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Auxilliary Fire Service Biography

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The Auxiliary Fire Service was part of the Air Raid Patrol (ARP) which began in 1938 due to the threat of war. In 1938, 100,000 air-raid wardens and 60,000 auxiliary firemen being recruited, although the original appeal had been for over a million. Every home was recommended to equip itself with a stirrup pump, buckets of water and sand, and a long handled shovel for putting out incenderies. People were warned that the cities would be bombed heavily as soon as the war began.

Prior to the war beginning, there was great resentment of the Auxiliary Fire Service, mainly because it was felt that they would take over the jobs of the regular firemen. They were also resented by many because they did very little work for the first few years of their operation. They were paid £3 a week, but there will still no bombings. As well as objections to the lack of duties carried out by the AFS, many were opposed to the fact the AFS recruited of women, some of whom drove the taxis that had been acquired, painted grey and used for towing trailer pumps.

In the build-up to the war, buildings were acquisitioned for the AFS, ranging from disused pubs to schools. The AFS were still criticised for wasting public money. Men from one London AFS station hardly ever wore their uniforms because of the constant negative remarks they received from some members of the public.

People's attitudes towards the AFS changed with the outbreak of war and the coming of the German air-raids. Suddenly auxiliary firemen were treated as heroes by those who had previously shouted abuse at them.

Auxiliary firemen were at first treated with contempt by the regular firemen, who in some circumstances refused to let them use their showers, even if they had been attending the scene of a fire. Once bombings began, their joint purpose of putting out fires created by bombs eventually brought them unity.

In Dover, Frank Illingworth, a journalist, had been a member of the auxiliary fire service. In his pamphlet, "Britain Under Shellfire", he states that until the Battle of Britain, the AFS's experience had been only of "wet drill's" and on one occasion, a fire was lit especially for them in an area scheduled for demolition.

As the Battle of Britain began, the firemen found themselves putting out both British and German aircraft. They were prepared for the aircraft but not for the enemy shells that landed from France. In Dover, Auxiliary firemen quickly became accustomed to the shelling as it occured so frequently.

The Auxiliary firemen did not work in ideal conditions. For example, Bradford Auxilary firemen were in a basement which had been previously used by the police for "putting to sleep" stray dogs. Despite all these setbacks and hindrances and despite a certain amount of opposition, the AFS provided an important service during the war and helped to combat the damage caused by the German air-raids.

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