OLD PLYMOUTH . UK
www.oldplymouth.uk
 

  Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: November 22, 2019
Webpage updated: November 23, 2019

        

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AUXILIARY FIRE SERVICE (AFS)

The Auxiliary Fire Service was formed under authority of the Fire Brigades Act 1938, which received the Royal Assent on Thursday July 28th 1938.  Its main requirement was to relieve the police and insurance companies of the responsibility for fighting fires, with responsibility now transferred to local authorities.  Recruitment started immediately but the Force was not officially brought into existence until September 1st 1939.

It was thought that 500 men would be needed to cover Plymouth, which at that time excluded Plympton and Plymstock but only 267 were recruited.  The Royal Dockyard and the Royal Navy formed their own fire brigades.  The Home Office supplied Plymouth with over 30 pumps and a 100 foot turntable ladder to replace an old wooden ladder.  The basic grade was Auxiliary Fireman.  Next on the ladder was Patrol Officer.  This post was equivalent to Leading Fireman or Sub-Officer and was created on the presumption that trailer-pump patrols would be wandering around Plymouth during the actual bombing ready to deal with a fire as it started.  This did not happen, in fact, and all units were summoned from their Stations in the normal practice.  A Section Leader came next, with only the Deputy Commandant and Commandant above him. 

Fire stations were set up at Crownhill, Millbay, Lower Compton, Keyham, Camel's Head, Milehouse, Higher Saint Budeaux, Devonport, East Stonehouse and Cattedown.  Plympton and Plymstock had their own AFS stations.

The Auxiliary Firemen were soon in the thick of the Plymouth Blitz, which started on the night of Thursday March 20th with the department store of Messrs Spooner and Company Limited going up in flames. Unbelievably, Mr Finbar Nolan, author of "Risen from the Ashes", the history of Plymouth's fighting forces, states that 'Only one unit and four men were ordered to the fire, with the brief to do their best under such circumstances'.  The Auxiliary Fire Service had four more nights of such devastation to deal with.

On Tuesday April 22nd 1941 a contingent of AFS men from Saltash were on their way into to assist their colleagues in Plymouth when their taxi, towing a trailer pump, hit an unexploded bomb.  Francis Brooking, Stanley Crabb, Alfred Crapp, Bernard Jasper, John Stanlake and Leslie Tibbs all lost their lives.

On April 28th 1941 the 2nd Saltash Scout Troop were sent into Plymouth to help deal with a fire at the Plymouth Station Goods Depot.  Unfortunately a German bomb exploded while they were working there and killed Donald Cummins while Sydney Cummins and Bernard Doidge were badly injured.  The leader of the crew, Douglas Vosper was later awarded the BEM and the Bronze Cross, the Scout VC.  Donald Cummins was posthumously awarded the Bronze Cross and Sydney Cummins and Bernard Doidge were awarded the Silver Cross.

In April 1941 Mr George Drury (1893-1963), a Home Office Inspector from London, was sent to Plymouth by the Home Secretary, Mr Herbert Morrison, to take charge of the fire control measures and separate them from police control.  On May 13th 1941 Mr Morrison announced that the AFS would give way to the National Fire Service in due course.

On and as from August 18th 1941 the National Fire Service was formed to take over the AFS and any private and volunteer fire brigades and place them under central control.

The AFS was reformed after the War by the Civil Defence Act 1948 with the Government concerned over the increasingly imminent nuclear war with Russia.  It was intended to have two auxiliary firemen for everyone full-time fireman but not even a third of that number were recruited.  When it was realised that if nuclear bombs were dropped not even the fire brigade would survive, it was decided to form Mobile Fire Columns to move from unaffected areas to affected ones.

A new Auxiliary Fire Service Fire Station was opened in Embankment Road in 1952.  It housed some of the Emergency Self Propelled Pumps, nicknamed "Green Goddesses", that were to prove very useful later.

The Auxiliary Fire Service was finally disbanded on Sunday March 31st 1968, when the Civil Defence Organisation in England, Wales and Scotland was stood down.