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15 October 2014
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An Unforgettable Night in Devonport: Memories of a London Fireman 1941

by Charles Harwood

Contributed by 
Charles Harwood
People in story: 
Charles
Location of story: 
Devonport,Plymouth and London
Article ID: 
A2598410
Contributed on: 
04 May 2004

One night in April 1941 I was on watch room duty in 86U fire brigade substation, Tranmere Road, Earlsfield, London. A message came on the phone from HQ. It was ‘Send a crew with iron rations to the London railway station. They will be taken by train to Plymouth. They are being heavily bombed and need support. Hoses and pumps will be there.’
My crew was detailed to go. One of the other drivers drove us to the station. We travelled in full fireghting gear including slickers, boots and axes. The rail journey was longer than normal because of the danger of fire during the air raids. There were approximately 100 London firemen on the train. We had nothing to eat on the train as we did not have iron rations. Eventually we arrived at our destination.
Buses were waiting to take us to Plymouth Argyle football ground. As soon as we arrived there, the crews were dispatched to different points in Plymouth and Devonport. My crew was taken to Fore Street, Devonport which was a main shopping street, leading to Devonport Dockyard. The pumps and hoses we were to use were already in the streets but no fire crews were to be seen. The authorities knew there would be another raid and positioned us in readiness. Down the centre of the street soldiers were patrolling to protect the shops from being looted. As darkness fell the raid began. Bombs and incendiaries were falling everywhere.
As the shops were bombed fires started. Our crew of four, Ted Crust, Ted Osborne, Ted Connet and me, Charles Harwood, did our best to quench the fire. The fires spread quicker than we could contain them. The buildings were raised to the ground. We stayed with our appliances for nearly two days with no break.
When we arrived there was a High Street with a number of large stores. When we left only two buildings remained. The rest was rubble. We were exhausted, dirty, wet, hungry and dispirited. On return we were given an extra day’s leave. After spending considerable time cleaning my uniform I fell asleep. I slept for the rest of the day. That was my day’s leave.
We returned to London by train. About a week later the officer came to our crew and said ‘The top brass are coming from HQ to have a chat with you four. Tidy up and look smart’. The officer from HQ spoke to us the next day and told us we had been recommended for an award for endurance and bravery, possibly the George Medal. Unfortunately none of us received the George Medal or any other award but that is another story.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - An unforgettable night in Devonport

Posted on: 05 May 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Charles

A superb contribution full of little known facts and detail, well written and a joy to read.

I hope to hear more!

Regards,

Peter

 

Message 2 - An unforgettable night in Devonport

Posted on: 06 May 2004 by Charles Harwood

Peter
Thank you for your encouraging note. I type the articles for Dad because of his failing sight but the words and memories are all his. He has another article on this site entitled 'From bricklayer to fireman'.
He has several other items he intends to submit including what really happened about the George Medal and another about the many duties the firemen covered.
He asks me to thank you. It is heartening for him that people are interested.
Many thanks
Ann Harwood

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

The Blitz Category
Fire Duty Category
Devon Category
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