kingston. He was also stationed at Godalming in Surrey and Norwich in Norfolk. He returned to Surbiton Fire Station on normal duties in 1945. He and his brothers-in-law were not asked to do military service. There was one small problem with their cunning plan, London was to become one of the most dangerous places to live. Its civilian population were in the frontline. Surbiton and the surrounding towns were hit on a number of occasions. He fought fires all over London and presumably lost some of his colleagues.

    Fighting fires and dealing with incidents in all weathers, often for long periods of time, took its toll. He developed asthma, for which there was not any affective treatment. He died in 1949 of a heart attack. I was born in 1958 and thus never met him but I do have photos of him in his uniform at Surbiton Fire Station. His wife Bessie lived until she was 99 years old and carried photos of him. She was visited every Christmas by serving fire fighters. I am grateful that his work and widow were not forgotten.

    Ray Harrington Vail

    Arthur Gledhill

    Fire Over Southampton, An Auxiliary Fireman's experiences and escapes during the Raids on

    I was managing the Clarence Hotel, at Holy Rood on the High Street, when early in 1940, I received my Calling-up Papers. Deciding to join the A.F.S. I was detailed to C Station, a small school in New Road that had been converted into an Auxiliary Fire Station. There with other recruits we were drilled, lectured and took part in large-scale exercises until we became efficient firefighters. Our station was equipped with four Pumps and towing vehicles. On receipt of an Alert, we moved our Pumps to prearranged Action Stations.

    With the fall of France and the Channel Islands, the Battle of Britain began. One day whilst on duty several planes came over flying low, we thought they were Spitfires, until they opened up with their cannon guns and proceeded to shoot down our Barrage Balloons.

    My baptism of fire came when we were rushed into the Docks to deal with a fire in the Cold Store building. The Luftwaffe were flying out after bombing Cunliffe-Owens aircraft factory at Eastleigh, when a Bofors gun-crew on the roof of the Cold Store fired on one of the planes. The pilot taking umbrage circled round and dropped a bomb, knocking out the gun and crew and setting fire to the building. We arrived with a dozen more crews, set our pump up on the edge of the quay, lowering our suction hose. We started the pump, ran out a line of hose and got a jet to work. After some hours the fire was gradually brought under control. I was in the building, helping to dampen down the lift shafts, when finally we received the order 'Knock-off, make up and return to station'. Leaving what little there was to the Docks fire brigade, we had done a really good job, however what went wrong, I don't know, but we were called back again the next day. Great billows of smoke came issuing from the Cold store and in spite of all our efforts it continued to burn for the next three weeks. Thousands of cases of Butter, Margarine and Lard together with hundreds of carcasses of meat were lost, someone had blundered.

    Daylight raids were frequent but the civilian population carried on with wonderful determination. September 15th, Sunday, we watched the vapour trails in the sky and paid silent tribute to our fighting pilots. That evening I came off duty at six p.m. and at seven, opened up the hotel bars for business, at 9.25 the sirens sounded, my wife and our two small children together with the barmaids, went to the shelter across the road. I asked the customers in the Lounge to leave and take shelter, keeping the Saloon and Public bars open. At 9.40 the anti-aircraft guns were in action, I happened to look in the direction of the Lounge in time to see the outer wall bulge and the brickwork came flying in. In a split second came the sound of the explosion, everything shook and there was the crash of collapsing brickwork. The dust was indescribable, in the bars it was almost impossible to see, however no one was hurt. It was fortunate that the Lounge was empty, as the entire rear of the premises was just a heap of rubble. Now that our home was gone, we moved into the Glasgow Hotel, Oxford Street as paying guests, what was left of the Clarence was shored up and sealed off. The Saloon and Public Bars cleaned up and put in order, and in two weeks we were back in business.

    As the raids increased, all off duty firemen were now required to report back for duty when the warnings sounded. On the afternoon of the 26th Sept, I was off duty, the alarm went off and I jumped on my cycle and headed for the station. Cycling along, I was aware that I was the only person around and just above were several Messerschmitts with cannons blazing, I felt sure they were firing at me and I reached the Fire-station in record time. Two of the pumps were at action stations the remainder on standby. As I stood at the entrance to the Engine-room, two formations of Enemy bombers, I counted forty planes, flew past. When approximately half a mile away, they all released their bombs simultaneously. I watched as they fell and as they exploded the ground trembled. Heavy damage was caused over a large area, the Supermarine factory received several direct hits, the Gasworks virtually destroyed and burning fiercely.

    Our pump moved in, as reinforcements were called in. We got to work from a large crater that was filled with water and soon had a jet playing on the blaze. We worked through the night and by daybreak had the fire well under control. Shortly after dawn, we were approached by two civilians who enquired if we had seen any military personnel around, we answered no and one of our chaps asked if it was important ---"Yes" they said there were some unexploded bombs to be dealt with, they hoped it wouldn't make any difference to us, as they pointed out where two of them were, we had been working between them all night. When our Sub-officer came round later, we asked if he knew we had been working between two UXBs his reply was 'Yes, but didn't say anything as I didn't want you to feel uncomfortable whilst you were working'. Shortly after we were told to 'Knock off, make up and return to station', about midday a loud explosion shook the town, a 1000lb delayed action bomb had exploded in the crater from which we had been working.

    Days and nights followed with their quota of raids and alerts. Saturday Nov 23rd, I was due to go off duty at 6.00p.m. but as an alert was on, I stood by. At 6.15p.m. the sirens went, almost immediately the drone of many aircraft could be heard. Anti-aircraft searchlights swept the sky. Ack-Ack guns opened up as parachute flares were drifting down, casting a ghostly brilliance over the town, hundreds of incendiary bombs also falling. We were sent to deal with incendiaries in a building opposite Watts Park and the Civic Centre. Having completed our own task we left the building just as a load of incendiaries fell into the park, some were hung up in trees whilst others lay burning on the ground, making a vivid picture. H.E. bombs were screaming down and several large fires were in evidence as we returned to station, to be immediately sent to premises on fire in New Road. We got to work as stick after stick of bombs came whistling and screaming down. After a while it was apparent that we couldn't save the building and so employed our jet on the buildings on each side, in an attempt to stop the fire spreading. The building, suddenly collapsed with a roar, for a moment I thought it must have been hit by a bomb, this effectively put the fire out, leaving a smoking pile of bricks --- we stayed for a while longer playing our hose over the debris, until satisfied there wasn't any danger to the houses either side, we then 'made-up' and moved further up the road to assist another crew fighting a fire in the schools' clinic. H.E. bombs were descending incessantly and it was a welcome relief when the sirens sounded the 'All Clear'. The raid had been in progress for over four and a half hours -- we were left with literally hundreds of fires on our hands but help was moving in and later after being on duty for twenty hours, we were relieved.

    During the next week we had a short respite with no major incidents, then on Saturday Nov 30th at 6.00p.m. I had just reported for night duty, there was an 'alert on' and soon the sirens were wailing. I said to my friend Percy Webb, "I think we are in for another 'Blitz' tonight", he answered "I think you're right Arthur, let's work together as we did last Saturday, it's not so bad then". As we were talking, parachute flares were again drifting down. We walked down the ramp to the basement, the door of which was situated under a reinforced ramp running from the Engine-room to the pavement. Percy went through into the basement whilst I stopped under the ramp. At that moment the first stick of H.E. came whistling down, I crouched on the ground and the next I knew, I was picked up and blown into the concrete wall of the ramp, my steel helmet flying off was immediately buried in the earth that was being thrown up. My head was rubbing against the rough concrete and blood came streaming down my face. As I was forced upwards the earth beneath me gradually enveloping me and debris from the collapsing building falling on top of me, I thought 'CHRIST HELP ME' I'm being buried alive what a way to die. However I was lucky, as the force of the explosion subsided, I found that I was only partially buried at the time and after struggling for a while and removing some large blocks of tarmac that had one of my arms pinned, I managed to release myself and found I was on pavement level, having come up a good seven feet. Percy, poor fellow, must have received the full blast of the bomb and was killed outright, along with three other fellows, although I didn't know that. Several incendiaries were burning on the opposite pavement. I crossed the road and kicked them into the gutter. Whilst thus occupied, I heard someone calling 'Help I can't see'. I returned to see one of our men floundering about amongst the debris that had fallen into the bomb crater. I called to him and as he turned towards the sound of my voice, I was able to grasp his hand and pull him out. The blast had caught him full in the face, blinding him. I cleared a space and got him to lie down, pillowing his head on his service respirator, as some A.R.P. men arrived they took over and an ambulance was sent for. I got under the fallen ramp and released another of our men who had become partially buried and while doing so, another bomb exploded across the road and blew me into the wall again.

    Shortly after this the ambulance arrived, I had to admire the young woman driver, she was as cool as a cucumber, backing the ambulance amongst the debris and waiting while the injured and one body were put on board. I myself sat in the back between the stretchers, all this time there was the noise of H.E. falling and exploding, guns firing and the roar of the fires of burning buildings. Shrapnel was falling like hail -- such was the situation when we set off for Hospital. The driver turned into St Andrews Road where we stopped while another badly injured civilian on a stretcher was put on board. Off we moved through roads covered with debris, fires raging all around until the outskirts of town, when the ambulance ran out of petrol. Our driver left to find a phone and to report our predicament, in this she was successful as after thirty uncomfortable minutes a relief ambulance arrived and the stretchers were transferred and once more we were on our way, arriving at the Borough Hospital [now called Southampton General Hospital] just as two parachute flares were floating down over the hospital - the ground was shuddering as bombs were thudding and exploding. Inside however everything seemed calm, the staff carrying on as though nothing out the ordinary was happening. Once more I was filled with admiration for our womenfolk-- they were splendid.

    Two nurses took me in charge and I was taken into a small ward where they started to clean me up. As they got rid of some of the dust and grime they both exclaimed "Oh you're quite young, we thought you were an elderly man". I laughed and the senior nurse said "You'll he alright now, you're in the maternity ward". After they had bandaged me, they took me into a larger ward, guiding me to a stretcher with their torches. I was told to lie down, the nurse then placed hot water bottles round me and covered me with blankets- they left then and as they had been using torches, there was not a glimmer of light in the ward I lay there in the dark, listening to the raid. I stood this for a while, and then got up and groped my way out. I couldn't stand anymore of that. I got out into the corridor and made my way to where light was shining through an open door and found two nurses making tea in a pantry, they were surprised to see me, but soon found me a chair and put a cup of tea in my hands and a cigarette to go with it. I have never forgotten their kindness. They must have spoken to a Doctor, as one came in and took my pulse. I asked if I might return to town, he couldn't release me, the raid was still on and he didn't have any conveyance -- he would come round and see me later.

    The 'All Clear' came at 12.30a.m. I dozed and drank tea, till 6a.m, when the Doctor saw me again, after reading my pulse, he said "If you still wanted to go, I could get a lift as far as Shirley High Street in an ambulance that was going there". This I did and then had to walk to Fire Brigade H.Q. where I reported in. The Officer I/C told me to go home and report back when I felt fit enough. So I made my way through our stricken streets wondering whether I should find my wife and children still alive.

    Arriving at Holy Rood the fine old church was just a shell, the spire lay across the road, other buildings lay in ruins, I looked and saw that what was left of the Clarence, was still standing, and to my utmost joy found my wife and children safe. My wife told me that they had been driven from three shelters as the buildings above caught fire. After the 'All Clear' she borrowed a couple of candles and opened up the Bar and served all and sundry, for a couple of hours. As the day wore on, sentries were posted and the High Street was closed, we weren't allowed to remain, as there were several UXBs in the area.

    At 6.15p.m. the sirens went and I took my family to a shelter, the raid lasted until 11-30p.m. It was as ferocious as the night before - made worse by the lack of water to fight the fires, all the mains having been broken the night before. I reported back for duty the next day. My family went to some relations on the outskirts of the town and our bed for the next three months was a carpet laid on the concrete floor of an air-raid shelter, without heat and in the middle of winter -- and there were many families in the same situation.

    On Thursday after reporting back for duty, H.M. King George VI paid a visit to our stricken town and all firemen on duty at H.Q. were paraded for inspection in the forecourt. I was in the front rank and as I still had my bandages, His Majesty stopped in front of me, but with what he had seen, I think he was too choked to speak and with a look full of sympathy, passed on down the line. To-day Southampton stands a new City a monument to those citizens who died and to those who endured her gravest hours also to the gallant men who passed through on the road to final victory.

    Arthur Gledhill.

    Ray Harrington Vail

    Harry Knight

    Harry Knight & an unknown colleague

    Harry Knight & colleagues Newport Mon.

    Harry Knight & colleagues Newport Mon. 2

    My father, Harry Knight, was an Auxiliary Fireman in Newport Monmouthshire. I know he was sent to other towns - I believe Cardiff, Bristol, Birmingham and London. I have no details.

    Jennifer Banks

    James William Lee 6-3 Yardley, Birmingham

    My father James Lee was told to stand guard over a pump during a raid on Birmingham on a particularly cold January night. He had heard nothing from anyone for over an hour so decided to abandon the pump and go for a cuppa in the next road as he was feeling numb with the cold. When he got back to his pump it was no longer there - just a very deep hole, it had received a direct hit during the raid. He may have been alive but got a rocket for disobeying orders and leaving the pump unattended.

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