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Coseley’s wartime firefighters gathered for one last portrait

By gavin jones  |  Posted: October 06, 2011

Coseley NFS, 1946.

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THESE DAYS we take it for granted, but it's strange to think that the Fire Service as we know it has only been in existence for seventy years — this photograph was taken when the National Fire Service was only five years old.

It has been loaned to us by Christine Brazenell of Sedgley, whose father Albert Greensill was a member of Coseley NFS, the brigade shown here in our main photograph.

Christine tells us: "The Fire Station was situated at the northern end of Green Street, near its junction with School Street, adjacent to the Council House and mortuary."

 She has also supplied us with a pretty comprehensive list of names too, which read as follows: Back row, from left: ?, Percy Millard, ?, Sid Brothwood, Jack Lloyd, Walter Barnfield, Vic Baines, ___ Chevasse, Tom Jones, Ike Morgan, Bill Weston, ?.

Front row: Ron Fullard, Chris Wheale, Joe Wardell, Howard Round, Dick Bates, ?, ?, Bob Evans, Billy Banks, ?, Claude Spicer.

"The information was obtained from 97 year old Jack Lloyd (fifth from left in the back row of the picture) a retired hairdresser from Coseley, and more recently Sedgley."

 says Christine.

"Jack thinks that he is probably the last remaining member of that group."

 Christine's father Albert Greensill, though a member of this brigade, is not on the photograph, but Jack told her that as the telephone had to be constantly manned, he may well have been the one on duty in the control room at the time the picture was taken. It was evidently a cold morning — as Jack points out, there is snow on the ground around the men.

Albert was present however on the remaining two pictures.

Also taken at Coseley Fire Station, some years earlier, they show some of the men having just won a competition for rolling out hoses in the fastest time. You may just be able to make out the little trophy on top of the coiled up hose. Albert Greensill is at far right in both pictures, with colleagues Jack Lloyd, Chris Wheale, Howard Round and George White.

They are joined by three unnamed men in one of the pictures; two in civilian clothes and one in a high ranking uniform.

Claude Spicer, present in the large photograph, had a tobacconists shop in Ebeneer Street, Christine tells us. Joe Wardell was the pop man, and Ron Fullard had a shoe repair shop in Jeavons Street.

The National Fire Service was formed in 1941 in the early years of the Second World War, by amalgamating the wartime AFS (Auxiliary Fire Service) and the hundreds of separate local fire brigades, including many which were based at private companies. Prior to the war, many firemen were in fact policemen who took on the role when required.

Though many firemen remained in the service once hostilities were over, a large number left after the war as demand for firemen was reduced. Fireman Greensill was one of those who left the NFS in 1946. Christine still has the letter from No. 40 Fire Force Headquarters in Compton Road, Wolverhampton, which announced her father's release. It reads: Release "To: Fireman A.E. Greensill, 282892.

"You have already made application for your release from the Service in accordance with General Fire Force Instruction No.

12/1946, paragraph 1, and I am therefore arranging for this to take effect at midnight on April 30th 1946, the date of 'unfreezing' of National Fire Service personnel.

"Arrangements will be made for you to take any annual leave to which you are entitled immediately before the effective date of your discharge, as in accordance with General Fire Force Instruction No. 1/1942, paragraph 2, there can be no recompense for annual leave not taken whether owing to the exigencies of the Service or not.

"A statement of Post War Credit and War Service Gratuity will be forwarded to you separately and payment will be made to you at a later date through the Post Office Savings Bank, no further application on your part being required. You should in the meantime send notification of any change of address to the Regional Establishment Officer at Civic House, 156 Great Charles Street, Birmingham.

"I should like to take this opportunity of expressing my appreciation of the services you have rendered to the National Fire Service, and I wish you every success in your future career."

 "Smith, Fire Force Commander."

 Given the timing of the letter and the date on the above photograph, it's very likely this was the last picture taken of the Coseley brigade, and perhaps the impending discharge of some of them was the reason for it being taken.

Also tucked in with Albert's letter of release is a detailed list of the equipment he and each of his colleagues were allowed to keep upon discharge from the service. We reproduce the list here.

The NFS was finally replaced completely in 1948, when local authorities resumed control of individual brigades, usually one per county or per county borough.

If you can name any of the unidentified firemen in the photographs, please get in touch with us.

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