Keir Starmer

Camden firemen who died in the blitz

On Friday 12 November I attended a service of dedication at the Euston fire station for a plaque to commemorate three firemen who were killed during the blitz. Michael Pinchen, a former fireman, gave a most moving explanation of the events that led to their deaths. He has kindly agreed for me to circulate it more widely, with some images from the service. 

At the end is a description of the charity WW2 Firemen and Firewomen Remembrance Group, which organised this event, and a little about Mr Pinchen. 

Keir

 remembrance_service_2015_2.jpg

‘Although enemy bombs had fallen on the London region during the summer of 1940, the 7th September is the agreed date that targeted and concentrated attacks on London commenced, which was followed by bombing on 57 consecutive nights. This became known as the Blitz, which continued until May 1941, when the emphasis shifted to more sporadic raids. During this period the Euston and St Pancras districts were regularly targeted. 

The first bombs to fall in the vicinity, part of the 7th September raid, was when two high explosive bombs hit Brunswick Square. That same day enemy action claimed its first Euston life, when Aux Fm Maurice Share was killed whilst off-duty at his home in Bermondsey. 

The following day, the 8th, bombs fell on the east side of Harrington Square demolishing three houses and badly damaging many more. 11 people were killed, 6 seriously injured with a number sustaining lesser injury. Within the hour, that same night, another fell in Argyle Street with a second falling at the junction of Argyle Street and Birkenhead Street. Others fell on Frederick Street, Mecklenburgh Square and Guildford St, the latter fracturing the gas main, which in turn ignited. For the men and women of Euston fire station things were hotting-up, with 10 HE bombs falling in the immediate locality, the most serious being the destruction of the Receiving Ward of St Pancras Hospital. That evening an anti-aircraft shell returned to earth and struck the pavement outside a cafe at Kings’ Cross, causing the deaths of 17 people and injuring a further 14. 

It was just over a week later, on the night of 16th September that premises in Great Portland Street received a series of direct hits from Incendiary Bombs. As the responding appliances raced down Euston Road, accompanied by the flash and thunder of exploding bombs and anti-aircraft guns, the crews must have felt a pang of trepidation. On arrival they were confronted with a five story building with the two upper floors well alight, with fire spreading rapidly to other parts of the premises. Lines of hose were laid and jets were got to work from inside and from an adjacent roof. Euston’s Turntable Ladder was also got to work. 

District Officer Tobias had been mobilised to the fire from his quarters here at Euston to take charge. As the incident progressed the crews were subjected to further bombing, one of which exploded adjacent to the Turntable Ladder killing Euston firemen Thomas Curson and Albert Evans. Tobias was caught in the blast and mortally injured. Others, in particular Fireman Arthur White and Auxiliary Fireman Tom Witherwick, sustained serious injuries. The blast from this bomb severely damaged surrounding property and the task of rescuing the injured and retrieving the dead was made even more hazardous by falling masonry. In addition, water mains were fractured and gas mains set alight. 

When the bomb exploded, the chassis of the Turntable Ladder had been blown into an empty showroom on the opposite side of the road from the fire. The fulcrum frame and extensions of the Turntable Ladder broke away, and were flung up onto the roof of the building by the blast. The upper extension was caught on part of the structure and came to rest hanging forlornly down the front of the building. The fireman positioned at the head of the ladder disappeared, and it was thought at first that he had been thrown into the fire, with an initial search seeming to confirm that. Then a faint cry was heard emanating from a pile of debris at street level and as the firemen cleared the rubble, an army officer who just happened to be passing the very moment the bomb exploded was revealed beneath it. However to the astonished rescuers, pinned underneath the army officer was the missing fireman – badly injured but alive! 

It was at this stage that Euston station officer Ted Morgan assumed command. It was his calm manner, courage and leadership in dealing with the situation that enabled the rest of the injured to be rescued, the water supply to be reinstated and the fire fought. An extract from the official report states: 

“Station Officer Morgan showed initiative and set an excellent example to the men under his command in taking charge and extinguishing a fire in Great Portland St on 16th September 1940, after renewed bombing of the fire had wrecked a turntable ladder and killed and injured a number of the crew and the officer-in-charge. Recommended for George Medal.”

This recommendation for the George Medal was down-rated to the British Empire Medal. 

As for Joseph Tobias, he succumbed to his injuries and died the following day, the 17th. 

Hitler continued to drop his deadly cargo on the heart of the capital and the nation’s other towns and cities hoping to blast and burn Britain out of the war, but he failed in this objective; he failed because of people like the men and women of Britain’s fire services.’ 

 

 keir_with_euston_firefighters_nov_2015_2.jpg

 

Firemen Remembered: WW2 Firemen & Firewomen Remembrance Group, is a registered charity. Our Aim is to remember the men and women of the London fire services who died protecting the capital during WW2. This is achieved by the erection of memorial plaques near the sites where they fell. - known to us as 'Sites of Memory'. Concentrating initially on incidents that saw multiple deaths, to date we have dedicated 18 such plaques. 

As for myself, after 5 years service in the Royal Marines, I joined the LFB in 1975. I served most of my time in the then 'A' Division, which covered Westminster and Camden; the majority of that at Euston. I served across all watches and at all ranks, finishing as a station officer. During this time I became fond of the place and, the people of the area, in particular Somers Town. I retired from the LFB in 2005 and now work in the House of Lords as a 'Doorkeeper' (usher). 

Mike Pinchen