"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

February 26, 2008

FIREBOAT MASSEY SHAW

Photos: Little Ships Image Gallery

The fireboat Massey Shaw of the London Fire Brigade - named for Sir Eyre Massey Shaw, first chief officer of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade - is maintained today by a charitable trust. It was retired from active duty in 1971. Chief Shaw commissioned the city's first fireboats in the 1860s.

According to the web site of the television program Salvage Squad: ``Launched in 1935, the Massey Shaw was the first fireboat to be purpose-built for the Thames ... Two enormous diesel engines pushed the fireboat along at 12 knots. At the scene of the fire, these could be switched over to run two huge turbo pumps, pushing out over 3,000 gallons of Thames water per minute.

``The fireboat's first major call out or 'shout' was to the biggest fire London had seen for over 100 years. The rubber warehouse at Colonial Wharf burned for six days and was a difficult challenge for the new boat. But the Massey Shaw's pumping ability turned the boat into a hero. Working amongst the docks and wharves of the Port of London, the boat gained a place in the affections of Londoners.

``It was one of the craft that rescued troops in the Dunkirk evacuation at the beginning of the Second World War and fought fires throughout the London Blitz, playing a major role in saving St Paul's Cathedral.''

According to the web site Port Cities London, before the vessel's retirement, the Massey Shaw attended major fires at the Tate & Lyle works at Silvertown and aboard the Jumna at the Royal Albert Dock.

By 1866 - five years after Shaw took charge of London's fire service - two boats patroled the Thames. More ``fire floats'' joined the brigade's fleet.

In 1901, journalist Ernest A. Carr - writing in Living London, edited by George R. Sims - described the vessels in action: ``A message from the smaller station down at Blackwall intimates that a brig proceeding upstream has caught fire, and has been run aground … A strong glare of light round the next bend marks our objective, and a very few minutes more bring us abreast of the flaming vessel.

``There follow two hours of unremitting labour – aiding the crew of the fire-floats at their toil, taking wet lines aboard and fixing them to mooring posts and buoys, creeping down to windward of the flames to receive salvaged goods, and helping to fend the brig off by means of stout ropes into deeper water, where the volumes of water streaming in from the fire hose may submerge her.''