Auxiliary Fire Service Badge

Today we are looking at a very simple Auxiliary Fire Service cloth badge. This badge consists of en embroidered red pentagon with the letters AFS in the centre:

This has been machine woven onto the dark blue cloth and from the rear the remains of a bcking cloth can be seen:

The AFS was formed in 1938 in response to the growing threat of war. It was a volunteer force designed to supplement and support existing regional fire services. It suffered many problems in the beginning, often down to its appliances being incompatable with those used by the local professional fire services. It was stood down in 1941 when all the fire services were combined into the NFS (National Fire Service). it was reformed after the war in 1949 before finally being stood down in 1968. One wartime member recalled:

My name is Charles Harwood. I was born in London in 1910. Before the war started I signed up with the Auxiliary Fire Service. During 1938 and 1939 I continued working as a bricklayer. One or two evenings a week I would leave work and go to my local fire station for training. This training included knot-tying, training on equipment, ladders, extinguishers, pumps and jumping sheets. We also had lectures on hydraulics, water pressure, water losses and safety issues.

On the Friday evening before war was declared a message was broadcast on the wireless ordering all civil defence and fire brigade personnel to report to their local fire stations.

I went home from work, had my tea, said goodbye to my wife and reported to Tooting Fire Station. At midnight the same day those of us who were to be drivers were taken to Fulham cab garage. As each cab came it was comandeered, fitted with a tow bar ready for a trailer pump. We drove these cabs back to the main fire station. By now it was the middle of the night and we were ordered into a builders yard ‘Carmichael’s’ Wandsworth Common. We filled some old sacks with straw and slept on them.

Within a week we moved into schools which had become our substations. I was stationed at U86 Tranmere Road Earlsfield. I became part of blue watch.Although we were drawn from many different backgrounds we soon became a good team. It was vital that we worked together.I had been a bricklayer. We had a boxer , a wrestler, office workers, a piano tuner Harry Goodall, a cocktail waiter, Harry Varden who was a clarinetist and Ben Betts who was a well known cartoonist in our substation. We slept partly dressed. As soon as the bells went down we jumped up, carried our clothes and were ready to go.

The first wartime fire I attended was at Woolwich Arsenal. I was driving a cab and trailer. As we drove in the Arsenal was ablaze. The officers were leading the way in. The fire was out of control and there was no water. After a while we drove back to Tooting. As we looked back towards the docks it looked as if the whole of London, particularly the docks were on fire. It was terrible. We arrived back exhausted but had turn out to 2 more fires that night. We returned to our station exhausted and soaked. We only had one uniform so drying it before the meagre open fire we had was very difficult. We were only allowed one coal scuttle of coal per day.

One comment

  1. Very interesting story….. chapeau for these hard workers, these fire fighters; and also for the effort to bring another and another item each day!

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