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The Post-War A.F.S.
Fire Collector!

This is an article that I have written to be published in some form in the journal of the British Badge Collectors Association sometime in the future. It is incomplete, but I am adding bits to it now and then. Enjoy!


The Post-war Auxiliary Fire Service 1949-1964

Between the years 1938 to 1950, the history of the fire service is a very interesting subject. It underwent changes of organisation and management forming the Auxiliary Fire Service between 1938 and 1941, the National Fire Service between 1941 and 1948 and the post-war Auxiliary Fire Service between 1949 and circa 1964.

     The post-war A.F.S. was part of the countrys Civil Defence arrangements due to the then ever increasing danger of nuclear attack which were to be at their height in the early 1950s. It ran in tandem with other arrangements such as the Civil Defence Corps, the Public Fire Brigades and the Police Mobile Columns. When it is studied in some detail, it becomes apparent just what a mammoth task it was in terms of both recruitment and organisation this is still true when it appears that the recruitment targets that were set by the government upon launching the scheme were never attained.

     The original targets were in the region of a 2:1 ratio of Auxiliary personnel to those in local Authority brigades i.e. having a projected establishment of personnel of some 50,000 men and 5,000 women. This was never achieved.


          The government decided that if there were to be another war, there was a great possibility that this would be a nuclear war, and if this were to come to pass, the Fire services would have to be re-nationalised. Arrangements were therefore put into place to regionalise the country into 11 regions with a Chief Regional Fire Officer responsible for each region.1

     1952 saw the division of the Civil Defence groups into two types of responses. The first was a Mobile Fire Column that was described as a self sufficient contingent of 62 emergency vehicles to be posted outside of target area which could be mobilised to areas where their own services were overwhelmed by the demands of an emergency. As the projected figures for recruitment were never achieved, it became clear that the Mobile Columns were eventually going to have to be staffed by volunteers from the army and Royal Air force. 600 volunteers were sought from these two organisations as a result. The manpower for these columns was condiserable as was the number of vehicles required to give a column the full complement of vehicles. The columns comprised of the following vehicles:

Command cars.

Recce cars.


Control units.


Hose layers.

Pipe bridgers.

General purpose or personnel carrying vehicles.

Light portable pump and light equipment carriers.

Ramp, dam and hose carriers.

Transportable water units or Bikini units.

Personnel carriers.

Line layers.

Food and drink or catering units.

Petrol carriers.

Communications units.

Clothing vehicles.

Maintenance vehicles.

Recovery vehicles.

Foam carriers (rarely used and mostly converted to GP vehicles by mid 1960s).

Radio repeater units.

The rank structure used on these columns was different to that in normal fire service duties. The structure was as follows:

Column commander.

Deputy Column Commander.

Company Commander.

Group Leader.

Vehicle leader.

Vehicle Driver.


     The second was the provision of appliances and equipment for use by Local Authorities that could be stored in fire stations of the Local Authority or in Special stores run by the Home Office. This was pending the approval of fully comprehensive insurance cover for all equipment used for this purpose the cost of which was to be borne by the local authority brigade. If a mobile column was then mobilised to this area, half of the establishment of appliances would then move out of the target area and form part of the Mobile Column. Those that were stored by the brigades prompted the construction of extra appliance bays that are still evident today in some areas. They are easily discernable as large garages with steel roller shuttered doors although variations on this may exist.

     More problems were encountered in 1954 with the discovery of technology leading to the H-bomb. The government decided that more personnel would be required than those currently involved (around 15,000 at this time). They decided upon the utilisation of R.A.F. servicemen but they realised that if there were such an occurrence as devastating as an H-bomb, then they would be required in their primary role as members of the R.A.F. It was subsequently decided to use the excess numbers of personnel resulting from National Service in the Civil Defence roles. This required the training of such people at centres such as Moreton-In-Marsh, Washington Hall and Reigate in Surrey. These proposals did not take full effect until 1956.

     By the time 1958 arrived, there were 40 Mobile Fire Columns envisaged and an increase to 150 as soon as vehicles, world affairs and staffing allowed. This was not to be as in 1959 the Defence White Paper called for the abolition of the National fire Service and the training of territorial recruits in the techniques of Civil Defence. This was followed in 1960 by an erratic supply of vehicles to the fire brigades and the increasing feeling that the threat that nuclear war had posed was diminishing year on year. This then led to the scaling down of both exercises and the establishment that had not yet reached the levels projected in 1949.

     A light column as it was now called would consist of no more than 30 pumps and 16 despatch riders with command cars. The roles to be performed were now described as that of decontamination and the pumping of fresh drinking water after a chemical or nuclear attack.

     Despite the relaxation of tensions on the world scene, notes, orders and instructions on various issues regards mobilisation etc. were still being issued in 1964 and this still maintained that half of the Local Authority appliances were to join the mobile Columns should they be required.

1 There were 12 regions in 1950 but his was reduced to 11 in 1964.

Collecting items concerning the post-war A.F.S.

There are many different items associated with this period in the history of the fire service and the range of categories of these items is wide ranging.


One area that provides a ready source of items is that of the cap badge. Some fire brigades allowed the A.F.S. personnel attached to their brigade to wear the same cap badge as their regular firemen, others produced variations for their A.F.S. colleagues.




Were you in the post-war A.F.S.? If so, I would like to talk to you NOW. Please contact me ASAP!