Nov 7 2012 By Paul Murphy, Group Manager Merseyside Fire Service
Heswall Auxiliary Fire Service - Photo supplied by Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service
ON the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, all fire stations across Merseyside, along with people across the nation, will pause to reflect on the sacrifices made by our service men and women by observing the two minute silence on Armistice Day, the day which marks the end of World War I.
I am very proud to represent Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service (MF&RS) at the Cenotaph and this role really makes you reflect on how things were, and how they are now.
In 1939 there were four local authority fire brigades in Wirral. They included one based at Wallasey, which was a police fire brigade with a station on Manor Road; Birkenhead had two stations at Whetstone Lane and Laird Street; Hoylake & West Kirby Urban District Council (UDC) based at Station Road and Wirral (UDC) was stationed at the current Heswall Community Fire Station. Lever Brothers fire brigade also covered Bebington and much of south Wirral.
Auxiliary Fire Services (AFS) were formed in 1938/1939 in areas at threat of enemy bombing, and were equipped mainly with trailer pumps towed behind requisitioned cars and lorries. Their stations were in schools, garages or purpose-built timber sheds, with a mixture of full- time paid and part-time unpaid staff. The latter completed "drilling" after doing their normal day job and had to report for duty whenever there was an air raid warning.
The AFS was 10 times the strength of the regular brigades and it was they who bore the brunt of fighting the Blitz. In Hoylake there were 200 trained AFS personnel by 1940. The regular brigade numbered just 17. A number of AFS men lost their lives and they are commemorated on the Roll of Honour at the MF&RS Heritage and Education Centre.
In total 67 firemen, including six from Wallasey AFS and one from Birkenhead AFS, along with one Liverpool Auxiliary Fire Service Boy Messenger were killed as a result of enemy action in Merseyside between August 1940 and January 1942.
The names, ranks and the month and year they died are included on the roll of honour.
Tragically in 1918 James Williams, a Birkenhead Fireman, was killed at the first Remembrance Day Service in the town when a maroon (rocket) fired to mark the start of the service exploded. Birkenhead and Wallasey were heavily bombed, but Wirral crews also went across the water to aid Liverpool and Bootle, especially in the Blitz of both December 1940 and May 1941.