an experiment with colour.
Saturday, 21 December 2013
Here is an example of how Malcolm Saville's stories were reduced to make independent stories.
The sections marked yellow are what appeared in a short story.
The remainder is what appears in the book The Mystery of the Painted Box.
Yellow: reprinted as
‘The Unwelcome Guest’ in L. Grimble, The Very Best Children’s Stories of the Year III
The Mystery of the Painted Box
THE WOMAN AT THE LOCK
MARY neither felt nor heard Vicky get out of their bunk next morning. She had wakened twice in the night because the bed was strange and her companion rather fidgety, but once she had got used to the hard wall of the cabin at her back she had settled down again. It was fun to remember that she was sleeping on a boat for the first time in her life, fun to realize that there was another day on the water before them, fun not to be going to school and fun to remember that Mrs White had promised that she should help to keep house in the cabin to-day.
She was wakened in daylight by a strange throbbing noise, and when she opened her eyes she saw Vicky standing by the bunk with a steaming mug in her hand.
"Hullo, Mary !" she smiled, "D'you like tea ? Mum said to ask you. ' ,
Mary sat up and looked into the mug. The tea looked horribly black. .
"Oh, Vicky," she said, "Thank you so much but I never have tea before breakfast. . . . Could you drink it d'you think, or maybe Mike would. I don't want to be rude but it looks rather strong. ' ,
Vicky laughed. "I'll drink it. I've had one already. Are you going to get up for breakfast?"
"Of course I am. What's the time and what's that noise?"
"Never know the time," Vicky said as she clasped both hands round her mug and sipped the tea, "but we've been going half an hour. ... Mike's up and I'm going to show him how to do a lock properly in a minute. ... Mum's calling now. I must go. Buck up, Mary."
The sun was shining when she came out of the cabin but the mist was still lying low over the fields. The chimney on the Brentford was smoking and Mrs White was at the tiller of the butty again and smiled at her as she came up the two steps. The Brentford was already in the lock ahead and the butty was following in gently. Mary watched entranced to see whether they would bang the side of the lock or against the motor-boat. But with only a glance over her shoulder Mrs White flung her rope over the beam on the lock gate, checked the speed of the butty , and slid in beside the Brentford without touching her. Mary ran along the deck after calling 'Good morning' , to Mr White who had his pipe in his mouth as usual. Vicky and Mike were above them at the upper gates of the lock and her brother, scarlet in the face, was working desperately with the handle of the sluice. Vicky was saying something to him and then suddenly there was a great commotion under the bows of the two boats as the water gushed in. Mike looked very pleased with himself and ran over to work the sluice the other side.
Mr White removed his pipe, ' 'Nice work, boy! ' , he said. "You can use young Vicky's bike for the next few days and do 'em all. ... We'll be up at Cow Roast afore dinner."
Once through the lock they moored for half an hour and had breakfast. There was a cottage on the bank just here and Mr White went ashore with the two water cans which he filled from a well. When they started again Vicky took the tiller of the butty while her mother filled the dipper from the canal and cleaned the deck and walls of the cabin with the mop.
Ten minutes later Vicky shouted to Mike, who was talking to her father on the Brentford.
"Jump ashore, Mike, Next lock's round the corner. ... Never mind about the bike. We'll run."
They trotted along the towpath together and, "That's a grand house, ' , Mike said, nodding towards a great mansion of red brick standing about a quarter of a mile away on their left with gardens sloping right down to a thick evergreen hedge bordering the towpath.
, 'Some great lord or somebody lives there,' Vicky said, "But we've never seen him and I don't know his name. I like the gardens in the summer - they've got real roses.... Hullo! There's someone at the lock. ... It's a woman. ... She was watching us and pretending not to."
"P'raps she's the duchess of that house," Mike smiled, "or whatever it is you call a lord's wife. ... Let's ask her!" While they watched the woman crossed over the canal on the closed gates, hesitated on the other bank, and then seemed to wait for them. Just as the children came up to the lock the blunt bows of the Brentford pushed themselves round the corner and the stranger turned and smiled at them.
“Are you from that barge?” , she asked pleasantly.
She looked nice, Mike thought. Not very old but smartly dressed in a tweed costume and brown, country shoes. She was bareheaded but carrying a coloured scarf and a raincoat over one arm and a big brown handbag under the other. She was leaning against the beam of the big gates and it looked as if she was out of breath. As Mike answered her she took a cigarette from her bag and lit it.
"They're not called barges," he said, "If you'll excuse me, they're boats. We've come on ahead to work the lock,"
"I'm so sorry," the woman said. "Stupid of me. I ought to have known. I'd like to watch you and see how your father gets that long narrow boat – Oh! I see. There's another one tied on behind - into the lock."
"He's not Mike's father. He's mine," Vicky said tersely. She didn't think she liked this woman.
"Sorry again," the woman smiled. "Of course I can see now that you're not brother and sister. ... Where's your boat going?"
replied. "Be ready, Mike. Dad's coming in. Birmingham
"How long does it take you to get to
?" the woman persisted. Birmingham
"We get along very well," Mike replied vaguely. Trouble was of course that he didn't know the real answer. "But it all depends. ... We were just looking at that lord's big house. Have you come from there?"
"No. I have not," the stranger replied sharply. "As a matter of fact I'm a journalist and I've got to do an article on canals." She turned to Vicky with a winning smile.
'Will you introduce me to your father? I want to ask him if he'll allow me to come some of the way with you, . . . I'd adore to see over a barge-boat, I mean. . . . Will you, please?"
"Presently, Vicky said, “We’re busy now. … Right, Mike. ... They're both in. ... Let her go."
The ratchets on the gearing of the sluice rattled as Mike worked at the handle. He was getting the knack of it now and realizing that it was not just brute strength that was required!
"Pass over the key," Vicky shouted. "I'll do this side. Dad wants to make up some time to-day so let's be as quick as we can.
The water gushed in and the boat rose slowly. Mike crossed over and stood by Vicky. The strange woman was speaking again.
"You'll ask your father now, won't you, my dear ? ... most frightfully important for me to come with you and of course I'll pay."
Vicky looked at her with dislike. "You'd better not offer to pay Dad. Maybe you'd better ask him yourself about coming with us. I don't care."
Mike thought Vicky was being rather rude. After all, the stranger was pleasant enough even if she didn't know anything about canals! She looked rather worried too and seemed in a great hurry. She was talking to Mr White now as the Brentford rose up to the top of the lock.
“ . . . I really am very sorry to bother you but I was telling “your charming little girl" -here Vicky scowled - "that I should appreciate it very much if I could come some of the way up the canal with you. ',
"Sorry, miss," Mr White said, "but this isn't a pleasure boat. All here have to work for their living and even these two kids are doing their share. ... Come on, you two, if you're coming, or do you want to go ahead on the bike?"
"I have to work for my living too," the woman smiled, "and I'll let you into a secret. This is my first chance to make good in a new job. I'm a journalist and my editor sent me out this morning to write about the canal. If I don't get it I'll maybe lose my job and you wouldn't want that, would you ?"
Mr White sent the blunt bows of the Brentford against the lock gates which started to open. He barely looked up as he grunted, “Jump on, then, and keep out of the way."
The woman jumped clumsily on to the deck and Mike and Vicky followed. Mrs White, on the butty, looked at her coldly but Mary, who liked company of any sort, hopped about on the cabin roof making mouthing signs to Mike and Vicky.
"Better get on the butty, miss," Mr White said. "My girl and young Mary will look after you. . . . Mike, do the next lock on your own, will you?"
Mike flushed with pleasure but Vicky did not look so pleased. She jumped on to the Southall as her father checked the speed of his boat and held out her hand to their visitor .
"Quick," she said, and hauled her across. Then, as they stood side by side on the deck, "What's your name ? I'm Vicky White and this is my mother. ... And that's Mary Bishop, my friend.”
"Thank you, Vicky. What a pretty name."
She turned to Mrs White
"And thank you very much for your hospitality, Mrs White. I'm sorry to be a nuisance but I expect you heard what I told your husband. I'll try not to get in your way but I would like to see your cabin. ' ,
"You're welcome," Mrs White said, and nodded permission to Vicky. All this time Larry, tethered as usual to the chimney of the cooking stove, had been barking furiously and the strange woman did not seem to like him very much. Vicky spoke to Larry and quieted him, and then asked again, ' 'But what is your name ?' , as Mary jumped down from the roof.
“Margaret Stanley”, the woman said, “You can call me Margaret if you like.”
“No thank you, Miss Stanley,” , came promptly from Vicky. They were moving steadily up the canal now and as they turned a corner another long stretch came into view with a pair of painted boats chugging towards them.
Miss Stanley turned hurriedly to Vicky.
"May I see the cabin now?" she said. "I'd like to see that first. Right away,” , and before the others could say anything she stepped down in front of Mrs White at the tiller and banged her head on the low ceiling. The two
girls followed her down and Mary grinned wickedly at Vicky behind her back.
Miss Stanley proved to be a chatterer and a fidget. She sat down after the bump and started talking and asking questions so quickly that both girls were bewildered. Mary had already learned that Mr and Mrs White never had much to say-they just did things without talking about them - and not even Vicky was talkative, but this pleasant-looking woman never stopped chattering.
She took off her gloves and rattled her painted fingernails on the table. Then she removed her hat and patted her hair and put her raincoat on the bunk beside her . Then she fidgeted with her scarf and took another cigarette out of her big handbag and lit it. And all the time her eyes were flicking up and down and round the walls, and all the time she was talking.
"Where are we now, Vicky? What's the next place we stop at ? Who sleeps in here ? Have those other two boats passed yet ? Oh I I didn't see them and just wondered.
. . . Do you cook everything on that funny little stove ? . . . ' , But here Mary , who had been bursting to get into the conversation, somehow took a deep breath and broke in "It's not a funny little stove! It's a wizard stove. I'm cooking on the one in the other boat to-night and tomorrow, maybe, we'll use this one."
"I'm sorry, Mary. I'm sure it's a grand stove. ... So you are the ship's cook, are you ? How quaint! . . . Do you pass many boats coming the opposite way ? You do ? Oh! ... And do you catch many up going the same way as we are ? And do any catch us up ? 1 shouldn't think so, do they ? .:. Do lots of people come along the towpaths ? I mean do you meet lots of people walking or cycling."
"Mostly only boat people," Vicky said dealing with the last question. "You do want to know a lot of things, don't you ?"
"Why don't you put your handbag down somewhere” Mary said. "you don't look comfortable with it." "I'm quite comfortable sitting here, thanks!," Miss Stanley said, clutching the bag as tightly as ever. 'Now tell me about all these paintings on the walls and what these brass knobs are, and why are they there."
"When are you going to begin your story?" Vicky asked.
"Story? What story?"
"You told Dad when I was there that you'd got write a story about canals. When are you going to start? Do you want a piece of paper?"
Vicky looked quite innocent when she said this, but Miss Stanley seemed to think she meant to be rude.
“I do not want a piece of paper, thank you. I shall remember everything I find out here. . . . Those boats have gone now, haven't they? Show me something else. Show me where you sleep.' ,
Mary stepped forward and moved back the crochet curtains, and it was just at that moment that Miss Stanley saw Vicky's painted pencil-box and put out her hand take it. But Vicky was too quick for her and snatched it away.
“That looks very attractive,” , Miss Stanley said, ' 'Don’t be so rude, child. Please let me look. I've never see box like that before. It's very quaint. ' ,
Vicky realized that she'd been rather rude and flushed ".
“I’m sorry, she said, but it’s my own very special box. There isn't another one like it anywhere. My uncle made it and my Dad painted it. ' ,
The stranger put out her hand again and rather reluctantly Vicky passed the box over.
"I expect you'd like to add something to your pocket-money, my dear ? Would you care to sell me this should very much like to have it."
"I wouldn't sell it for a hundred pounds," Vicky said stoutly. "Please give it me back. It's the loveliest thing I've got."
Meanwhile Mary, who had been getting very bored with the visitor's chatter, slipped out of the cabin and went to talk to Mrs White, who had already taken a liking to her and was pleased that Vicky had found a friend near her own age.
Mrs White cocked an eyebrow and Mary understood and smiled.
"I think she's a bit mad, Mrs White," she whispered. "She never stops talking. ... Oh! Look! Here's another lock and Mike's going to work it by himself." She put her head back into the cabin
“Come and watch Mike, Vicky. . . . Miss Stanley! Come and see how we do the locks. ... I don't believe we can go in 'cos the gates are shut. . . . There must be two boats in already. Oh, dear! Poor Mike looks worried. Coming, Vicky?' ,
There was a pause and then Mary heard their visitor say, "No, thank you, Vicky. I think I'll just stay where I am. I'm quite comfortable and can see anything I want from here."
Vicky came out of the cabin rather red in the face, still clutching her pencil-box, and climbed up on to the roof with Mary.
“She's crackers, Mary. I'm sure she is. First she says she wants to see everything we do to make up her story and then she says she'd rather sit down there where she can't see anything."
The Brentford had slowed down now about two hundred yards from the lock, while waiting for the other boats to come out. A main road crossed the canal the other side of the lock and as the bridge had a very low parapet the two girls could see everything that passed.
"Let's count the cars," Mary suggested. "I'll do the ones that come from this side and you count those that come the other way and we'll see who gets the most by the time we're out of the lock. ... l've started. There's two. ... Go on. Now one for you. ... Another for me. ... That's three. ..."
Mrs White looked at them both indulgently as the lock gates opened and the motor of another pair of boats edged out. Miss Stanley came to the door of the cabin. ' 'What have we stopped for ? Has anything gone wrong ?" she said fussily.
"Nothing's gone wrong, miss, and be so good as to keep out of my way. If you want to come up come now and sit on the roof with the children. ' ,
Just then Mary let out an exultant cry .
"Look what I've got, Vicky. I think I ought to count ten for that. . . . It's a car full of policemen. ' ,
"No you can't do that," Vicky said, "and I think we ought to stop now 'cos I may have to help Mike."
"Let the lad alone," her mother said as she swung the great Ram's Head over. "1 reckon he'll manage. He's got to learn on his own sometime, , , and then under her breath, "Where's your visitor now ?"
, 'Back in the cabin, thank goodness! ' , Vicky replied. The family on the boats going south ~ere friends of the Whites so, as the Bren.iford and the Southall began to slip into the lock, slowed down for a chat.
, 'Visitors, I see, , , said a tall man at the tiller of the Adventure. ' 'Taking in boarders, missus ?' ,
Mrs White tossed her head, but gave him a slow smile. "Friends of our Vicky's, thank you, Fred Jenkins. ... Haven't seen you for some time. You been resting ? ... Morning, Edith. We was just asking your man whether it was Christmas week you left
Leicester.” This was a long speech
for Mrs White and Mary looked at her in surprise.
She was evidently in a very good humour, and although she had one eye on her friends she managed the butty as skilfully as usual.
Mary was watching a small red-headed boy of about her own age who was sitting on the cabin roof of the Adventure peeling potatoes. Beside him was a canary in a cage.
“Hullo ! ' , she said shyly as they stared at each other . "What have you got for dinner ? I'm going to help cook "
The boy grinned wickedly. "Spuds I Like one ? Catch !" and he picked one out of the painted dipper and flung it at her. Mary ducked and the potato hit Larry who began to bark furiously.
"Just behave yourself, young Tony," Vicky called indignantly as the gates began to close behind the Southall. Then she laughed as she heard Mike's anxious voice from above them, "Now, Mr White ?" and her father's slow, "Hold it, son. Wait till the gate closes."
They had all forgotten their visitor until Mary turned from waving "Good-bye" to the red-headed Tony and jumped down to the deck beside Mrs White as the boats began to rise. Then she glanced into the cabin and saw Miss Stanley looking out at the dripping walls of the lock. "It's quite all right," Mary said importantly, "There's nothing to be scared about really. . . . Of course I was a bit surprised the first time but you soon get used to it, so don't you worry."
Perhaps it was her imagination, or because it was dark in the lock, but Mary thought that their visitor looked very pale and worried.
"When are we going to get on again ?" she said. " All this hanging about gets on my nerves."
Unfortunately for her Mrs White overheard this last remark.
"If that's the case, miss," she said, "I'm thinking you'd
better get off here and get along your own way and your own pace. . . . And I hope that when you write for your precious papers you won't be such a fool as to say that the boat people haven't got any manners. ... I reckon the boot's on t'other foot on this boat."
She called across to her husband.
"Bert! You didn't ask this young woman aboard, did you ? Seems we're not going fast enough for her. . . . Will you be getting off here, miss ? Maybe you'll get a bus on the bridge.
Miss Stanley backed into the cabin again.
"I'm so sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to be rude or upset you. . . . I'd much rather not get off here if you don't mind. . . . It's just that I'm not used to travelling this way and it seems rather slow. So stupid of me. ' , She turned to Mary. "Is this the bridge where you were watching the cars?" "Yes," Mary said, "1 won ... Why don't you come up here in the sunshine, Miss Stanley ?"
"Well, Mary, perhaps I will in a minute, but I just want to write down a few notes about the cabin first."
The boats slipped out of the lock and into the shadow of the bridge and Mike, after waving to them triumphantly, , mounted the ancient bicycle and rode ahead whistling cheerfully.
Another pair of boats passed them soon after. A grubby baby was squalling on the cabin roof of the motor tethered to the chimney in the same way as Larry was tied to theirs - and Mary called down into the cabin, "Here's two dirty boats coming. You'd better put these in your story. They're not as nice as ours."
But Miss Stanley said she could see them very well from the window. "But I'd like you to do something for me, Mary. I think I shall be going when we come to the next road. . . . Will you and Vicky keep a look out and tell me when you see the next bridge?"
The next bridge could not come quickly enough for the two girls and when they told Mrs White she smiled grimly, " And a very good riddance," she said. "Round the next turn, Mary. Better tell her. ... Can you warn your Dad, Vicky ?” ,
When Miss Stanley came up to the deck she was still clutching her handbag and had her raincoat over her arm. Her scarf was over her head now, and as she passed Mrs White she thanked her again for the trip.
"I'll be able to catch a bus from here, I expect. ... I'd like to send you a copy of the magazine with my story in it, Mrs White. Where shall I address it ?” ,
"Thank you all the same, miss, but we're not much hand at reading so ye needn't bother. ... Be ready to jump and I'll bring her up close to the bank as we go in."
Vicky and Mary leaned against the wall of the cabin as the butty closed into the bank. The lock was beyond the bridge and they could see Mike standing on the parapet watching them. They were waving to him when Miss Stanley brushed past them and calling “Good-bye,” jumped for the bank. She had already shown that she was not very agile and this time, once again, she jumped badly, slipped, and stumbled forward on her hands and knees on the bank. Both girls began to giggle, until Vicky suddenly shouted "Look what she's got! My box! She's stolen it!"
As Miss Stanley got up her raincoat slipped from her arm and from the pocket fell Vicky's precious painted box. There was no doubt of it and, as the woman turned and grabbed for it, her foot slipped again in the mud of the bank and toppled the box into the water. In a flash Mary flung herself on the deck, leaned over between the bank and the gunwale of the boat, and grabbed the box as it floated by.
Vicky was sobbing with rage. ' 'you beast. I hate you. I told you I wouldn't let you have that box and you're
mean enough to steal it and slink off with it. I think it's the dirtiest, most beastly thing anyone has ever done to me. You tried to be friendly with us and then stole my box. . . . I'm going to tell my Dad and he'll have you arrested."
Miss Stanley's face was dead white and her brightly painted lips looked horrid.
"How clumsy of me," she said to Mrs White who was watching very grimly, “I must have picked it up by mistake with my raincoat. ' ,
“That you didn’t,” Mary said “ _ It wasn’t a mistake anyway anyway. ... And here comes Mike so you'd better be careful."
"Mrs White - do listen to me, please," Miss Stanley went on hurriedly. "Do understand that this is all a ridiculous mistake, but I do admire the box very much and know a collector who would give a lot of money for it. … I wonder if you would let me have it for five pounds. ... I'm sure he'd give that for it. ... It would mean a lot to me to have that box.”
Meanwhile, Mike had arrived and Vicky had run back down the butty after speaking to her father. Her eyes were blazing, but she gave Mary a little sob of thanks as she handed her the dripping box.
“I heard what you said to Mum,” she stormed. “I told you once I wouldn't sell it for anything, and I meant it. ... I've told my Dad what you've done and he says if you're not off the towpath and out of his sight in three minutes he'll tie up and fetch a policeman. ... Mike. Run up to the bridge and see if you can see one!”.
Mike grinned broadly and obeyed, but when Miss Stanley opened her mouth to speak again, Mrs White broke in "I wouldn't say anything if I were you. That was the dirtiest thing I've ever seen done to a kid. ... I reckon you call yourself a lady too! Get out! . . ."
"I'll give you ten pounds ","the other began desperately, but when Mrs White leaned across the cabin roof and picked up the mop with the striped handle, she turned and ran up the slope to the bridge as Mr White restarted the engine and the Brentford and the Southall slipped into the cool shadows under the bridge.
Posted by Stephen Bigger at 05:14
Wednesday, 20 November 2013
there is no fire fighting service in the country upon which so many calls are made, nor with such a proud record of achievement, as the London Fire Brigade. Although all Londoners are thrilled by the clang of the warning bell as the scarlet appliances-they are no longer called Fire Engines for that name belongs to the age of steam-roar through the crowded streets, not very many citizens know how a fireman is trained for his job, how he spends his duty hours or, indeed, anything of the efficient organization behind the wonderful service.
The first thing to realize is that however efficient such an organization may be it is the men on the job who really count. Many of us today are inclined to believe that mechanization and a scientific approach is the answer to all our worries. Machines have their part to play in the lives of us all, but it is what men are which determines their behaviour when faced with danger or a crisis. The Fireman, the Coastguard or the Lifeboatman is trained first to save life. The Fireman's second duty is to save property from fire and after that, as we shall see later, he is called upon to undertake many curious responsibilities. The working life of a fireman anywhere is exacting and highly disciplined. He must be strong, courageous and cool-headed. He must work sometimes by day and sometimes at night, in any weather and at all times of the year. He must, indeed, work for thirty years before he becomes eligible for a full pension and he may, in the course of his duties, risk his life many times a week.
But we are going to study London's Fire Brigade in particular — not because its firemen are any braver than their mates elsewhere-but because
with its density of population, its narrow streets and many areas in which the
risk of fire is very high, is probably unique. London
How many times a day do you think
's fire fighting
appliances are called out? Difficult to say, but between the beginning of April
and the end of December 1948 the Brigade answered 13,515 alarms, of which 4,560 were fires and 1,607 chimney fires.
5,264 calls out of the total were false and malicious, which only goes to prove
the stupidity of some people! Some of the other calls were mistakes which were
not deliberate and there were a number of demands for special services apart
from fires. London
You will understand that although sometimes the Brigades may suspect, and with very good reason, that an alarm is false, every call must be answered in case the risk is real.
The fires of
are fought from 58 land stations and 3 on the Thames.
Not every station carries the same number of appliances and equipment as each
is graded according to the fire risks of the district which it serves. You will
realize, for instance, that the danger of fire in a district like Clerkenwell,
where there are many cabinet-making factories, is greater than in a residential
area. The districts served by the 58 stations are divided into four divisions,
two north and two south of the Thames. The
Headquarters of the London Fire Brigade are just over
on the south side of the river. Lambeth Bridge
Although some stations are obviously bigger than others all must have these features.
(1) The Watch Room, which is the "nerve centre" and has a man always on duty, day and night. To this room come all calls from street fire alarms, although in
these are gradually being abolished.
The man on duty here is a trained fireman who takes his turn in the watch room
just as he takes a turn at cleaning the appliances and going to fires. With
relief for rest and meals the man in the watch room works from till for the day shift. All fire stations use
the 24 hour clock. London
(2) The Appliance Room is the one part of the Fire Station which most of us see for it is on the street level with great doors which swing back at a touch, and from which the appliances roar out into the street a few seconds after the alarm has been given. The number and type of appliances vary at each station-those on whose ground are high buildings have a turntable ladder which can be extended to 100 feet in addition to two pumping appliances, one of which will certainly carry a ladder escape on wheels.
(3) The Office. This is the room from which the station is managed by the Station Officer.
(4) The Mess Room or Canteen where all meals are taken.
(5) The Recreation Room where there are facilities for games and many of which are now fitted with television. It is here that the men on night duty sleep, half-dressed, on camp beds. The Mess and Recreation Rooms are invariably above the Appliance Room to which there is access by a metal pole down which the crews of the appliances may slide when the alarm sounds.
It is not always understood that firemen do not live at their stations but have homes and families like anybody else. Some, in
have to travel quite a long way to their work, and now it is time to learn
something of these men and of how each station is manned. London
Like any other organization where efficiency is essential the personnel of a Fire Station is well disciplined and can, indeed, only work so long as all the men know who gives orders, who takes them and why.
A typical station in the London Fire Brigade is manned by two Station Officers (equivalent to commissioned rank in the Armed Forces), 2 Sub-Officers (who might be sergeants), 4 Leading Firemen (lance-corporals), and 36 Firemen. Half of this personnel works by day and half by night and duties are equally shared throughout the year.
Before a recruit is accepted by the London Fire Brigade he must undergo special training at the "school" at Headquarters for twelve weeks. First he must pass certain mental and physical tests. The former are not very exacting but the latter are more arduous, including the lifting and carrying of his own weight for 100 yards in 40 seconds without showing sign of stress or strain. During his three months period of trial and learning in the school he will listen to many lectures, do a lot of drill, study the appliances and their machinery, learn the discipline of a Fire Station, together with something of First Aid and of the special Breathing Apparatus which is carried to every fire so that the men may work in dense smoke. He will also be tested to see if he can stand heights. If, by any chance, he does not pass these tests, at the end of the third month he will probably be sent back to school for a second period of training. Recruits are accepted between the ages of 19 and 31. Each man must be at least 5' 7" in height with a chest measurement of 36" with a minimum expansion of 2". He is not generally considered to be a real fireman until he has served for two years in a station.
The "Non-Commissioned Officers" of the Fire Brigade-Leading Firemen and Sub-Officers—are promoted from the ranks according to their keenness and ability to take responsibility, and indeed all Commissioned ranks-Station Officer, Assistant Divisional Officer, Divisional Officer, Deputy Chief Officer up to the Chief Officer himself-have started at the bottom of the fireman's ladder and there is no other way to the top. Every man who comes in as a recruit to the school at Lambeth has an equal chance of gaining the highest honours the Fire Service has to offer, and many of these positions in all parts of the country today are held by men who gained their experience and learned to take responsibility in the London Fire Brigade.
The duties of the Ordinary Fireman are very varied. When he is on the day shift and reports at he must attend the daily roll-call at which he will be told on which appliance he will be working during that day. When the alarm sounds, wherever he may be in the station and whatever he may be doing during his duty hours, he must reach his appliance in the shortest possible time. Apart from actual attendance at a fire his duties are at the discretion of his Station Officer. He may have to attend drills if his superior feels that his men were not up to the standard which he expects at the last fire attended. He will certainly have to take his share of cleaning his own equipment and keeping the appliances and the station itself spotless, and such duties take priority as soon as the appliances return from a fire. When he is on Night Duty it is unlikely that he will be given much drill although he will have to do some cleaning of kit and in winter attend lectures given by his Station Officer. After supper he will usually turn in at about -partially dressed and with jacket ready for a quick get-away. Should the alarm sound he will be in his appointed place within a few seconds, fixing his helmet and the rest of his gear which is already in its place on the appliance. If he is not called in the night he will almost certainly be up by 6.45 in time to tidy up before he goes off duty at
A Station Officer will make every effort to vary the duties of his personnel as much as possible and we have already noticed that each ordinary Fireman must take his turn in the Watch Room. Drivers are not so often interchanged.
The Station Officer himself is entirely responsible for the cleanliness of his station and the training and efficiency of the men serving under him. He must be satisfied that every appliance is in perfect working order and see that it is tested constantly. Drills are at his discretion and except for a few specialist duties his men, as we have learned, must be trained to do more than one job. But his responsibilities cover the whole of the ground which his station serves. He must, for instance, inspect every hydrant at least three times a year. The number of these varies with the districts but in the
alone there are
32,000, and as the new Housing Estates develop this number will certainly
I mentioned earlier that street Fire Alarms are gradually going out of use but, until the telephone supersedes them, hundreds of these have to be inspected periodically and maintained in working order. Until recently there were 1,732 of these alarms in the
. County of London
The Station Officer must also be ready for consultations with any business or organization which may need his advice and his duties also include periodical inspection of serious fire risks, such as the Docks, factories, warehouses or markets like
Garden, where there was a very serious fire in the winter of 1949.
It is now time to describe how the fire alarm system works in any of the London Fire Brigade's stations and how the organization is able to send additional help wherever it is wanted in the shortest possible time. You will remember that there is a fireman on duty in the Watch Room of every station all round the clock and he is the only man who does not leave the station on an alarm.
There are two ways by which this alarm may reach the Watch Room. The first is the familiar system of the "Closed Circuit Alarm" seen so often at street corners, which sends its message direct to the nearest station when the protective glass is broken and the handle inside pulled. The most noticeable aspect of this apparatus at the other end is a glass-fronted case about two feet long protecting a one inch wide strip of paper running between two spools of shining brass. When the street alarm goes into action a loud warning buzz is sounded in the Watch Room and, at once, the strip of paper is punched with small slits as it unwinds from left to right. Above the apparatus is a white card on which is printed the location of every street alarm in the station's area with a number before it—e.g. 34 —
Boswell Street, 12
— Hanworth Square.
The punched slits in the strip of paper give the key by numbers so that if the
alarm comes from Boswell Street the paper tape would show first three slits in
a row, thus — — —, and then a space followed by four more slits. This signal is
then repeated twice, as the man in charge sounds the alarm bells throughout the
station where coloured lights also go up to indicate which appliances are to be
sent. He must next give the driver the location of the fire and then notify the
same to Headquarters by telephone, together with the time of the alarm and the
number of appliances sent. Finally he will enter these details in the Watch
Room logbook so that a complete record, with times, is always available.
You will understand, I am sure, that when answering an alarm it is always advisable to assume that the fire is serious. Lives may be lost and property destroyed unless enough fire-fighting appliances are quickly on the spot, and as each station has only a limited number available, Headquarters make up the first attendance by sending additional help within a few seconds. This is done in this way. Station "A" sends all its appliances to answer a street alarm and the Watch Room notifies Headquarters who immediately telephone Station "B" the next nearest Fire Station who send additional appliances to Station "A" 's fire. If they are. not wanted they return at once and Headquarters are notified by radio which is now fitted on every pump escape.
If the fire warning is given from any telephone by dialling 999 and not by street alarm this is transmitted instantly to Headquarters and not to the station in which district the fire occurs. From Headquarters the location is telephoned first to the Watch Room of the station nearest to the fire and then to the station in the next area for additional help. Warning bells ring in each station also. Eventually all fire alarms in the
will be sent
out in this way as the street alarms are abolished. County
The most valuable of the fire-fighting and life-saving appliances, and that which is always first away to a fire, is known as the Pump Escape. This has a new type of body built to the design of the Brigade and carries a crew of five including the driver. It combines in one machine an enclosed standard fire pump, capable of pumping 850 gallons a minute to a very considerable height, a ladder extending to 50 feet, hook ladders, breathing apparatus and oxygen. Some of these Pump Escapes carry 100 gallons of water which can be used instantly through rubber tubing on arrival at the fire without waiting to connect with a hydrant.
The next appliance to go is a motor pump with lengths of hose, on which the Station Officer usually travels, and in areas where the risk of fire is high the spectacular turntable ladder follows at once. This ladder, made of metal, extends rapidly to a height of 100 feet and is not only used for rescue work but sometimes for directing water into the top floors of warehouses or factories. The turntable ladder has saved many lives.
Now that radio is fitted to the Pump Escapes it is possible for the officer to maintain contact with a master wireless station and thence to Headquarters from the moment he leaves his station. He will report immediately on the gravity of the fire when he has inspected it and if he requires no more help will send the "Stop" message. If the situation is serious he can be confident that extra help will come to him very quickly.
These three appliances are all that are needed for the average fire but the Brigade have in reserve two Emergency Tenders, one of which is kept at Clerkenwell and the other at Headquarters. One of these tenders has a smoke extractor which can be used for sucking smoke out of a burning building and also for blowing fresh air in. Both carry power saws and drills, floodlights of great strength, oxy-acetylene apparatus for cutting through metals and extra breathing apparatus in addition to various smaller gadgets, such as a device for widening metal railings.
During a bad fire when the men are on duty for a long time, a canteen van is sent from which hot drinks and snacks are served. There are also available a special lorry for laying hose at speed over long distances, and another with breakdown equipment which is sometimes used for raising buses after a serious accident. Many stations have emergency lifting gear-i.e. heavy jacks etc. suitable for raising buses and trams to release trapped persons.
When the warning bells on the Pump Escapes clear the crowded streets of London today and are so quickly on the scene of the fire, and when the officer in charge can report on radio in a few seconds to the control room at Headquarters, it is odd to remember that there are many Londoners alive today who remember with a thrill how galloping horses hauled a strange contraption belching smoke and sparks to the fires in the crowded city. These steam engines, which took the place of pumps worked by hand, were first introduced in 1860 and by 1904 seventy-eight of them were in use. It was only forty-one years ago, in 1909, that the first pumping appliance to be driven entirely by petrol was placed in commission, so you will see that development has really been very rapid, although the last horse-drawn escape was withdrawn in September 1920, and the last horse-drawn vehicle-a turntable ladder-in November 1921.
It is natural that we should think that the Brigade exists only to extinguish fires but it is always willing to assist the public whenever possible and on an average it receives 100 special service calls a month, and the stories behind some of these calls are amazing.
On one occasion a milk cart drove up to Headquarters and very gently delivered a milk churn in which a small boy of nine was crouching, with his knees to his chin, at the bottom. The boy had apparently been sitting on the edge of the churn with his legs dangling inside when he had slipped forward and become wedged. From this extraordinary and uncomfortable position there seemed little hope of release without cutting the churn in half and this the firemen did with the help of oxy-acetylene and hacksaws, although the greatest care had to be taken to avoid hurting the boy. Eventually the top was lifted off, and although the lad seemed none the worse for his experience it is to be hoped that he has never forgotten what he owes to the London Fire Brigade.
Not long ago the Brigade was called on to help rescue a man who was sinking in the mud on the
foreshore opposite the County Hall. He was up to his waist when a fireman
reached him by crossing the mud on sheets of corrugated iron. A belt was slung
under the victim's shoulders and he was eventually hauled to safety—doubtless
with a loud sucking noise—by a crane.
I do not know whether all firemen have an affection for cats. Perhaps this depends upon the number of times they are called out to rescue an animal which invariably shows every sign of intelligence and independence but will so often climb a tree from which it is afraid to descend.
Horses are troublesome, too, for they sometimes fall into holes in the road and down the areas below pavement level in many of
older streets. London
After floods or great storms the Brigade expect to pump out many basements, and the men on the job are no longer surprised when called to release a child who has put his head between the iron bars of railings and finds himself a much to be pitied prisoner.
Sometimes, too, the Fire Brigade is called in to help the Police in various ways. Day and night, summer and winter, wet or fine,
Fire Brigade is waiting, watching and working. Deep underground below the
Headquarters on the Albert Embankment is the Control Room. Here is the
switchboard and here every movement of every appliance at every station is
recorded and marked on a great map. To this room come the agitated 999
telephone calls to announce yet another outbreak, and the radio messages later
from the officer on the spot. From this room go instructions for the despatch
of a turntable ladder or another pump. Except for the matter of voices on the
main telephone switchboard the men work in disciplined silence. Different
coloured pegs, indicating the various appliances, are moved deftly from their
stations on the map to show that they are out. The location of every fire being
handled is chalked on a board with the Station Officer's name beside it. Soon
the message comes through that the Brigade has left as the fire is out. The
coloured pegs are moved back and a uniformed man, with an impassive face,
picks up a duster and with a flick of his wrist erases the chalked lettering.
Another job over. Only three fires are burning in London at this minute. The Control Room
Officer glances at the board and then at the map before lifting his telephone. London
It almost seems as if these men are taking fires for granted. There is no fuss-only efficiency – while miles away in a back street off the high pavements of Islington, perhaps, smoke is pouring from the top window of a shabby little house while a pale-faced woman in the doorway cries out that her child is upstairs in bed and the stairs are burning. The crowd scatters as the scarlet Pump Escape roars into the street. Almost before ten people can explain the obvious at the same time, the ladder is against the house, the window smashed and a sleepy and unharmed child delivered to its mother by a smiling fireman. He knows how she feels. He has a daughter of his own at home.
While there are men who will choose dangerous jobs for the service of others and obey orders without argument, there is hope for the future.
Salute with me the men of the London Fire Brigade.
Posted by Stephen Bigger at 08:47