The Day They Brought The Pub Down (28 February 1975)
Mr Frank Howard’s recollections of the old Fenny Fire Brigade recently published in these jottings call to mind another story of derring-do on the part of that doughty band. It was told in 1946 by Mr George Bates, of Water Eaton, who was then aged 82 and had been a member of the brigade 50 years before. And it went something like this:
“We had just got a new pump and jet hose of which we were very proud. Sir Philip Duncombe (grandfather of the present Sir Philip) invited us to give a demonstration at Great Brickhill one morning.
“After the demonstration he treated us to lunch at the Duncombe Arms. To help it down we were handed two large watering cans, full of beer. But half the crew were teetotallers, so the rest of us had double rations. Then the fun began.
“Somebody said I couldn’t knock a brick out of the pub’s chimney with my new jet hose. I said I would show him that I could.
“Well, I played the jet on that chimney to some tune and soon the mortar was flying in all directions. Then there was a loud crash and down came the whole chimney bang into the tap room!”
George either could not or would not say what were the consequences. But it is clear that neither Brickhill water nor Brickhill beer was short of strength in those days.
Coming down to much more recent times, during the 1939-45 war the brigade was part of the steel-helmeted National Fire Service and its members remained on full-time duty until April, 1946, when they reverted to their old part-time status.
For this new order of things there were 14 part-time members, which was only two more than 50 years earlier, when the population of the town and district was much smaller.
The members worked variously on the railway and at Wico’s, M.A. Cook’s and Beacon Brushes. Ron Culley, at Cook’s, was in charge, assisted by two leading firemen.
At the start they were called into action both day and night by the sounding of the “All clear” on the old air-raid siren at the council offices. This annoyed some people who had not yet got over their wartime experiences. Both the “Alert” and the “All clear” began with the same kind of upwards whoosh, and some people tumbled from their beds before they realised it was the sustained note of the “All clear” that was sounding and not the warble of the “Alert.”
In any case, the town’s dogs never knew the difference and set up answering howls of their own. But one humourist wrote to the Gazette:
Now that the fire brigade’s started the craze Of blowing the siren for each little blaze The whole town is littered each day of the year With folks who drop flat at the sound of “All clear.”
The siren sounded for the first time as a fire alarm at three o’clock one morning and there was hollow laughter when it was reported later that, suitably enough, the outbreak had been at the council’s incinerator in North Street, which had been rather more efficient than necessary in nearly consuming itself as well as the town’s rubbish.
But nine firemen had reported for duty within three minutes of the police switching-on the siren. With rare exceptions this standard of efficiency was maintained through the many years that followed while the brigade was still based at the original fire station in Church Street.
Very soon bells were connected to members’ homes and night sirens were discontinued. Shifts were organised so that there was always a sufficient complement of men available during the evenings and at night as well as during the day. In this way the fear that going back to part-time would mean reduced efficiency was largely eliminated.
In the first post-war part-time year the brigade dealt with 11 chimney fires, four shop fires, five heath fires, four “others” and two special service calls (pumping away flood water, etc).
To wear a fireman’s uniform still meant something and one morning Fireman Ernest Poole, of Eaton Avenue, found it meant more than he had expected.
He was passing the Bletchley Register Office when he was stopped by a worried-looking soldier. The soldier explained that he was being married. The bride was there but his “best man” had not turned up. He begged Fireman Poole, as the first uniformed man who had come in sight, to be his “best man.” And ten minutes later Fireman Poole emerged from the register office and went on his way, this unexpected duty done, but still not knowing the soldier’s name nor the bride’s either.