Shadow

The history of Clophill, Bedfordshire, UK
Including historical descriptions, maps and statistical analysis.

Auxiliary Fire Service


Spotlight, April 1991

Ralph Brough

I wonder how many readers know that Clophill once had its own Fire Brigade? I first heard of it from Jack and Doris Pitts when they were reminiscing about their wedding 50 years ago. They were married in Clophill not to the sound of Church bells but the noise of Air Raid Sirens in the Second world war.

Clophill Auxiliary Fire Service was formed in 1940 and served the local community until the war ended in 1945. It was manned by local volunteers who were not called up into the Armed Forces because their jobs were of key importance at home.

Our cover photograph shows nine of the fourteen man team with their Coventry Climax pump outside their headquarters in Old Silsoe Rd. Initially they were stationed at the rear of the Post Office but then moved to the Old Primitive Methodist Chapel which we all now know as Chapel Feeds.

Sadly most of the team are no longer with us but many of our readers will recognise three well known figures who are still very active in the village, Alf Gobey, Jack Pitts and Frank Groom. The full crew comprised Wally Peck (he was in charge and lived in Foresters cottages, Back St.) Bill Jennings, Jack Bone, Frank Groom, Les Pitts, Fred Willison, Wally Gobey, Stan Kirby, Alf Gobey, Joe Platt, Jack Pitts and George "Punch" Gobey.

The Brigade were on duty 7 days per week from 6 p.m. To 6 a.m. throughout the war. The men were formed into 3 crews of 4 which meant they were on duty at least twice and sometimes 3 times each week. As Jack Pitts recalls "It was very demanding to spend 12 hours on fire duty after a long day's stint on the land. It was also difficult for the wives who frequently arranged to stay with relatives and friends".

The Headquarters was fitted out with bunks so that the firemen could snatch a few hours sleep when not required. However Alf Gobey never could get used to the sleeping arrangements. He spent his off duty time sitting in a chair.

Auxiliary Fire Station

Auxiliary Fire Station.
Jack Bone, Alfie Gobey, Jack Pitts, Les Pitts, Wal Peck, Frank Groom, Frank Shepperd, Bill Harris, Bill Jennings.

The Headquarters was fitted out with bunks so that the firemen could snatch a few hours sleep when not required. However Alf Gobey never could get used to the sleeping arrangements. He spent his off duty time sitting in a chair.

Fortunately the village suffered no bomb damage which is just as well as the surrounding woods were filled with munitions. On one occasion the Brigade was called to Pedley Wood to deal with incendiary bombs dropped by a German bomber.

They were called out to fires around the area to support the main Ampthill brigade. The furthest they went was Huntingdon. Both Jack Pitts and Alf Gobey recall "Travelling the narrow lanes at night without headlights was a hazardous occupation. How we didn't finish up in a ditch we'll never know".

Alf also remembers attending a major fire at Bedford School in De Parys Avenue, Bedford, much of the interior was destroyed but some of the team managed to salvage some top quality fountain pens.

The Fire Brigade is yet another reminder of how the wars drew people together and of the contribution made by the villagers of Clophill to the war effort. But as Jack Pitts says "It was hard work out there were compensations. we saw some wonderful sunrises and the sounds of the nightingales in Warren Wood stick in the memory".