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History of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service

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Conducting research

Many researchers are disappointed when they are advised that we do not hold a great deal of information regarding personnel prior to 1974, the main reason for this being the various organisational changes that have taken place over the years.  These changes have led to many gaps that will be found when researching details of personnel, in particular:

1992 saw the introduction of the title Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service.  This was as a result of another Government initiative to restructure Local Government.  Authorities had to bid to become or retain ‘unitary’ status.  In preparation for this, the Hampshire County Council, which had been the sole provider of the brigade in the county since 1974, introduced a new coat of arms and badge for all of its departments including the fire brigade.  As the cost of a new cap badge, buttons and vehicle livery was imposed regardless, it was decided that to reflect the more modern role the term ‘Fire and Rescue Service’ would replace ‘Brigade’.  Ultimately in the bids, Southampton and Portsmouth did regain ‘unitary’ status but were not given back the status of ‘fire authority’ and so did not regain control of their own fire brigade.  However, they were accorded the status of being part of a newly formed and entirely separate ‘Combined Fire Authority’ which from 1 April 1997 has provided the fire and rescue service throughout the county.  This change did not result in any loss of records but it is an important milestone for researchers.

Researchers have quite a task when trying to obtain details of individuals who have served in different brigades during their career.  This is particularly so in the case of those who were members of a pre WWII brigade, whether as a ‘regular’ or as a member of the AFS attached to a ‘regular’ (local authority) brigade, who then became a member of the NFS and who then, in 1948, became a member of a ‘regular’ again.

It should be remembered that during WWII there were many more ‘fire stations’ created to cope with the terror of air raids.  These fire stations were not purpose built.  They were requisitioned premises such as garages, bus depots, borough engineer yards, etc.  Any premises that could accommodate ‘fire engines’, which in many cases consisted of a car towing a trailer pump.  Some locations were ‘action stations’ to which a fire engine and crew would report from a ‘parent’ fire station on receipt of an air raid warning so that firefighting resources were spread out around the target areas.

Members of the NFS were moved between stations and even Fire Forces.  During the build up to D Day in 1944 for instance, many men and women from the north of the country were moved to the South Coast to strengthen the NFS establishment in those areas where the military build up in preparation for the journey to Normandy involved huge concentrations of personnel, vehicles and supply dumps, many of which contained vast stocks of fuel and ammunition.  Temporary fire stations, some little more than tents in forest areas, were set up over a wide area to provide immediate response and protection so that any outbreak was quickly dealt with.

As has been explained earlier, records pre 1948 are not always easily located.  This does not mean however that none exist.  For records prior to the formation of the NFS, a good starting point is the local record offices and local history sections of public libraries where the researcher should look for the minutes of the Council responsible for the provision of a fire brigade.  Fortunately, minute taking by committee clerks in those days was something of an art and once located can reveal a wealth of information.

The Committee directly responsible for the fire brigade varied but the most obvious title to search for is ‘Fire Brigade Committee’; sometimes alternatives such as ‘Lighting and Watch Committee’ were responsible.  For small Parish Brigades there may have been no sub committee and detail will be found in the main Council minutes.  Most Chief Fire Officers were required to produce an Annual Report for the Committee or Council and these can provide an excellent source of information.  The Portsmouth Fire Brigade prior to the formation of the NFS in 1941 came under the control of the Chief Constable.  A number of Police Fire Brigades existed around the UK pre NFS.  For the researcher this means searching Police Committee minutes and reports from the Chief Constable.

Local newspaper records, again often held in libraries, can also yield good information and leads.  The London Gazette is a good source of information regarding medals, honours and awards and they do have a fairly good website with a search facility at www.londongazette.co.uk.

In Hampshire, in addition to the various public libraries, the following are good sources of archive information:

Similar record offices exist for Dorset and Bournemouth.

For the NFS period (August 1941 - April1948) some information may be found in local archives but the majority of records that did survive the various organisational changes of brigades will be in private collections, brigade and station archives.

For those prepared to travel to the National Archives at Kew (www.nationalarchives.gov.uk) there is a vast amount of official Government information about the NFS and the AFS.  This information though relates to the general organisation and governance of these two organisations and will yield little in the way of information regarding individual personnel.

Other national archives that may aid researchers include:

One area of fire brigade history that sometimes confuses researchers is the title ‘Auxiliary Fire Service’ or ‘AFS’.  There have been two distinct and separate organisations bearing the same title.  Both were formed to be attachments to ‘regular’ fire brigades and funded by the Home Office with the primary role of being a force trained and ready to deal with fires caused by enemy air attack.  The first existed from 1938 to August 1941 and the second from November 1949 to April 1968.  The second organisation was created to be part of the Civil Defence Organisation created to prepare for the perceived threat from the Soviet Union during the ‘cold war’ era.  It was this second ‘AFS’ that were equipped with the now famous ‘Green Goddess’ fire engines and other green painted specialist vehicles who worked closely with the Civil Defence Corps.

Contact

Alan House:

Email:  alan.house@hantsfire.gov.uk
Tel:  01489 699242