|The Admiralty Citadel (author's photo)
In previous editions of this occasional series, we have tended to look at specific items of London's wartime past which have stood the test of time and which are still extant, perhaps albeit in a somewhat faded form and therefore maybe not to be seen for much longer, after seventy years or more. We have seen evidence of air raid shelters, signs for shelters, emergency water supplies, shrapnel damage and memorial plaques.
|Charlton Road Wardens' Post (authors photo)
From Wardens' Posts, we move just a mile or so along the road to Charlton Way on the edge of Blackheath itself, where we can see evidence of some of the improvised anti-invasion measures which sprung up across the country in the days following the fall of France in June 1940 when the invasion of this country seemed to be a serious threat. Amongst those defences that can still be seen are some loopholes, complete with firing steps behind in the wall of Greenwich Park, located inside what is now a council depot. It was a fair assumption that any advancing German force would be heading for central London after having fought their way from their landings along the south-eastern coast. The then Commander in Chief, Home Forces, General Sir Edmund Ironside, favoured a series of fixed defences, known as the GHQ Line as well as a series of 'Stop Lines' all of which were designed to halt, or at least slow down, an invading army. These fixed defences were abandoned in July 1940 prior to their completion on the orders of his successor, General Sir Alan Brooke, who believed in a more mobile form of warfare rather than static defence lines. Perhaps the best known vestige of London's anti-invasion defences is the Admiralty Citadel, which glowers over Horse Guards Parade, it's harsh concrete appearance softened, at least in the summer months, by the ivy which is allowed to cover it's walls.
|Blackheath loopholes(author's photo)
We move from the Home Guard and anti-invasion measures to the Auxiliary Fire Service, formed in 1938 as part of the massive expansion of Britain's Civil Defence services in the wake of the Munich Crisis. The AFS were part time volunteers, who called be called up for full time service in the fire brigades if required. Although well trained by regular fire fighters, the vast majority of these enthusiastic volunteers had never fought a 'real' fire by the time that the Blitz on London started in September 1940. Never has the phrase 'baptism of fire' had a more literal meaning. The AFS acquitted themselves bravely and with great honour but were hampered by a lack of equipment and more importantly, a lack of standardisation across the country which hindered their ability to act as a mobile reserve to assist fire brigades across the country. It was as a direct result of this lack of standardised equipment that led to the removal of fire brigades from municipal control in August 1941, when the country's fire brigades were nationalised to form the National Fire Service or NFS. Although the NFS was disbanded after the war and the brigades returned to municipal control, the NFS formed the template for the modern fire services which continue to serve us bravely to this day.
|Station 6W insignia (author's photo)
It is not known who carved the station code letters for posterity. Many of those who served in the AFS were from the world of the arts, some of whom were devoted pacifists who felt that they could serve their country better by saving lives rather than taking them but whose subsequent bravery in fighting the fire lit by the Luftwaffe could never be doubted. Perhaps this is the work of a sculptor turned firefighter.
London Fire Service: Directory of Auxiliary Sub Stations 1939-41 - WF Hickin, The Watchroom 2000
List of ARP Wardens' Posts - Metropolitan Borough of Greenwich/Greenwich Heritage Centre