Death in Military Service
It has recently become apparent that many members of the Fire Service have died whilst in Military service, being either Reservists called back to their units, or joining as Volunteers or being ‘called-up’ as Conscripts, fighting for their country and being killed or dying from their injuries. The vast majority of those names we have identified, result from the First World War, but we have found names from both the Second Boer War and the Second World War. It is also possible that there are other conflicts that may have resulted in casualties for members of the Fire Service.
The task of establishing names is not, however, an easy one. Some local recognition may have been given at the time in local Fire Brigade Committee minutes and the like. Some fire stations created a ‘Roll of Honour’ and some memorial plaques were placed in local churches and Town Halls etc. Many men went to war from the large number of Private/Industrial Fire Brigades that existed at the time, and often memorial plagues were placed in Company premises, only to disappear as Companies went out of business or changed hands or when buildings were later demolished.
There is no central source listing those killed or who later died from their wounds. Later deaths resulting from wounds, could include complications such as those resulting from gas poisoning or treatment as a prisoner of war etc and, could be several years after first being wounded.
There are of course Military listings and names on the many local War Memorials. There are also the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. However, any deaths so recorded in these sources are, of course, set against the Military unit in which the person served and do not often indicate their previous occupation, so there is no way of identifying them having served as a Firemen.
The Firefighters Memorial Trust wishes to record and recognise these members of the Fire Service, who fought and died, in the service of their country and who, perhaps, have been forgotten.
We are seeking your help before it is all forgotten again. If anyone knows of any names or memorials recording names, we would like to be advised.
It is only right that these members of the Fire Service are given due recognition.
Second Boer War
During the Second Boer War, a number of Military Reservists, then serving with Fire Brigades, were called back to their previous occupations. Likewise, it also seems that some men chose to volunteer to join the fight for ‘The Empire’.
The period of the War was 11 October 1899 – 31 May 1902.
The list of Fireman currently identified as having been killed or, who died as a result of Military duties during the Second Boer War is recorded in our Book of Remembrance.
World War I
Whilst it is probably well known and accepted what impact World War 1 had on life in general for the population of the UK, what is not often mentioned, and therefore perhaps not so well known or indeed recorded, is the specific and huge impact that ‘The Great War’ had on the Fire Brigades in existence at the time.
It was during this period that the civilian population was directly targeted for the first time, with air raids on various cities and towns, conducted from Zeppelin airships and, later, by fixed-wing aircraft bombers. This of course did have some impact on some Fire Brigades, seeing the establishment of reinforcement schemes under ‘The Defence of the Realm Act’ (DORA), and members of Fire Brigades being engaged in firefighting and rescue work, resulting from crudely dropped but nonetheless destructive incendiary and explosive bombs. It was a new era of terror for the population who, hitherto, had seemed so far removed from the events unfolding with the clash of Armed Forces at ‘The Front’.
Some Firemen were, inevitably, wounded, from the air raids but, as far as records indicate, only 5 were killed or succumbed to their injuries and all of these in the London area. These men are recognised and recorded elsewhere by the Trust.
There were also a number of Fire Brigade deaths resulting from the many explosions and fires occurring within the vast munitions industry that grew up around the UK to meet the needs of Military action. These men are recognised and recorded by the Trust in our Book of Remembrance.
What is not recorded in any overall way is the huge number of Firemen killed, or wounded, as a result of them being called back as Reservists, volunteering or being conscripted, (‘called up’) for Military Service to ‘Fight for the Colours’.
In the beginning, after the declaration of war with Germany and her Allies, the first impact felt by Fire Brigades was the huge number of Military Reservists being called back for duty as per their contracted conditions on leaving there previous Military career. Those who had served in the Armed Forces were required to remain as a ‘Reservist’ and so, were the first to be called back for duties on the outbreak of hostilities.
For some years recruitment into Fire Brigades was often targeted towards those leaving the Military and, in particular, the Royal Navy because ex-Seamen were seen to be amongst the best candidates to be Firemen. Being the prominent Naval Power of the era, members of the Royal Naval Reserve were amongst the first to be taken from their Fire Brigade duties. Added to this, encouraged by patriotic fervour, whipped up by energetic recruitment campaigns and, a general feeling that this would all be a short-lived adventure, many Firemen volunteered to join His Majesty’s Forces. For some, additional to any sense of duty ‘calling’, especially those not employed as paid Firemen; this was seen to be an opportunity to better themselves in terms of pay and living conditions.
Later, as the war continued and the vast number of casualties depleted the ‘Front Line’, conscription became a route to force men into the fight, based on selection by age. As the need increased, so to the age band widened. Firemen were not seen generally to be a ‘reserved occupation’ and were regarded as not being exempt from Military service and therefore, being subject to what was, at times, a seemingly somewhat random selection.
This combination of routes into Military service, without any real controls, was to have a huge impact of Fire Brigades, resulting in a crisis of manpower, with reductions to dangerous levels and fire stations being closed. In some locations, ‘Auxiliaries’ to replace men in the Military, were introduced for the first time within Fire Brigades who, previously, had never had the need for such support.
Many retired Firemen were asked to go back on duty and in some areas, members of selected Army Territorial Units would be given basic training to support the Fire Brigade during an air raid.
Military action quickly resulted in the first casualties and the list of deaths gradually grew in number. This soon impacted on Fire Brigades who initially saw the drain of men into the Military as both temporary and of limited time. A further impact of course was the large number of men wounded many, although invalided out of Military service, being also no longer fit for the duties of a Fireman.
Although often referred to as the 1914/18 War, with war being declared between Great Britain and Germany on 4 August, and the German signed The Armistice on 11 November 1918 this was not the end of hostilities everywhere. Taking the criteria used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, we are designating 4 August 1914 to 31 August 1921 as being the period, which we will use for our records.
The list of Fireman currently identified as having been killed or, who died as a result of Military duties during the First World War is recorded in our Book of Remembrance.
World War 2
During World War 2, although the Fire Service had, by then, been made a ‘Reserved Occupation’ for whole-time Firemen, this exemption did not cover part-time members, including the great number of men in the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), which existed from 1938 and until the creation of the National Fire Service (NFS) on 18 August 1941. Although Chief Fire Officers did have much greater control over the loss of men as compared to the situation during World War 1, there were many men who, particularly in the early years, did enter into Military service, either voluntarily or on conscription, where some, inevitable, lost their lives.
Although often referred to as the 1939/45 War, with war being declared between Great Britain and Germany on 3 September 1939, and the German surrender being 8 May 1945, followed by the Japanese surrender being announced on 15 August 1945, with the formal signing on 2 September 1945, this was not the end of hostilities everywhere. Taking the criteria used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, we are designating 3 September 1939 to 31 December 1947 as being the period, which we will use for our records.
The list of Fireman currently identified as having been killed or, who died as a result of Military duties during the Second World War is recorded in our Book of Remembrance.
Post-World War 2 Conflicts
It is very possible that there will be some Firemen who have died whilst in Military service, engaged in operations during conflicts since World War 2, particularly during the period of ‘National Service’ – 1947 to 1963. Part-time members of the Fire Service were not exempt from National Service. The Korean War and periods of conflict such as in Malaya, Borneo, Cyprus, Suez, and Aden could easily have been where National Servicemen, temporarily removed from their duties as Firemen, could have served. It is also possible that deployment of members of the Territorial Army units and Reservists could have resulted in losses.
At this time, no names have so far been identified for any conflict since World War 2, but the Trust remains mindful that some may be identified in due course.