Article for FSPG magazine

1940s Open Day in Nottingham

An air raid siren sounded in the centre of a busy city centre on a Saturday morning, in the Old Market Square with shoppers passing by. It was Nottingham on Saturday 7th May, exactly 70 years since the major blitz when 160 people lost their lives, and 4,500 houses were damaged or destroyed. The National Fire Service Display Group turned out with three appliances: an Austin K2 towing a Dennis No2 pump, a Fordson 7V Escape Carrier, and an Austin K4 Turntable Ladder.

It started with a phone call in February from the Mansfield Fire Museum, who had seen us at other events. Would we be interested in taking part at an event in the Central Fire Station in Nottingham to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Blitz? A meeting was quickly convened and we thrashed out some initial ideas. The aims were to raise money for the Notts Firefighters Memorial Appeal, to commemorate the blitz anniversary, and to promote a Fire Station open Day.

Planning was led by David Needham, a retired Divisional Officer in the Notts Fire and Rescue Service, who is the motivating force behind the Notts Firefighters Memorial Appeal, and who also wrote an excellent book about the Blitz in Nottingham, “Battle of the Flames: Nottinghamshire’s fight for survival in WW2”.

A few weeks into the planning, I had a call from David, “Would we like to do a display in the Market Square in the city centre?” At about the same time, I decided jointly with John Sutcliffe, to purchase the Fordson 7V, which had been advertised on the back cover of OtR for a couple of months. So the plan was for 3 appliances to take part. But the K4 had not run on the road for over a dozen years, although I had been doing re-commissioning work on her for some time, and the Fordson whilst a runner, also had not been on the road for a similar time. Both vehicles had a tendency to misfire and backfire, but a dose of Redex, TLC and adjustments, together with new coils made them work again. The ladder on the TL had the habit of going up, but not coming down again, although this was traced to stiff rollers and a broken spring on one of the ladder pawls.

I then had the good fortune to be introduced to Neil, a retired Fire Brigade mechanic, who had worked on fire appliances, including TLs for over 40 years. He had a good look over it, and checked the key areas, like the cable anchorages, jacks and locking mechanisms, and declared it to be one of the safest vehicles he had seen, as being all screw-operated mechanical, there was so little that could come loose or undone. Another good feature is that the safe envelope of operation, even at minimum elevation and with the ladder at 90 degrees to the vehicle, extends to 56′ (out of 61′ maximum) extension of the ladder, and that is with two men at the top! So I don’t expect to capsize it anytime soon.

Dan Walker and his son James and daughter Karina came over to Lowdham for a practice weekend, in which we successfully got the ladder to work. However, it was rather ‘up to the wire’ as the K4 engine did not run nicely until a few days before the event.

The Thursday evening came, and Rob Leese and I drove the Fordson and the K4 to Central Fire Station, where they stayed till Sunday evening. On the Friday the K2, fully laden with display material and equipment, including two wartime BA sets, and towing the Dennis pump also went to Nottingham. Dan and family arrived from Liverpool at 8pm, and we started to practice in earnest. The first run through was a bit shambolic, as we were all finding out how things worked. The second run was rather better.

Saturday started with a panic phone call from Jan to say that the PA would not play the soundtrack of the air raid sirens, bombers and bombing, and one of the laptops wouldn’t boot. So the real siren was pushed into an appliance, and the convoy set off a few minutes earlier than intended to get to the Market Square. Seeing the appliances, followed by a period ambulance, coming into the square was superb. It only took about 4 minutes from ‘getting to work’ to having ‘water on’ both at the top of the TL and at a branchman. Dan and Rob, wearing the BA sets, went into the Council House to rescue the Mayor and a Councillor. Unfortunately, we got the Mayor a bit wet, and forgot about the Councillor! Never mind, the WVS helped out with blankets and TLC. Just 18 minutes after entering the square, we were all made up and ready to leave. Overall, it was a great display, and we got loads of good feedback from the Fire Service, the City Council and members of the public.

Further displays took place over the weekend in the Fire Station yard, and over £1,000 was raised for the appeal. We featured on local TV and the local papers.

Taking part were: David Moore, Dan Walker, James Walker, Rob Leese, Peter Townsley, Chris Perkins, Ryan Clarke and Paul Clarke (Police Constable) and assisted by Dave Madden, Tony Markham, Pete Thomas and Mick Cheetham from the E Mid branch of the FSPG. Frances Moore and Jay Knox (WVS), Glyn Knox (ARP/CD), Angus Townsley, Michael Sutcliffe and Karina Walker (children), Jan Sutcliffe (Audio and video), Leslie Simpson and family (bombed-out family), and Jack Cheetham (www.ambulanceheritagesociety.com) also took part.

There are loads of photos of the event at www.nfs-afs.org.uk, and information about the appeal is at www.nottsfirefightermemorial.org

We are hoping to do another event in August to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the formation of the NFS on 18th August 1941. Please get in contact if you would like to take part.

David Moore, david@lowdhamstation.me.uk

About lowdhamstation

I am a director of a small (and very technical) business, a committed Christian, a Reader (and preacher) in my local village church, husband to my dear Frances, am interested in heritage railways, and heritage fire engines. I currently run a group that displays wartime and early post-war fire engines at 1940s re-enacting events and steam engine rallies. O yes, and vintage cars and motorbikes, and we live in a Victorian railway station.
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