|The Charlton Athletic FC memorial (author's photo)|
Last weekend, this writer was lucky enough to be present at The Valley, home of Charlton Athletic Football Club, at the unveiling of our Club's war memorial to the fallen of this famous old football club.
|Woolworth's V-2 memorial (author's photo)|
So much for the civilians, but we should also not forget the work done by the Fire and Ambulance Services, Police, Rescue Squads, ARP Wardens and all of the other Civil Defence services, male and female, including the WVS, whose members, mainly ladies of a 'certain age' provided refreshments for those working during the Blitz, often placing themselves in as much danger as those doing the rescuing!
|Wartime Civil Defence badges, from left WVS, ARP Wardens, AFS (author's photo)|
The Firefighters' Memorial, appropriately sited opposite St Paul's Cathedral records the names of 1.027 men and women of the Fire Services who lost their lives during the Second World War, the London Ambulance Service lost 36 members of staff during the Blitz and the Metropolitan Police lost over 100 killed both on and off duty during the Blitz.
Apart from the casualty figures, a good indication of the bravery involved amongst the Civil Defence services, is the number of bravery awards made for services above and beyond the call of duty. We have already looked at the story of Anthony Smith GC in a February 2012 post on this blog but another example of a George Medal award is typical of those made during the Blitz.
|Join the AFS (author's collection)|
Apart from their work with Blitz victims, the Ambulance services were often required to assist with transporting wounded soldiers who had been repatriated from the front line en route to hospitals back in the UK. The ambulance staff would always put on a brave and cheerful face for the soldiers, some of whom were suffering from appalling injuries. In Angela Raby's excellent book, 'The Forgotten Service', Babette Loraine recounted being sent to Paddington Station to collect wounded being returned from North Africa. Even her normal composure was rattled at the sight of a soldier, who had neither arms or legs and was also blind. Not surprisingly, she was temporarily taken aback but recovered sufficiently to ask the soldier the standard fall back question, if he would like a cup of tea. The soldier cheerfully replied "Can a duck swim?" Babette got the soldier his tea and gladly assisted him to drink it.
Perhaps the final word should go to an anonymous Firewoman, ostensibly operating the switchboard at Redcross Street Fire Station on the night of 29th/30 December 1940, the great City Blitz. The appliances had all been ordered out early in the raid and in the meantime, the fires were gradually creeping ever closer to the Fire Station. Senior Officers were debating whether to evacuate when an ARP Warden burst in, yelling "Hey! Your bloody roof is on fire!"
"Whoopee!" cried a Firewoman and grabbed a stirrup pump before making for the stairs followed by her colleagues armed with buckets of water. At last they had a chance to prove themselves equal to the men and made an expert job of extinguishing the fires. The Fire Station, along with the Whitbread Brewery, was one of the few buildings to survive in an area which was devastated by fires.
Such was the spirit of both civilians and Civil Defence workers.
Whatever you are doing this Remembrance Day, remember them all.
Hitler's Rockets: The Story of the V2s - Norman Longmate - Frontline Books, 2009
The Forgotten Service: Auxiliary Ambulance Station 39 - Angela Raby - After The Battle 1999
The London Blitz: A Fireman's Tale - Cyril Demarne OBE - After The Battle 1991