- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Frederick John Barker, Hugh Barker (son)
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Civilian Force
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 10 July 2005
My father, a World War II Firewatcher in Liverpool, during 1939-1945.
My father was thirty four years of age at the outbreak of World War II, he was not conscripted into the forces, he was placed in the National Softwood Brokers and the Firewatchers.
The National Softwood Brokers were a government department responsible for procuring and importing softwood, pine, spruce, douglas fir, etc., into Liverpool docks, for distribution around the country. The various stocks of timber were known as "SRS Stock", i.e. "Strategic Reserve Stock" which were of national importance for use in repairing damage to buildings and railways caused by enemy bombing. We did not have sufficient stocks nor the larger sizes required for construction in home grown timber.
My father worked at least six days a week, often longer, in addition to which he was called out several nights a week on firewatching duties. The firewatchers were a force of civilians called upon to position themselves in strategic places during and after bombing raids to spot the fires and to liaise accordingly with the National Fire Service.
My father was positioned on the roof of India Buildings on Water Street in Liverpool. The German bombers dropped high explosive, incendiary and butterfly bombs, also land mines which descended by parachute and exploded on landing. My father lost several colleagues to bomb blasts and to the butterfly bombs. The butterfly bombs were a type of anti-personnel bomb which would not explode on landing - they exploded in the face of anyone who approached them to discover the nature of the weapon. When the nature of the butterfly bombs became known the firewatchers were instructed not to approach them.
The firewatchers knew when the German bombers were due to arrive, they were warned by the sound of sirens. We, at home, also knew, if we failed to hear a siren we would hear the distinctive sound of the german aircraft - their engineers did not syncronize their engines, consequently they made a droning sound, very unlike our aircraft. We would also hear the sound of the R.A.F. aircraft taking off from Woodvale aerodrome to fight off the enemy.
I remember my father's tin hat, uniform, torch and whistle, and his kitbag in which he carried some sandwiches. I still remember saying goodbye to him each time he left home for India Buildings, I always feared that one day he may never survive an enemy raid.
It is quite extrordinary how my father, and his colleagues, were able to endure the six years of war. Not only did my father and his colleagues work by night and day, they lived on a weekly ration of food equal to what we eat in one meal these days - such was the food shortage, the food available was rationed.
In recent years the Firewatchers have taken part in the Remembrance parade at the Cenotaph during November, they were very brave civilians who undertook a very hazardous job of work.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.