Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include Edward VII, who maintained a kit at a London fire station.

November 02, 2005



Photo: BBC web site
On the picket line

Firefighters across the U.K. staged a series of strikes in 2002 and 2003.

The 52,000 members of the Fire Brigades Union - which was founded in 1918 as the Fireman Trade Union - argued their pay formula fell behind other industries.

The FBU lobbied for an increase in the basic salary to £30,000 from £21,531, according to the BBC web site. An accord was reached in 2004.

The union also objected to the findings of the so-called ``Bain Report'' - a review of the U.K. Fire Service that recommended wide-ranging changes, known as ``modernization.''

The report, by Professor George Bain, president of Queen's University in Belfast, placed an emphasis on fire prevention and community fire safety.

Military firefighters provided limited coverage during the walkouts using "Green Goddess" reserve fire engines built during the Cold War as well as other vehicles.

Earlier Actions

The union also struck in 1977, and during that dispute firefighters abandoned their pickets to fight a blaze at London's St. Andrew's Hospital, according to the BBC. One fireman said: "For God's sake, it was a hospital. What else could we do but come and help?"

In November 1951, firefighters answered only emergency calls ``in a dispute that called for parity with police pay,'' according to the LFB's web site.

In September 1918, firefighters threatened to strike after the settlement of a police strike, the New York Times reported. In an ultimatum to the Ministry of Labor, the union's secretary said the firefighters, ``in their present frame of mind, will equire assurance to prevent them from taking drastic action.''

In March 1915, a firefighters strike was averted after the fire committee of the London Common Council ``decided to recommend a substantial increase in their wages,'' the New York newspaper also reported.




Two London firemen are among those honored on tablets at Postman's Park, which was built by Victorian painter and philanthropist G. F. Watts to commemorate ``heroic men and women'' who gave their lives attempting to save others.

The tablets for the firemen read:

``Joseph Andrew Ford aged 30, Metropolitan Fire Brigade. Saved six persons from a fire in Gray's Inn Road but in his last heroic act he was scorched to death. Oct 7 1871.''

``George Lee, fireman. At a fire in Clerkenwell carried an unconscious girl to the escape falling six times and died of his injuries. July 26 1876.''

Postman's Park, so named because it was a lunchtime garden for workers from the old General Post Office, is located in the City of London, near St Bartholomew's Hospital, according to the web site Urban 75.


Photo: Euston Fire Station web site


Disaster visited the Kings Cross underground station on Nov. 18, 1987. A flash fire engulfed an old wooden escalator serving the Picadilly Line, killing more than 30 people, including a member of the London Fire Brigade - Station Officer Colin Townsley from the Soho Fire Station.




The German raids of World War II claimed the lives of 327 firefighters serving in the London region - members of both the regular and auxilary fire services. Another 3,000 London firefighters suffered serious injuries. (More than 1,000 firefighters died across the United Kingdom during the war, including London's losses.)


Photo: BBC

Whitechapel station firefighters Bill Faust and Adam Meere became the first London firefighters to die in the line of duty in more than a decade.

Faust, 36, and Meere, 27, were seriously injured at an eight-pump fire on Bethnal Green Road in East London on July 20, 2004. They died at Royal London Hospital. Meere had joined the bridage a few months earlier.

The fire in the three-story structure was reported at 4 a.m. ``The firefighters got into difficulty in the lower part of the building where the fire was most severe,'' the BBC reported. The men, both wearing breathing apparatus, were pulled from the flames by their colleagues. But it was too late.

The last firefighter death occurred in 1993 in Willesden in north London.



A fire on Jan. 30, 1918 claimed the lives of seven London firefighters.

The following official report - from the Superintendent of "E" District - is posted on the web site of the Vauxhall Society, courtest of the London Fire Brigade Museum.

Loss of Life at a Fire Collapse of Building

I submit that at 3-44 a.m of this date a call was received by stranger to a private house alight at Albert Embankment, S.E., to which Motor Escape, Motor Pump and 10 men from No.94. Station Vauxhall and Motor Pump and 6 men from No.87. station Kennington responded.

At 3-55 a.m., a "home call" message was received, viz:- It is a building of three floors about 40 x 40 ft. used as Pepper Mills alight, one hydrant in use. No.3. Westminster Motor Pump and 6 men were ordered and I attended with No.80. Motor Car and 2 men.

On my arrival I found the upper floors of abuilding of three floors about 45 x 30 ft. (used as cattle food manufacturers) well alight, and part of roof and upper floor had fallen in. The fire was practically extinquished by the use of two hydrants and 1 Motor Pump and the stop sent back accordingly.

At 5-34 a.m., owing to a considerable amount of turning over to be done, a message was dispatched to the effect that appliances would be detained for a time and a few minutes later another message asking for a Sub-officer and four men to be sent on with a view to the appliances and myself returning home.

At about 5-45 a.m. I was on the ground floor and in consequence of hearing a cracking noise, cleared everyone out of the building. Owing to the ground mist and smoke, the front of the building was hardly discernible, a hydrant was still being used up the Escape, I went to the front of the building with the men with a view of making up and removing the Escape, when suddenly I heard Sub-officer Cornford call out "Look out Sir" and saw the building collapsing. I called out "drop everything and run", but was knocked down by the falling debris and part of the Escape, being subsequently extricated by our men from amongst the debris. On making enquiry, I found that a message to the effect that the building had collapsed and that several of our men were buried and ambulances were requires had been sent back. I gave instructions for the debris to be searched for the bodies of our men, then saw the Divisional Officer South who, on hearing of the nature of my injuries ordered me home. I have since been examined by the District Medical Officer, and placed on the sick list, nature of illness "Injury to Legs".

I regret to have to report the undermentioned casualties:

No.100. Sub-officer W.E.Cornford - No.80 Clapham.
No.616. Fireman K.J.Fairbrother - No.87 Kennington.
No.718. " W.E.Nash - No.87 Kennington.
No.944. " J.W.C.Johnson - No.94 Vauxhall.
No.1087. " A.A.Page - No.94 Vauxhall.
No.1174.Temp.Fireman J.E.Fay - No.87 Kennington

No.151. Sub-Officer W.W.Hall - No.94 Vauxhall.
since dead.

Superintedent J.Barrows. - "E" District.
Station-Officer E.Partner - No.87. Kennington.

(Signed) ........J.BARROWS


DUDGEONS WHARF - 1969 - The following article is rewritten from a report into this incident published in “FIRE” magazine dated November 1970. The 17th July 1969 saw a tragic and sudden explosion take the lives of 5 of London’s firemen; here is the story of what happened.

Dudgeons Wharf on the Isle of Dogs consisted of a “tank farm” of more than 100 tanks of various capacities up to 200,000 gallons and used for storing oils and spirits on a plot which measured 350 ft. x 300 ft. The demolition contractors had received advice on safety before starting the demolition of these tanks to enable regeneration of the site.

Tank 97 on this site was of a welded construction measuring 27 ft in diameter and 35 ft high. It held 125,000 gallons. Two manhole covers, one on the roof and one at ground level, were held shut with steel plates secured by nuts and bolts. This tank had been empty for two years but had previously held Myrcene (a member of the turpentine family). This chemical would leave a thick, gummy deposit on the inside of the tank. This deposit could be easily ignited or when heated would give off a flammable vapour which, if mixed with air, is potentially explosive.

At 11.21 am on Friday 17th July a call was made to a fire on the North bank of the River Thames at Millwall, covered by London’s “F Division”.

Less than 2 weeks before this incident a fire had occurred on the same site where 40 firemen and 8 pumps using 6 jets and 2 foam making branches had tackled a fire involving waste oil in a derelict oil tank. The brigade had also attended numerous other small fires on the site, caused by sparks from hot cutting gear used by workmen cutting the tanks.

On receipt of the call 2 appliances consisting of a pump escape and pump were ordered from Millwall Fire Station and one pump from Brunswick Road. The foam tender from East Ham was also ordered followed later by the fireboat “Massey Shaw” from Greenwich.

The fire brigade arrived very quickly with Station Officer Innard in command. He enquired about the fire situation but was given misleading information. He not unreasonably thought that the fire was probably out but decided to make sure by putting a spray branch into the top of the manhole which had been removed from the top of Tank 97. Sub Officer Gamble with Firemen Appleby, Breen, Carvosso and Smee joined him on top of the tank alongside Mr Adams, one of the workmen. It is thought that using the spray branch caused air to be drawn in and mixed with the flammable vapours given off by the burning or hot Myrcene deposits greatly increasing the risk of an explosion.

Station Officer Innard along with Station Officer Snelling decided to look into the tank from the bottom manhole to see if any fire remained and, if so, direct the positioning of the spray branch. This involved opening the bottom manhole cover. Station Officer Snelling sent a fireman to fetch a spanner to remove the bottom manhole cover.

The members of the brigade could not undo the nuts so an unidentified person suggested the nuts should be burned off. Station Officer Innard descended from the top of the tank to see what was going on. An employee working on the demolition of the tank farm applied a cutting torch to one of the nuts. As soon as the cutting flame was applied to the first nut, the vapours inside the tank ignited almost instantaneously blowing off the roof of the tank together with the 5 firemen and workman. This was probably due to flames or sparks from the cutting torch entering the tank and igniting the explosive mixture within.

D.O. Abbitt had been in the area and, upon hearing of the incident at the riverside wharf, he attended. He arrived at 11.50, just before the explosion occurred at 11.52. Three further pumps from Bethnal Green and Bow were order on at 11.54 following this explosion. Their job was to recover the bodies of the firemen killed.

Those firemen were:

Temporary Sub Officer Michael Gamble of F23 Millwall, aged 28, married, 10 years in the brigade.
Fireman John Victor Appleby of F22 Brunswick Road, aged 23, married, 3 children, almost 5 years service.
Fireman Terrance Breen of F22 Brunswick Road, aged 37, married with 3 children, 12 years service.
Fireman Paul Carvosso of C25 Cannon Street, aged 23, married, 1 child, 4 years service.
Fireman Alfred Charles Smee of F23 Millwall, aged 47, 1 son, 24 years service.


On Dec. 13, 1974, fire swept the Worsley Hotel in the Maida Vale section of London, killing 7 people -- including a probationary firefighter, Hamish ``Harry'' Petit. Three other firefighters were injured in a collapse that killed Petit. The story of the Worsley Hotel fire was recorded by journalist Gordon Honeycombe in the book ``Red Watch'' and by former London officer Neil Wallington in the book "Fireman! A personal account."

According to Wikipedia: `` Kitchen porter, Edward Mansfield, aged 41, was charged at the Old Bailey on 10 July 1975, with three cases of arson (one at the Worsley Hotel on 13 December and two at the Piccadilly Hotel on 19 and 29 December) and the murders of seven people, including a fireman, at the Worsley Hotel. He pleaded not guilty. On 23 July the jury failed to reach the required majority verdict and were discharged. The re-trial of Mansfield at the Old Bailey on the same charges began on 12 November 1975. John Mathew was again the prosecuting counsel. It ended on 1 December. Mansfield was found guilty of the manslaughter of seven people, including Fireman Pettit, and of three charges of arson. He was gaoled for life.''



According to The London Daily Telegraph: ``19 firefighters were killed in Britain’s worst disaster for the fire service when a Glasgow whisky and tobacco warehouse went up in flames March 28, 1960. Fourteen men from the Glasgow Fire Service and five men from the city's Salvage Corps were killed when a massive explosion blew out the entire side of the building at 1 Cheapside Street, sending hundreds of tons of masonry on to the crews below. Three fire appliances were buried under the rubble and the fire took a week to extinguish.''

October 12, 2005


(Illustration: from old postcard)

(Photo: BBC web site)

Out with the old and in with the new! As part of a modernization program, the London Fire Brigade adopted a ``uniformed structure ... based on roles rather than on rank,'' according to the LFB website.

We understand the Watch Manager ``B'' - formerly the station officer - will still be lovingly called the ``Guv'' by firefighters.

Here is the new chain of command, as of October 2005:

Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning
The Brigade's principal officer. Responsible for the overall running of the organisation.

Deputy Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning
Responsible for the day-to-day running of the Brigade's operational workforce.

Assistant Commissioner
Assistant Commissioners are senior officers responsible for community fire safety, service delivery, operational response, operational planning, statutory fire safety and training and development.

Area Manager
Previously senior divisional officer. Responsible for day-to-day management of an area of fire brigade operations or policy.

Group Manager
Previously divisional officer. Responsible for management of a group of fire stations or day-to-day work in a specific policy area.

Station Manager
Previously assistant divisional officer. Responsible for management of a fire station or day-to-day work in a specific policy area.

Watch Manager "B"
Previously station officer. In charge of the watch at larger fire stations. Carries out day-to-day fire fighting and fire safety work or junior work in policy areas.

Watch Manager "A"
Previously sub officer. In charge of the watch at smaller fire stations or the crew of a fire appliance. Carries out day-to-day fire fighting and fire safety work.

Crew Manager
Previously leading firefighter. In charge of the crew of a fire appliance at many stations. Carries out day-to-day fire fighting and fire safety work.

Carries out day-to-day fire fighting and fire safety work.

July 25, 2005


(Photos: BBC web site)

By Vinny Del Giudice

London's firefighters had been planning and practicing for the worst since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia.

The bells ``went down'' starting at about 9 a.m. on July 7, 2005 for bombings on the London Underground and one of the city's famed red ``double-deck'' buses. The brigade's ``blue watch'' was coming on duty.

The London Fire Brigade announced the news in a brief statement about 40 minutes later:

London Fire Brigade has been called to reports of explosions at Edgware Road and Aldgate underground stations. Emergency services are at the scene and further information will be given as soon as it becomes available.

Another statement at 10:10 a.m. told of further blasts:

London Fire Brigade has been called to reports of explosions at a number of locations.

Very early reports had suggested that the explosions were caused by a power surge on the rail system. But after the bus blast, it became clear that that London had suffered its worst bombing since World War II with many dead and injured.

At 12:30 p.m., the fire brigade reported:

London Fire Brigade has been called to reports of explosions at Aldgate, Edgware Road and King's Cross London Transport Stations and Tavistock Square this morning.

Fire cover for the rest of London is being maintained but we would ask the public to only call us for confirmed fires or life threatening incidents.
The death toll, as of July 18, was 56, including the four bombers.

The London Ambulance Service said its crews ``treated approximately 45 people for critical and serious injuries, and a further 350 for minor injuries. Many other patients will have made their own way to hospital for treatment.'' The fire brigade said: ``Several of our new specialist fire rescue units were deployed to work with the other emergency services to evacuate casualties.''

Crime investigation

The July 7 attacks occurred between the Aldgate and Liverpool Street ``tube'' stations , between the King's Cross and Russell Square stations, at the Edgware Road station and on the No. 30 bus at Tavistock Square, according to the BBC. All the sites are located near the financial district, known as ``The City.''

Closed circuit television recordings revealed four suspects arrived by train at the King's Cross Station before fanning out into the transit system. The New York Times said: ``The bombers began their murderous journey from the northern city of Leeds.''

The bombers were identified as Shehzad Tanweer, 22, linked to the Aldgate blast; Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, linked to the Edgware Road blast site; Hasib Mir Hussain, 18, linked to the bus attack; Germaine Lindsay, linked to the King's Cross attack. Tanweer, Khan and Hussain were born in the United Kingdom. Lindsay was born in Jamaica.

A police source told the Daily Mirror newspaper: "They are dressed in casual clothes with big rucksacks on their backs and look for all the world like four men off on a backpacking holiday, instead of four mass murderers on the last leg of their deadly mission."

Fire response

About 200 London firefighters responded to the bombings.

``Twelve fire appliances with 60 firefighters attended the incident at Edgware Road, twelve fire appliances with 60 firefighters attended the incident at King's Cross, ten fire appliances with 50 firefighters attended the Aldgate incident and four fire appliances with 20 firefighters were called to Tavistock Square,'' the fire brigade reported on its web site.

The web site of the Poplar Fire Station - F22 - said:

Crews from Poplar were involved in the Rescue Operation at the Train Blast at Aldgate Station. Our thoughts and Prayers at this time are with the victims of this Outrage. London is a City with a Rich and Powerful History, we will never cave in to the faceless cowards who try to destroy our way of life.

By most accounts, the fire brigade's response went according to plan.

Prime Minister Tony Blair applauded the emergency response in Parliament on July 13.

London Fire Brigade Commissioner Ken Knight praised his troops.

"Firefighters, control staff and support staff were all magnificent in the aftermath of the bombings, as the people of London would expect,'' Knight said. ``I am sure their professional response made a crucial difference to the people who were injured or trapped."

And yet, as in any incident, there were lessons to be learned.

Radio communications on July 7 presented a problem for firefighters, much like at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 The fire brigade's 70 Megahertz two-radio system has very limited range below ground, and commercial cell phone networks were overloaded.

The Fire Brigades Union - which had staged a series of strikes over a fire brigade modernization plan - expressed concern about fire brigade staffing. ``We were very seriously stretched by these awful attacks,'' Andy Dark, regional secretary of the union, said in a press release. He cited the closure of the Manchester Square fire station in central London and the redeployment of 10 engines from central London stations to the suburbs.

`Amazing sense of courage'

Parish priest Nicholas Wheeler, who ministered to the injured - as well as the rescuers - at King's Cross, praised the first responders. ``Many of the firemen and police were very young, and it was their first experience with something so horrific," said Wheeler, quoted by The New York Times. "They went down with an amazing sense of courage and came up having seen things you would not wish anyone to see."

Newspaper photos showed bystanders pitched in to help the walking wounded, with one photo becoming ``one of the defining images of last week's atrocity, encapsulating the horror and the heroism of a city plunged into terror,'' according to The Observer newspaper.

The Observer continued:

Ex-fireman, 28-year-old Paul Dadge, clearly frightened but determined to help, holding on to a bloodied and barefoot woman, her burnt face covered with a large white mask, her hair singed.

Haunted by his contact with the distraught young woman, Dadge returned to King's Cross on Friday to search for her, but to no avail. 'I just wanted to find her and see if she was OK,' he said. 'If she had been here I would have said: "You were so brave".'

(On July 9) his search ended in relief when the young woman, known only as Davinia, was tracked to a London burns unit where she was said to be in a serious but stable condition.

Mr Dadge had spotted Davinia standing alone on a street corner after she escaped the blast. 'She was really brave,' he said. 'A lot of people were complaining about their burns, but she didn't.

The attacks lent momentum to a safety campaign launched in May encouraging British commuters to store emergency contacts, such as next of kin, on their cell phones. British paramedic Bob Brotchie is credited with starting the ICE - "In Case of Emergency" - program to help first responders identify victims of accidents and disasters.

``Users are being urged to enter a number in their phone's memory under the heading ICE - In Case of Emergency,'' the BBC reported. ``Paramedics or police would then be able to use it to contact a relative.''

`Hell on earth'

Relief fire crews provided assistance for the intensive police investigation in the days following the blasts, including the recovery of bodies in the Piccadilly Line tunnel between Russell Square and King's Cross - scene of the worst carnage. The Mirror newspaper reported that ``firemen with experience of `burn patterns' established the bomb was on the floor by the doors in the first carriage'' at that deadly blast.

Of the survivors,``Many of the most severely injured people either walked or had to be carried half a mile along the tracks to Russell Square station. King’s Cross station was much closer but they could not get back past the wreckage,'' The Times newspaper reported.

Rescue workers toiled ``alongside forensic experts from Scotland Yard ... desperately hunting for clues about the type of explosives used in the bombs and the identity of the bombers,'' according to The Independent newspaper.

The BBC reported:

Emergency teams are dealing with horrific scenes as they recover bodies from the mangled wreckage of a Tube train near King's Cross station.

Teams face intense heat of up to 60C (about 140F), fumes, vermin, asbestos and initially concern the tunnel might collapse.

"I can't say what it's like or explain it, but it's carnage,'' said firefighter Arrol Thomas.

Recovery teams are working in dangerous and cramped conditions 70ft (21.3m) underground in a three-and-a-half metre wide tunnel only a little larger than the train itself.

BBC correspondent Mark Simpson, at King's Cross station, described the operation below ground as "a gruesome task".

Initial fears the tunnel might be in danger of collapsing have now passed but conditions below ground remained "atrocious" he said.

He said: "One rescue worker described it as 'hell on earth'."

Battle tested

London is no stranger to war and terror, having been target of Irish Republican Army bombings, the German ``blitz'' and rocket attacks of World War II and Zeppelin raids in World War I. The city has also had its share of rail accidents and other emergencies.

"London, sadly, has come through a series of events, whether they be terrorist attacks or genuine accidents, which have meant we have been able to refine and refine again the procedures," Malcolm Kelly, an assistant fire commissioner, told the BBC. Kelly served as incident commander at the Edgware Road station on July 7.

Today's London Fire Brigade provides fire and rescue services from more than 100 stations across the city. Emergency medical services are provided by a separate agency, the London Ambulance Service.

The fire brigade's typical response to alarms - British firefighters call them ``Shouts'' - in densely populated area of the city would be two fire engines within five minutes and a third engine within eight minutes.

Each ``appliance'' is typically staffed by four or five firefighters. The station officer on the first arriving engine typically assumes incident command. Mundane calls are the rule.``In London, more than a third of accidental fires in the home start in the kitchen – and nearly all involve the cooker,'' according to the fire brigade.

London's brigade also fields special units, including fire rescue units, turntable ladders, aerial platforms and a mobile command post.

Just this year, the number of fire rescue units was doubled to 10. The heavy-duty vehicles are placed stragetically around London to ensure that, on average, they can reach an incident within 15 minutes, according to the fire brigade's web site. One of the rescues is located at the Euston fire station, just down the road from King's Cross.

``Specialist crews on the new rescue units will be trained and equipped to handle complex rescues, including rescues from road and rail accidents, water, mud and ice, urban search and rescue incidents (such as collapsed buildings), chemical spills and for difficult rescues involving the use of ropes and lines,'' the brigade said.

Training is paramount. On Sept. 7, 2003, for example, the fire brigade and other emergency services staged a large-scale exercise at the Bank tube station in the old City of London. The scenario was for a chemical attack with mass casualties. The Bank station is located close to the scene of the July 7 attacks.

The London Underground, itself, traces its history to 1863 when the world's first subway opened in London, according to the Transport for London web site. Today, London Underground serves 275 stations and carries an average of more than 3 million ``passenger journeys'' a day. At peak hours, as many as 500 trains are operating over the 253-mile (408 kilometer) system.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone commended the city's emergency services for their preparation and response to the July 7 attacks, saying:

Following the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11th in America we conducted a series of exercises in London in order to be prepared for just such an attack. One of the exercises undertaken by the government, my office and the emergency and security services was based on the possibility of multiple explosions on the transport system during the Friday rush hour. The plan that came out of that exercise is being executed today, with remarkable efficiency and courage, and I praise those staff who are involved.

Firefighter's account

The web site for the Guardian and Observer newspapers published the eyewitness account of Terence Adams, a divisional commander in the London Fire Brigade, at King's Cross station. Adams climbed down into the tunnel to help bring out the casualties.

Said Adams:

'The effect of a blast is like a thunder clap or a very loud firework and that can numb your thoughts for a while. We knew that the difficulty we were going to have was managing people and getting them to the surface.

Getting people out of the train was difficult, it was a matter of getting them out by hand or torchlight but it was difficult to even see them: there wasn't smoke as such but a very, very fine dust which really reduced visibility.'

It was pretty chaotic at first, as you would expect. There were blast injuries and a lot of people were traumatised.

'Paramedics and Network Rail staff were helping people and providing first aid. The hundreds of people who were pouring out of the tube were in obvious shock and looked completely confused.

I'm trying not to dwell on the trauma of the events, though: this is our role and I accept that that's what we're there for.'

Survivor's account

A woman identified only as Rachel from North London provided the BBC with her account of the disaster on the Picadilly Line train between King's Cross and Russell Square. She was in the first car of the train - where the bomb was detonated, killing about two dozen of her fellow passengers. Rachel boarded the train prior to King's Cross.

Her story:

I was in the first carriage, behind the driver's carriage, standing by the doors - it was absolutely packed.

Even more people got on at Kings Cross. It felt like the most crowded train ever.

Then, as we left Kings Cross, at about 8.55am, there was an almighty bang. Everything went totally black and clouds of choking smoke filled the Tube carriage and I thought I had been blinded. It was so dark that nobody could see anything.

I thought I was about to die, or was dead. I was choking from the smoke and felt like I was drowning.

Air started to flood in through the smashed glass and the emergency lighting helped us see a bit. We were OK.

A terrible screaming followed the initial silence.

We tried to stop ourselves from panicking by talking to each other and listening to the driver who started talking to us.

There was screaming and groaning but we calmed each other and tried to listen to the driver.

He told us he was going to take the train forward a little so he could get us out, after he had made sure the track wasn't live.

We all passed the message into the darkness behind us, down the train.

After about 20 to 30 minutes we started to leave the train.

We were choking and trying not to panic because we knew that would mean curtains.

We tried to keep each other calm, I remember saying: "If anyone's boss gives them grief for being late, we know what to say to them, eh, girls?"

`Pray they died quickly'

The Telegraph newspaper reported that the fire brigade, ambulance service and the police ``faced horrendous physical, psychological and logistical difficulties'' and that the ``grim nature of the work took its toll.''

The report also said:

Some workers were given counselling because they were unable to cope with the scenes that confronted them.

"It was like the Towering Inferno down there," one experienced rescuer said. "I've seen some shocking things but nothing as bad as this.

"There were people with limbs missing and their organs spilling out. We can only pray that they died quickly.

"The heat was almost unbearable. It was dark and dusty but we are doing everything we can to make sure no clues are lost."

The rescue effort was also hampered by the presence of rats scurrying over the wreckage and gnawing at the victims' decomposing bodies. "It was pretty disgusting," said one rescuer. "The terrible smell was making us gag."

The tunnel on that stretch of the Piccadilly Line is barely wider than the train, so the workers were unable to go along the side of - or even on top of - the train and instead had to cut through the coaches.

Moorgate - 1975

The recovery effort at Russell Square recalled an underground disaster three decades earlier, when a Northern Line train careened past the Moorgate station and into a dead end tunnel on Feb. 28,1975.

According to veteran London firefighter Neil Wallington's book ``Great Fires of London:"

Forty-two passengers were killed but many more were trapped in the crumpled carriages inside the tunnel. The last live casualty was released after some twelve hours, but the recovery of the bodies took a further five days and nights and involved 1,000 workers firefighters working in short shifts because of the heat and fetid condition deep into the tunnel.

London firefighters wriggled past the real carriages to get the casualties and ``rescue teams were forced to wear breathing apparatus because of deteriorating air quality,'' Wallington wrote.

Gerard Kemp of the Daily Telegraph, the only journalist allowed to visit the site, reported:

"It was a horrible mess of limbs and mangled iron."

"One of the great problems (for the fire brigade) was the intense heat down there. It must have been 120 degrees. It was like opening the door of an oven."

The cause of the Moorgate disaster remains a mystery.

Kings Cross - 1987

Disaster also visited the Kings Cross station on Nov. 18, 1987 when a flash fire engulfed an old wooden escalator serving the Picadilly Line. About 30 people perished in that disaster including a rescuer, Colin Townsley, station officer from the Soho Fire Station in central London.

According to the BBC:

The blaze reportedly began at about 1930 GMT in a machine room under a wooden escalator.

The fire started as the evening rush hour was trailing off but hundreds of commuters were still in the station which is London's busiest.

Many passengers were trapped underground as the escalator went up in flames.

More than 150 firefighters wearing breathing apparatus tackled the blaze and searched for survivors.

But they were not able to bring the main fire under control until approximately 2150 GMT.

Wartime tragedies

Tragedy also visited the London Underground during World War II, when the stations were used as air raid shelters.

At the Trafalgar Square station on Oct. 12, 1940, seven people were killed when a German bomb ``penetrated the surface and exploded at the top of the escalator causing an avalanche of wet earth to descend onto the platforms,'' according to Antony Clayton's book ``Subterranean City - Beneath the streets of London.''

Clayton also wrote:

Much more serious was the incident on 14 October at Balham, where six hundred were sheltering. Following a direct hit on the street above, the roadway collapsed and masses of ballast and earth slid into the tunnel, whilst the flood from the shattered mains carried all before it. From the resulting pile of sludge 68 bodies were eventually recovered.

On 11 January 1941 at Bank station 56 people were killed after a bomb plunged into th station concourse, exploding in the escalator machine room and damaging trains at the platform below.

The greatest loss of life at a wartime tube station occurred at Bethel Green on March 3, 1943, when 173 people suffocated during an alert.

``People poured into the station down a poorly lit staircase,'' Clayton wrote. ``After a woman with a child tripped and fell at the foot of this staircase panic ensued, with more people falling and being crushed by the relentless push from those behind.''

July 21

London firefighters responded to four blasts on the city's transit system - two weeks after the deadly July 7, 2005 attacks. The BBC reported "four minor explosions'' - three on London underground and the fourth on a double-deck bus. Police reported one injury.

``We have seen it happen before,'' Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said of the July 21 incidents. "The emergency services are getting control over a very confused scene. Clearly this is a very serious incident."

According to the London Fire Brigade web site:

Over 60 firefighters and 12 fire engines have been called to incidents at Shepherds Bush, Warren Street, Oval London underground stations and Shoreditch High Street. As a precaution officers have been deployed at Warren Street London Underground Station in full protective equipment in order to carry out an examination of the scene. The police have carried out an initial examination at Oval and early indications show that there is no trace of chemical agents.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone sought to reassure citizens, saying: "This is a diffficult time for all Londoners and our first priorities will be to provide all possible help to the police investigation, remain calm and refuse to allow the terrorists to stop us from going about our business and enjoy everything this city has to offer.''

London Underground log for July 7

The BBC published a London Underground log from July 7, 2005:

0850: First indications received by London Underground's Network Control Centre (NCC) of a problem on the network suggested a power supply problem affecting a large area as stations were reporting that some escalators had stopped and other station equipment was no longer working.

The NCC immediately treated this as a power supply issue and took actions to resolve the issue.
At this stage NCC believed that the problem could be resolved and power would be restored by 09:15.
What we now know is that the power surge occurred as a direct result of explosions knocking the power supply out at the three incident sites.

08:51: The Central Line called the NCC enquiring about a possible large noise or explosion onboard a train at Liverpool Street.

0851: The first call to the Metropolitan Police indicating that they were being asked to attend a person under a train incident caused by the derailment.

08:52: The Metropolitan Line confirmed that an explosion had taken place. NCC believed this to be directly related to the ongoing power supply issue. Loud noises or explosions often accompany a power supply rupture.

08:53: London Underground commenced Gold Control (command and control person in charge of a serious incident on the Underground). On its own a power surge is a major issue.

0859: The NCC receives a report indicating that a train departing Edgware Road station had hit the tunnel wall. Further information came in quickly, including smoke and passengers self de-training and walking down the tunnel towards the nearest station, Edgware Road. Sub-surface line managers immediately called the emergency services believing this to be a derailment. At this time, LU believed it was dealing with a major incident (derailment) and a serious power supply issue on the network.

09:01: The Metropolitan line reported that a person may be under a train at Liverpool Street. This was the third issue that the Network Control Centre was now dealing with within a space of eleven minutes.

09:03: The Piccadilly line Duty Operations Manager receives reports of passengers running from King's Cross.

09:05: The NCC is advised of walking wounded at Edgware Road.

09:09: An engineer reports losing a high tension power cable between Mansell Street and Moorgate.
09:10: The Piccadilly line Duty Operations Manager reports to NCC a request for ambulances. In the twenty minutes that had passed since.

09:11: The Piccadilly line Duty Operations Manager reports loss of traction current in Russell Square both east and westbound and that a loud bang had been heard at Russell Square westbound with staff already investigating.

0915: It was clear that the series of events occurring across the network were directly related to multiple explosions and a Code Amber alert was declared which means trains are brought into stations and told to stay there until further notice.

This was LU commencing the shutdown of the entire Tube network as it was evident that the continued operation of the Tube presented a risk to customers if further explosions occurred. LU staff began de-training large numbers of passengers and evacuating them from the network.
0917: Metropolitan Police received a call specifically stating than an explosion had occurred at Edgware Road. This explains the Metropolitan Police reporting that the Edgware Road explosion occurred at 0917.

Newspaper timeline for July 7

The Independent newspaper recounted the events of July 7, 2005:

8.50 a.m.: Three bombs explode within a minute on London Underground trains.

8.51: Police get their first call to the Aldgate explosion.

9.15: All trains are stopped by London Underground. Press Association reports emergency services have been called to an explosion at Liverpool Street.

9.17: Police get first call about Edgware Road. All Tube stations are evacuated.

9.33: London Underground says there has been "another incident at Edgware Road" station.

9.40: British Transport Police say five "power surge incidents" - some causing explosions - have occurred on the Underground.

9.47: Thirteen people die when an explosion tears through the back of the no 30 bus.

10.02: Scotland Yard says its officers are assisting with a "major incident".

10.10: It is confirmed that Tony Blair at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles is being updated on events.

10:28: London Fire Brigade says it has been called to four "explosions".

10:39: All London hospitals are put on major incident alert.

11:00: Members of the public are told not travel to London.

11:16: Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair says there have been at least six explosions, but claims the picture is still "very confused".

11.52: All London hospitals are full, police confirm.

12 noon: Tony Blair addresses the nation and says an unknown number of people have died in a series of "barbaric" terrorist attacks.

Fire Brigades Union
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, sent the following ``circular'' to members regarding July 7:

I am sure that all members will join me in condemning the horrific bombings in London last week. This was a terrible and horrific attack on ordinary Londoners going about their daily lives. The thoughts of all FBU members will have been with the victims, their families and friends. I know that you will wish to pay tribute to the passers-by who assisted at the scene, helping to save lives and prevent further suffering. We pay tribute also to the transport workers who responded at the various incidents to attempt to protect their passengers as far as possible from further injury and death.

Emergency Service workers performed as we would expect them to – with professionalism, dedication and compassion. Ambulance staff and hospital workers put their training and procedures into practice to magnificent effect. Our thanks go to all of them. At the heart of the emergency operation were our own members in the London Fire Brigade. They played their part with the professionalism and humanity that lies at the heart of our Service. I know that many messages have been received in London from members throughout the country, demonstrating the pride we all feel when we see fellow members of the Service performing well.

Sadly however, the Fire Service in London – as elsewhere – has been under attack. The London Fire Authority itself has agreed cuts in central London stations. One fire station has closed and the Authority proposes further job cuts later this year. There is a similar picture elsewhere in the UK. It is not sufficient for politicians to praise our members for a job well done. We have the right to the best equipment, training and resources. We also have the right to insist that these cuts are stopped immediately. I shall be discussing with London politicians our call for an urgent review of the cuts proposed in London.

On a final note, I would like to urge all members to join me in opposing any attempt to use the tragic events of 7th July as a means to create divisions in our society. An attack on civilians in London is an attack on a multi-ethnic community. Indeed, London is the most multi-racial city in Europe. It is truly appalling therefore that the response of some has been to launch attacks on ethnic minorities, on muslim communities and on mosques. The far right is attempting to use these terrible events to stoke up division and racial hatred. Trade unions are built on the principle of unity. It is a powerful principle which in our case reflects the humanitarian nature of our job. I am sure that FBU members will stand with other workers for unity and in opposition to those who would attempt to divide us.

Bells never stop ...

On July 9, 2005, an ``eight-pump'' fire swept London's Hard Rock Cafe - even as the fire brigade continued to operate at the scene of the July 7 bombings. Guitars played by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who were rescued from the fire.

A statement on the London Fire Brigade web site said:

"Eight fire engines and around forty firefighters tackled a blaze in a restaurant in Piccadilly. Around sixty people were evacuated from the restaurant after smoke was seen coming from the roof of the building. The fire started in the extraction ducting leading up the side of the seven storey building. Around a quarter of the ground floor restaurant was destroyed by the blaze which fire investigation officers believe started accidentally."

On July 14, 2005, precisely a week after the terrorist bombings, the London Fire Brigade battled one of the city's largest fires in many years - a ``30 pump fire'' at a DVD and CD factory in Wembley in North London. Two hundred factory employees escaped before firefighters arrived - and construction workers were evacuated from the building site of a sports stadium.

Flames destroyed half of the two-story factory as well as 30 vehicles, the fire brigade said, and sent plumes of dark black smoke over the city. Three Valleys Water, the local water utility, estimated the fire brigade used ``17 million litres of water,'' reducing the water pressure in parts of North London, the BBC said.

July 21, 2005


Steamer galloping to "shout"

(Photo: BBC web site)
Pumper at Buckingham Palace roof fire - 2002

(Photo: London Fire and Civil Defence Authority)
Fire Rescue Unit

(Photo: London Fire and Civil Defence Authority)

(Photo: London Fire and Civil Defence Authority)
Aerial ladder

(Photo: London Fire and Civil Defence Authority)
Turntable ladder

(Photo: BBC web site)
"Green Goddess" - RAF pump during fire brigade strike

Old emergency tender

(Photo: London Fire and Civil Defence Authority)
Classic pumper

Old turntable ladder

July 18, 2005


Turntable ladder

"Animal House"

1 bird, 1 cat, 1 monkey, 3 dogs, 11 firefighters

Bunks at Lambeth Fire Station

1916 Dennis Pump Escape

Station Officer and firefighters

Safety poster - World War II

Fireboat Massey Shaw (Built 1935 - Retired 1971)

Surbiton, Surrey on outskirts of London - 1937

Infirmary Fire at City of London Workhouse - 1935

The Blitz - Ruins of Bank Underground Station

The Blitz

Old-style Proto breathing apparatus and escape ladder

Recruiting Poster - World War II

The Blitz - German raid on Surrey Docks

"On 7 September 1940 hundreds of planes targeted London's waterfront. Bombs set the Surrey Docks and the thriving businesses along them on fire. The fire service had anticipated major fires when the Germans attacked but were stunned by what they saw. Gerry Knight, a Station Officer sent this message to the alarm office, 'Send all the bloody pumps you've got … The whole bloody world's on fire!' Thousands of Auxiliary Fire-fighters joined the London Brigade to battle the flames." - PortCitiesLondon web site

German Rocket Attack

"With the threat of war looming, the British government created the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in July 1938. On the outbreak of war, the AFS members worked alongside the regular firemen. The Blitz started in September 1940 and saw widespread devastation all over London. Thousands of men and fire-engines were called on to deal with the fires. This image shows firemen, shrouded in smoke and debris, battling the blaze caused by a V1 strike on the Standard Telephone and Cable Company Works in Woolwich in 1944. " - PortCitiesLondon web site

Lambeth Fire Station

King George reviews firefighters and equipment at opening ceremony for London Frire Brigade headquarters at Albert Embankment, Lambeth in July 1937.

Shadwell Fire Station


The London Fire Brigade - along with brigades in other parts of the U.K. - provided heroic service during World War II, particularly during the German "Blitz" of 1940-1941 as well as the ``buzz bomb'' and rocket attacks of 1944-1945.

The Blitz - the deadly aerial bombardment of London - started Sept. 7, 1940 and ended May 15, 1941. At one point Hitler's bombers dropped their fiery payloads for 57 consecutive nights, incinerating vast areas of the city.

The V1 flying bomb and V2 rocket attacks in the closing days of the war were just as deadly, though the damage was more concentrated. The ``V'' in German stood for Vergeltungswaffe - translated as "Reprisal Weapon."

``Hitler expects to terrorize and cow the people of this mighty city,'' Prime Minister Winston Churchill said. `` Little does he know the spirit of the British nation, or the tough fiber of the Londoners.''

The 1940-1941 raids on London were a part of the Battle of Britain, Hitler's plan to destroy the Royal Air Force in advance of an amphibious invasion. The RAF prevailed, of course, and German ground forces never made it beyond the lightly protected islands in the English Channel.

In that first raid on Sept. 7, 1940, the German's unleashed the fury of their bombers on London's waterfront - from the rum quay warehouses at the West India Docks to the Commercial Surrey Docks and its vast store of lumber. Other industrial targets, such as the gas works and the Ford Motor Co. plant, burned as well.

``Send all the bloody pumps you've got ... The whole bloody world is on fire!'' Station Officer Gerry Knight told the London fire alarm office, according to Paul Ditzel's book ``Firefighting During World War II.''

World War II claimed the lives of more than 300 London area firefighters. The roll of the dead included 10 men who perished when No. 16 station in West Ham took a direct hit on Dec. 8, 1940. The firefighters were getting ready to answer an alarm when their station was flattened, according to Ditzel's book.

Churchill called the firefighters "Heroes with grimy faces.'' Today, a memorial dedicated to all the men and women of the wartime fire service stands opposite of St. Paul's Cathedral, which the fire brigade saved from the flames.

London wasn't alone in the suffering.

The web site of National Museums Liverpool said of the city's ``fire bobbies:''

The Liverpool Fire Brigade, the Auxiliary Fire Service and the Liverpool Salvage Corps were in the front line of rescue work during the Blitz. Although short of men and supplies, they were greatly assisted by volunteer fireguards and firewatchers. Over 100 other fire brigades from as far as the Midlands and London also helped with crews and equipment when needed.

Fire cover

According to the London Fire Brigade web site:

As the shadow of another war darkened over Europe, the Government passed an Act setting up an Auxiliary Fire Service which, when the war came, saw AFS members and regular firefighters stationed together all over London.

Enemy raids on London did not start until the late summer of 1940 and during the winter months their intensity grew nightly. Thousands of men and machines were called in to deal with the fires and cope with the devastation. The reputation of the service was greatly enhanced during the Blitz and Sir Winston Churchill, in one of his famous speeches, dubbed the firefighters 'the heroes with grimy faces'.

In the early stages of the war, the Government, realising the importance of a unified firefighting force throughout the country, made emergency provisions for a National Fire Service and this came into being on 18 August 1941.

In Greater London, the separate brigades were formed into a single Regional Force, divided into five and later four Fire Forces. In 1943, Major Frank Jackson, the man who had directed the Blitz campaign, retired and was succeeded by Mr Frederick Delve, later knighted, a former Chief Officer of Croydon.

There was far less bombing in the city after the NFS came into being but, when a short series of heavy raids happened in 1944 followed by flying bomb and rocket attacks, the service again found itself at full stretch.

At the end of the war, plans were made for a peace time service and it was decided that the brigades could best be run by Counties and County Borough Councils. A big 'split' came on 1 April 1948. A major benefit gained from the war was the introduction of new national standards in such matters as ranks, badges of rank, hose couplings, terminology, drills and training.

May 10-11, 1941

The German raids of World War II claimed the lives of 327 firefighters serving in the London region - members of both the regular and auxilary fire services. Another 3,000 London firefighters suffered serious injuries. (More than 1,000 firefighters died across the United Kingdome during the war, including London's losses.)

Many of the fire service casualties occurred on May 10-11, 1941 - perhaps the worst night of the blitz. (The Germans abandoned the bombardment four days later, in part because of the fierce British resistance and the need for air cover for Hitler's invastion of Russia. But raids on London and other cities continued for the duration of the war.)

Divisional Officer Geoffrey Blackstone - in command of firefighting in the Elephant and Castle District of South London on May 10-11 - contended with broken water mains, burnt hose lines and firefighter casualties, including a direct hit on a pump that killed its crew, according to the Time-Life book ``Battle of Britain'' by Leonard Mosley.

Blackstone recalled:

The stuff was beginning to drop. Quite a lot of it. I soon began to realize that this was a bit heavier than anything we had before. For a time we havd the awful exasperation of lots of firemen, lots of pumps, lots of fires - but no water. Then a water unit arrived, which carried up to two or three miles of folded hose. It dropped a canvas dam and made its way to the Thames near Westminster Bridge. Four lines of hose were laid out waiting for water.

Here was a most disappointing sight. Fires were showering embers onto the hose which was lying flat without water, burning it and charring it so that when the water arrived it would be wasted.

As usual the decision had been made to let certain buildings burn out and concentrate on what seemed worth saving. For some reason the Elephant and Castle pub seemed to have some symbolic value. This magnificent piece of old London stood on a sort of island site in the middle of the six-road junction. I had a sort of urge to save it and perhaps wasted precious water and mainpower on it.

The fireman at the control point in the middle of the circus said, `Cor, sir, what a wind - just our luck!' It was a perfectly still night, but the hot air rising from all the fires around was sucking cool air into the circus so that sheets of newspaper, sparks and burning rags were flying through the air around us.

More than 1,400 Londoners perished on the night of May 10-11. Among the dead, 22 firefighters on Blackstone's fire ground alone; a total of 36 across the city.

Viewing the tarpaulin covering the bodies, the divisional fire officer counted eight pairs of leather boots, which were issued to London's regular firefighters, and 14 pairs of rubber boots, which were issued to the city's auxilliary firefighters, according to Mosley's book.

``You are all equal now, mates,'' Blackstone said to himself.

V1 and V2 attacks

The air raids tapered off until 1944-1945 and when the Germans hurled V1 ``buzz bombs'' followed by V2 ballistic missiles. The V1 was an unmanned aircraft that carried explosives. It fell to earth when its fuel was exhausted. The V2 was a precursor to Cold War-era missiles.

According to the web site "HOLNET - The History of London:"

When people heard a V1 come over, what they dreaded the most was the terrible noise cutting out because this meant that the flying bomb was about to come crashing down to earth. All you could do was dive for cover and hope that the engines had not cut out directly above your head. Londoners called them 'buzz bombs' or 'doodlebugs' after a New Zealand insect.

The first hint of a V2 attack would be the tremendous blast.

Both proved to be deadly weapons.

``At one place, we had to use saucepans and tin baths to pick up the remains,'' according to a firefighter quoted in Neil Wallington's book ``Firemen at War.'' ``I've never seen such sights, either on battlefields or during the worst of the previous blitzes.''

The first of the V1s were thought to be crashed airplanes. But there was no sign of a pilot. The government tried to disguise later V2 missle attacks as ``gas line explosions.'' Londoners became suspicious as the number of ``gas line explosions'' escalated, and Prime Minister Winston Churchill was forced to inform his public of of Hitler's secret weapon.

The deadliest of the V2 attacks on London occured Nov. 25, 1944 at a Woolworths in New Cross. It was the Saturday lunch hour. The variety store was teeming with women and children.

According to the Woolworths Virtual Museum:

Workers from the town hall were hurrying home after collecting their pay packets. Women and children were out shopping to put a little something by for Christmas.

And Woolworths was packed out. Word had got around that the Company had received a rare shipment of a hundred and forty four tin saucepans. Servicemen in uniform queued alongside housewives and pensioners all hoping that they would be lucky.

Suddenly, with no warning at 12.26pm, a V2 rocket hit the centre of the roof of Woolworths in New Cross Road, Deptford. After a moment's complete silence the walls bowed, and the building collapsed and exploded. In the ensuing hours local people helped the emergency services to lift the rubble by hand, and as it cleared the full horror was evident. 168 people dead, customers and colleagues, 122 passers-by injured and just one survivor.

Female firefighters

During the war, women also joined the fire brigade, serving a dispatchers, motorcycle messengers and drivers.

Gillian "Bobbie" Walton Clarke signed up for the auxiliary fire service in 1939 as a driver, according to the BBC. Clarke was 20. In 1941, she was awarded the George Medal for her bravery in a ceremony with King George VI.

Recalling her service on the 60th anniversary of the end of the war, she said:

I was with the fire brigade in London - I was stationed at Dockhead in Bermondsey. I went there as a driver - there were two of us and we drove the station officer wherever he wanted to go. But as soon as I was 21, I put in for a heavy goods licence and passed (and delivered fuel during the raids). We used to carry two gallon tins and filled up the trailer pumps with petrol - we had to keep the pumps going. ... You could hear the bombers, but you just got on with it. If you are going to be killed, you are going to be killed and that's all there is about it.

A number of female firefighters died in the line of duty protecting London. Many others were injured protecting the city.

St. Paul's Cathedral

Nothing was sacred to the German air force, not even St. Paul's Cathedral.

The bombers struck cathedral in central London but the fire brigade miraculously saved it from destruction - a symbol of the British determination to win the war. Today, "The Blitz," a sculpture depicting the firefighters, is the centerpiece of the London Firefighters Memorial in the churchyard.

According to the BBC:

During the Blitz in September 1940 raiders dropped a landmine which lodged beneath the south-west tower of St Paul's. As Winston Churchill had declared that 'the cathedral must be preserved at all costs' every effort possible was made to save it. It took two demolition engineers three days to dig out (a feat which won them the George Cross) and when it was detonated on Hackney Marshes it made a crater 100 feet across.

In December the same year the dome caught fire during a raid and the Cathedral fire watch quickly dealt with it. Another incendiary burnt through the roof and fell inside where it could be smothered safely.

American war correspondent Ernie Pyle witnessed the bombardment:

The greatest of all the fires was directly in front of us. Flames seemed to whip hundreds of feet into the air. Pinkish-white smoke ballooned upward in a great cloud, and out of this cloud there gradually took shape - so faintly at first that we weren't sure we saw correctly - the gigantic dome of St. Paul's Cathedral. St. Paul's was surrounded by fire, but it came through. It stood there in its enormous proportions - growing slowly clearer and clearer, the way objects take shape at dawn. It was like a picture of some miraculous figure that appears before peace-hungry soldiers on a battlefield.

Euston fire station

The web site of the Euston Fire Station, maintained by retired station officer Mick Pinchen, provides a glimpse of the wartime fire service:

Euston, in common with the rest of the Brigade, was allocated a number of sub stations; crewed by AFS, (Auxiliary Fire Service), personnel. Each sub station was given a prefix letter such as U, W, X, Y and Z. During the ‘Blitz’ the St Pancras and Somers Town districts were particularly hard hit due to the proximity of the three main line railway stations and their adjacent goods yards.

On the night of April 16th / 17th 1941 a German land mine was dropped on flats in Pancras Square, Pancras Road. It landed in the courtyard between a surface shelter and the flats; thus the explosion had maximum effect for out of 200 people 77 were killed and 52 seriously injured, (today the site is covered by flats called the Chenies). Other premises hit by mines that night, on what was to become known as ‘The Wednesday’ were Oakley Square and Leake St, the latter damaging the bridge at Kings Cross. St Pancras Hospital was hit and incendiaries started fires at Malet Place, Tottenham Court Road, the Express Dairy Tavistock Place, Aldenham St, Diana Place, Acton St, Euston Rd, Stanley Buildings, and the BMA Tavistock Square.

On February 9th 1945 a V2 rocket exploded on the front of the Presbyterian Hall, Regent Square, where a conference was being held. Several dozen people in the hall were killed along with others walking in the street and in adjacent houses. The bodies were taken to the ARP mortuary in Medburn St. One of the last V2's to fall on London destroyed the Whitfield Memorial Church in Tottenham Court Road on 25th March 1945; thirty five people on the premises being killed and injured.

Supreme sacrifice

More from Euston's web site:

During an air raid during the night of 16th September 1940, District Officer Joseph, 'Toby', Tobias, attached to North Division HQ Euston, was killed whilst directing operations at a large fire in Great Portland Street. Whilst these operations were in progress, the crews were subjected to further bombing and one of these fell on Euston's Turntable Ladder, (TL), killing Fm Thomas Curson and Fm Albert Evans. Other personnel were severely injured. Station Officer Edward Morgan, (73 Euston), took charge, and was later awarded the BEM for his part in this fire.

In fact Morgan was a highly decorated officer being awarded the George Medal, (originally recommended for the George Cross), for the rescue of a woman from a blazing basement during a heavy air raid on the night of 29th/30 December 1940 at 51 City Road. He was later awarded the King’s Police & Fire Service Medal for Gallantry for the rescue of a family from a flat at 34 Ampthill Square on 3rd March 1941.

Enemy action claimed the lives of other Euston fireman. On 30th December 1940 Fm Frank Hurd died from injuries sustained at a fire in West Smithfield. During the night of 17th April 1941 Fm Harry Skinner and Fm Stanley Randolph were both killed fighting a fire in Upper Woburn Place j/o Tavistock Square. Fm Arthur Preece died in hospital from the cumulative effects of firefighting on 21st July 1941, Fm Henry Thornton died on 31st December 1946 from the injuries he had sustained whilst fighting a fire at Starcross St School in July 1943, and Fm Maurice Share was killed on 15th August 1940 by enemy bombing whilst off duty.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, those firemen who had been regularservicemen, and were subject to Reserve service were recalled to the Colours. Euston firemen Eugene McCarthy and Charles Carr were two suchpeople, both of whom were killed on active service. McCarthy was killed on 24th May 1940 whilst serving as a sergeant in the Welsh Guards during thedefence of Boulogne, and, Carr was killed whilst serving as a sergeant withthe Staffordshire Yeomanry in Germany on 24th March 1945.


Independent - Sept. 29, 2000

From `London: The Biography' - By Peter Ackroyd

It began with attacks upon outer London. Croydon and Wimbledon were hit and, at the end of August, there was a stray raid upon the Cripplegate area. Then, at 5pm on 7 September 1940, the German air force came in to attack London: 600 bombers, marshalled in great waves, dropped their explosive and high-incendiary devices over east London. Beckton, West Ham, Woolwich, Millwall, Limehouse and Rotherhithe went up in flames.

"Telegraph poles began to smoke, then ignite from base to crown, although the nearest fire was many yards away. Then the wooden block road surface ignited in the searing heat," reported one observer. "The fire was so huge that we could do little more than make a feeble attempt to put it out. The whole of the warehouse was a raging inferno, against which there were silhouetted groups of pygmy firemen directing their futile jets," said another. One volunteer was on the river itself, where "half a mile of the Surrey shore was ablaze... burning barges were drifting everywhere... Inside the scene was like a lake in Hell." In the crypt of a church in Bow, "people were kneeling and crying and praying. It was a most terrible scene."

The German bombers came back the next night, and then the next. The Strand was bombed, St Thomas's Hospital was hit, together with St Paul's Cathedral, the West End, Buckingham Palace, Lambeth Palace, Piccadilly and the House of Commons. Truly, to Londoners, it seemed to be a war on London. Between September and Novem- ber, almost 30,000 bombs were dropped upon the capital. In the first 30 days, almost 6,000 people were killed, and twice as many badly injured. On the night of the full moon, 15 October, "it seemed as if the end of the world had come". In those first days of the Blitz, as they saw the German bombers advancing unhindered by anti-aircraft fire, many Londoners feared they were witnessing the imminent destruction of their city.

The earliest reactions were mixed and incongruous. Some citizens were hysterical, filled with overwhelming anxiety, and there were several cases of suicide; others were angry, and stubbornly determined to continue their ordinary lives even in the face of extraordinary dangers. Some tried to be jovial, while others became keenly interested spectators of the destruction around them - but for many, the mood was one of spirited defiance. As one anthropologist has put it, the records of the time reveal "the perkiness, the jokes, the songs" even "in the immediate and garish presence of violent death".

It is difficult fully to define that particular spirit, though it is clear that Londoners made a deliberate effort to seem unafraid, and that this self-control may have sprung from an instinctive unwillingness to spread the contagion of panic. After all, what if this city of eight million people were to regress into hysteria? Instead it was the "calmness, the resigned resolution" which most impressed those coming from outside. One of Winston Churchill's wartime phrases was "business as usual", and no slogan could be better adapted to the condition of the city in the autumn of 1940.

The attitude of self-sufficiency was often accompanied by an element of pride. "Everyone absolutely determined," wrote one observer, "secretly delighted with the privilege of holding up Hitler." There was, according to another, "a strange lightness of heart". Londoners were proud of their sufferings, in the same way that earlier generations claimed an almost proprietorial interest in their noxious fogs. London firemen claimed that half their time was spent in dispersing crowds of spectators rather than fighting the conflagrations.

There are other images of those early months. One was of the blackout that plunged one of the world's most brilliantly illuminated cities into darkness. It became once more the city of dreadful night, and aroused sensations in some of almost primitive fear. As one of Evelyn Waugh's characters notes, "Time might have gone back two thousand years to the time when London was a stockaded cluster of huts." Of course, there were some who took advantage of the darkness for their own purposes, but for many the predominant sensation was one of alarm and insufficiency.
The lure of shelter under the ground raised fears that London would breed a race of "troglodytes" who would never wish to come to the surface. The reality, however, was both more stark and more prosaic. Only 4 per cent of the population ever used the London Underground for night shelter, largely on account of the overcrowded and often insanitary conditions which they would have found there. In implicit compliance to the tradition of London as a city of separate family dwellings, most citizens elected to stay in their own houses.

And what might they have seen when they emerged at daybreak 60 years ago this month? "The house about 30 yards from ours struck at one this morning by a bomb. Completely ruined. Another bomb in the square still unexploded... The house was still smouldering. There is a great pile of bricks... Scraps of cloth hanging to the bare walls... A looking glass I think swinging. Like a tooth knocked out - a clean cut." Virginia Woolf's description registers the sensation of almost physical shock, as if the city were indeed a living being that could suffer hurt. The following month, October 1940, Woolf visited Bloomsbury, where she passed a line of people, with bags and blankets, queuing at 11.30am for a night's shelter in Warren Street station. In Tavistock Square she found the remnants of her old house - "I could just see a piece of my studio wall standing: otherwise rubble where I wrote so many books..."

It was remarked at the time that upon everything lay a fine coat of grey ash, prompting comparison between London and Pompeii. The loss of personal history was another aspect of the city bombings; the wallpaper, and mirrors, and carpets were sometimes stripped bare and left hanging in the air of a ruin as if the private lives of Londoners had suddenly become public property. This encouraged a communal feeling and became one of the principal sources of the bravado and determination.

The Second World War also created a climate of care. It became a question of saving the children, for example, by a process of mass evacuation from the city to the country. In the months preceding the outbreak of hostilities on 3 September 1939, a policy of voluntary evacuation was drawn up to deal with the movement of approximately four million women and children, yet the curious magnetism of London then began to exert itself. Less than half the families wished, or decided, to leave. Those children about to be sent to reception areas in the country departed reluctantly; and when they arrived in the country they felt quite out of place. Then, within a few weeks, they began to return home. By the winter of 1939, approximately 150,000 mothers and children had come back; by the early months of the following year, half of the evacuees had made their way back to the city. One described it as "a return from exile".

In the summer of 1940, when the German forces began to conquer Europe, another attempt was made to remove the children, those of the East End in particular. One hundred thousand were evacuated; two months later, 2,500 children were coming back each week. It represents the strangest, and perhaps most melancholy, instinct - the need to get back to the city, even if it becomes a city of fire and death. The curious fact, even during the air raids themselves, was that the children proved "more resilient" than the adults. They seemed to revel among all the suffering and privation. In Watson's Wharf, off Wapping, a gang of children congregated under the name of the "Dead End Kids". They were the unofficial fire fighters of the East End. Dressed in cheap clothes, and split into sections of four, they had iron bars and a hand-truck as well as sand buckets and spades to assist them in their work. They roped in time bombs, and tossed them into the Thames; they carried the wounded away from incendiary scenes. As one witness reported, on an intense night of bombing: "In a moment 10 boys rushed up the stairs, ready, as it seemed, to eat fires." They entered a burning building and emerged, "with the clothes of some... smouldering". Some were killed in the fires and explosions but, when casualties depleted their ranks, others willingly filled their places. It is an extraordinary story that emphasises in poignant detail the hardiness bred within London children.

The bombings of 1940 culminated in the most celebrated and notorious of all raids, that of Sunday 29 December. The warning was sounded after 6pm, and then the incendiaries came down like "heavy rain". The attack was concentrated on the City. The area from Aldersgate to Cannon Street, all of Cheapside and Moorgate, was in flames. One observer on the roof of the Bank of England recalled that "the whole of London seemed alight! We were hemmed in by a wall of flame in every direction." Nineteen churches, 16 of them built by Christopher Wren after the first Great Fire, were destroyed; of the 34 guild halls, only three escaped; the whole of Paternoster Row went up in flames, destroying five million books; the Guildhall was badly damaged; St Paul's was ringed with fire, but escaped. "No one who saw will ever forget", wrote William Kent, "their emotions on the night when London was burning and the dome seemed to ride the sea of fire."

One who walked through the ruins the day after the raid recalled that "The air felt singed. I was breathing ashes... The air itself, as we walked, smelt of burning."

The City had become unfamiliar territory; the area between Cheapside and St Paul'sreverted to wasteland. There were, however, unexpected discoveries. A section of the Roman wall, hidden for centuries, was uncovered by the bombing of Cripplegate. An underground chamber paved with tiles emerged below the altar of St Mary le Bow. Roman relics were found by Austin Friars, one of them a tile with the paw-marks of a dog in pursuit of a cat. The emblematic significance of these discoveries was not in doubt: those who believed that the city's history could be easily destroyed were mistaken - it simply emerged at a deeper level. Over at the Natural History Museum, air damage meant that certain seeds became damp, including mimosa brought from China in 1793. After 147 years, they began to grow again.

Following the great fire-raid at the end of December, the attacks became more sporadic but no less deadly. There were raids in January 1941, and again in March. On 16 April, the city was visited by what the Germans described as "the greatest air-raid of all time"; and the bombers returned again three nights later. More than 1,000 people were killed on each night of the bombardment, which hit areas as diverse as Holborn and Chelsea. Anxiety and loss of sleep marked the faces of Londoners, weariness combining with the destruction to create a light-headedness among the population. "So low did the dive- bombers come," one witness recalled, "that for the first time I mistook bombers for taxicabs."

The heaviest and most prolonged raid of all occurred on 10 May 1941, when bombs fell in Kingsway, Smithfield, Westminster and all over the City. Almost 1,500 were killed. The Law Courts and the Tower of London were attacked, the House of Commons reduced to a shell. The church of St Clement Danes was destroyed, so devastated that its rector died "from the shock and grief" shortly afterwards. It seemed then that the city could not withstand the onslaught for much longer. Yet it was to be the last significant attack upon London for three years.

The German invasion of the Soviet Union had indirectly saved the city from more destruction, and there succeeded a relative peace. The city seemed to resume its normal course, with its postmen and bus- drivers and milkmen and errand boys, but there was the strangest feeling of ennui or despondency after the spectacular damage of the Blitz.

At the beginning of 1944, the bombs returned. But the "little blitz", as it was called, was the unhappy end of unfinished business; there were 14 raids in all, directed against a city that had been wearied and to an extent demoralised by the prolonged and uncertain conflict. Then something else happened. In June, pilotless jet planes carrying a bomb known as the V1, alias doodlebug, alias flying bomb, alias buzz bomb, alias robot bomb, began to appear in the skies above London. They were recognised by the sharp buzzing of the engine followed by sudden silence, as the engine cut out and the bomb fell to earth. They came in daylight, at infrequent intervals, and were perhaps the hardest to bear. Almost 2,500 flying bombs fell upon the capital in 10 months.

And just as their frequency began to diminish, in the early autumn of 1944, Vengeance Two - the V2 - was targeted upon the capital. For the first time in the history of warfare, a city came under attack from long- distance rockets that travelled at approximately 3,000mph. No warning could be sounded; no counter-attack launched. The first one hit Chiswick and the explosion could be heard at Westminster seven miles away. Their power was so great that "whole streets were flattened as they landed". Almost 1,000 of these rockets were aimed at the capital, with half reaching their targets. There were open spaces where streets had been. One rocket hit Smithfield Market, and another a department store in New Cross; the Royal Hospital in Chelsea was struck. "Are we never to be free of damage or death?" one Londoner complained. "Surely five years is long enough for any town to have to suffer?"

The winter of 1944 was the coldest for many years, and the bombs continued to fall. Illness was in the air, along with rumours of epidemics and mounting deaths. Londoners retired to bed without knowing if they were going to rise on the following morning. And then, suddenly, it was all over. At the end of March 1945, a rocket fell upon Stepney, and another on Tottenham Court Road. But then the raids ceased; the rocket-launching sites had been captured. The Battle of London was finally won. Almost 30,000 Londoners had been killed, and more than 100,000 houses utterly destroyed; a third of the City of London had been razed.

On 8 May 1945, there were the usual celebrations for victory in Europe - VE Day - although by no means as garish or as hysterical as those of 1918. The participants were more weary, after five years of intermittent bombing and death, than their predecessors on the same streets 27 years before. Yet something had happened to London, too. In the phrase of the period, the "stuffing" had been "knocked out of it", the metaphor suggesting a thinner and more depleted reality. Certainly it had lost much of its energy and bravura; it had become as shabby as its inhabitants. And, like them, it would take time to recover.