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Firefighting the Blitz (Hardback)

Fire Service Memories

WWII Frontline Books Frontline: WWII The Blitz

By Sir Aylmer Firebrace CBE KPM
Frontline Books
Pages: 320
Illustrations: 32 black and white illustrations
ISBN: 9781399014991
Published: 20th October 2021

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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.

Sir Aylmer Firebrace's tales of firefighting in the old days was truly fascinating with his vivid and evocative descriptions, although some of the book was a bit technical. I especially liked the stories of the horses-some of them were so well-trained that they thought of each other's welfare and they sounded lovely, although it was a hard job for them, of course. It was also filled with hair-raising accounts of fires in warehouses, planes and boats, and what firemen had to do to put them out. The bravery of these early firefighters was just staggering. I would like to read more about this.

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

Wow! Mr. Firebrace has led a very interesting life. His book is a window into a world that is captivating. I found myself unable to stop reading at night. Very few people can tell such a story with such vivid descriptions. I would recommend this book for anyone who enjoys history and the beginnings of firefighting in England.

NetGalley, Sandra Berryman

About Sir Aylmer Firebrace CBE KPM

Born on 17 June 1886, Commander Sir AYLMER NEWTON GEORGE FIREBRACE CBE, KPM was educated at HMS Britannia, following which he enlisted in the Royal Navy. Rising through the ranks, he saw active service in the First World War, being present at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. In 1919, he joined the London Fire Brigade and, in June 1938, became its chief officer. With the creation of the National Fire Service, which existed until 1948, Firebrace became the first and only person to head firefighting across the whole of Great Britain. Retiring in 1947, Firebrace passed away in June 1972.

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