RAF Church Fenton Civilian Pass

RAF Church Fenton was opened as an airfield in 1936 and during the war was used to station a number of fighter squadrons used to protect the industrial centres of Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and the Humber. Like all RAF aerodromes, the base had its own fire brigade which was trained in dealing with fire and rescue of damaged aircraft which might land at the airfield. The RAF’s fire brigade at a base would, necessarily, have close links with the local civilian fire brigade services so each could assist the other if needed. In order to work efficiently, close liaison was needed between the two fire services and today we are looking at a temporary pass issued to the local commander of the civilian fire brigade to allow him to come onto the base at RAF Church Fenton:

From this we can see that the pass was issued to G R Sanderson who was Captain of the Tadcaster Fire Brigade. Tadcaster was just over four miles from the air base and so was one of the local fire brigades that might need to be called in if there was a large scale emergency. The pass explicitly explains that the two fire brigades would be co-operating together on this visit. The date of issue is 20th August 1940 at the height of the Battle of Britain so the air base would have been particularly busy and there would have been more damaged aircraft landing than normal, exactly the time when fire services might need to be boosted. Fire services were essential and in 1942 Sergeant John Emmett, an RAF Fire Fighter was awarded the British Empire Medal:

In the early hours of a day in September, 1941, this airman saw an aircraft having difficulty in landing at an aerodrome. Anticipating a crash, he took charge of the fire tender, although not officially on duty, and arrived at the scene of the accident within three minutes. The aircraft, which had been broken in two by the impact, was burning furiously and two members of the crew could be seen alive in the flames below the fuselage. Sergeant Emmett, protected only by asbestos gloves, dashed into the burning wreckage and extricated one of the crew. Before he could return for the second man, the petrol tank split and the fierce heat of the blazing petrol then prevented any near approach. Sergeant Emmett tried repeatedly to extricate the other living member of the crew by means of a grab hook but without success. In spite of a violent explosion, Sergeant Emmett continued to direct the work of his fire party until the fire was completely extinguished and the remaining bodies were recovered. Unfortunately, the rescued airman has since died of his injuries. Sergeant Emmett on this occasion displayed great devotion to duty and courage and disregard for his own safety. He has been in charge of the station firefighting personnel for the past 9 months and has shown considerable fortitude and presence of mind at many flying accidents on and near the station.

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