Firefighting the Blitz (Hardback)
Fire Service Memories
War was coming. Everyone knew that confrontation with Nazi Germany was inevitable and that London was likely to be a prime target of Hitler’s bombers. So, in January 1939, Aylmer Firebrace, the Chief Officer of London Fire Brigade, was seconded to the Home Office to plan for the capital’s fire defence.
Before joining the Fire Brigade, Aylmer Firebrace had been a Royal Navy officer who had fought in the Battle of Jutland during the First World War. It was following the Armistice that, in 1919, he became principal officer in the London Fire Brigade. He was promoted to deputy chief and finally chief officer in June 1938..
That war struck London soon enough, but it was on 7 September 1940, that Firebrace’s preparations were truly tested with the start of the Blitz. For the next fifty-seven days and nights London was subjected to the longest continuous bombing campaign in history. Then, as the Luftwaffe ranged wider and further across Britain’s towns and cities, Firebrace was tasked with toured the nation to see the effects of the bombing, at which point he saw the need for a national response. The result was the creation of the National Fire Service. Formed in August 1941, by the amalgamation of some 1,600 separate brigades, this remarkable organisation had, at its peak, a strength of 370,000 men and women. It was led for its entire existence by Aylmer Firebrace.
As the war continued, Firebrace became Chief of the Fire Staff and Inspector-in-Chief of the Fires Services, being the first and, to date, only person to head all the fire-fighting services in Britain. This body had to deal with the expansion of the Blitz as well as the so-called ‘Baedeker’ raids, the ‘tip-and-run’ attacks, Baby Blitz and V1 and V2 offensives of the later years of the war.
In his fascinating account, written immediately the war, Firebrace reflects on the functioning of the fire service at its most testing time. This book is an essential addition to the understanding of the Blitz and how London and the rest of the country survived its darkest hour.