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The firemen who fought to save Norwich

PUBLISHED: 12:05 28 February 2011 | UPDATED: 12:05 28 February 2011

Firemen on the front line

Firemen on the front line

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Bethel Street fire station is set to close later this year. Derek James pays tribute to the brave men and women who have worked there over the decades

As firefighters prepare to pack up and move out of the city centre station which has been their HQ for almost 80 years it’s time to take a look at life in Bethel Street over the decades and meet some of the characters who devoted their lives to looking after us.

Thanks to everyone who has been sending in their photographs and memories to help piece together the history of the fire service in Norwich.

Some extraordinary and brave men and women worked at this station over the decades which was opened back in 1934 at a time when firemen were also policemen. It was the colourful and straight talking Chief Constable John Henry Dain who led the campaign for a new fire station describing the old one in Pottergate as inadequate and dangerous.

The new state of the art station costing £33,372 was opened by Lord Mayor Alderman Fred Jex and before long firemen were preparing for war... but few could imagine the death and destruction the conflict would bring.

In 1938 the city had just four professional firefighters, who held a police rank, and a dozen constables were performing dual roles. An urgent call went out for men – and women – to come forward and join the brigade and many of those who, for one 
reason or another, were not part of the armed forces, stepped forward.

The response was overwhelming and the raw recruits received basic training along with a boiler suit, a pair of rubber boots and a peaked cap.

But life for them would never be the same again as they struggled against all the odds to save a city under attack.

These pictures, some from the force archives and others from private collections, give you an idea of what life was like on the front line.

During the 1942 Blitz they faced an impossible task as the city burned, buildings came tumbling down, houses exploded and so many men, women and children lost their lives.

They witnessed horrors which would stay with them for the rest of their lives and rarely got the credit they deserved for the courageous work risking their own lives to save others.

Many harrowing scenes were witnessed by the firemen who had to ignore please for help from civilians.

Once they had been ordered to a fire they were under strict orders to attend that fire and ignore others, unless directed by a Fire Brigade.

Otherwise there would have been utter chaos.

When the war ended the vast majority of men went back to their civilian occupations.

Watch this space for more stories and pictures from Bethel Street as we moved through the decades.

If you have any memories of life in the fire station please email bethel.street@fire.norfolk.gov.uk or write to Sonny Garrett, Norwich Fire Station, Bethel Street, Norwich, NR1 1NW.

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