Men at Work pp 76-100 | Cite as

Heroes on the Home Front: Firefighting in Wartime Culture

  • Linsey Robb
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series


It [a fallen wall] was lying on top of Swann. They pulled him out and his, limp and dead, body contorted into grotesque gestures. Then they saw Chummy, a dark heap half buried under bricks. They dug him out, and Nick saw his face almost black with congested blood, and a trickle of blood mixed with brick-dust contorting his mouth into a wry smile. They straightened the bodies in to decorous attitudes, and covered the faces with their tunics. Then they sat down on a heap of rubble waiting for help. While they waited, they watched a huge cloud of smoke and steam rising from the city, its underside crimson, shading into deep purples with a silver fringe and tassels made by the light of the moon whose face it was hiding. ‘I’m still alive,’ said Nick slowly. ‘I’m still alive.’1

As the memoir of wartime fireman James Gordon makes evident, during the Second World War firefighting was a home front civilian job unlike any other. Those ‘heroes with grimy faces’, as Churchill allegedly described them, were not only called upon to fight fires, an extremely dangerous job under any circumstances, but also often had to do so while the Luftwaffe were still dropping bombs overhead. The men of Britain’s fire services risked serious injury and even death to protect people and buildings. 16,000 men lost their lives in the course of the war.2 Yet, despite their obviously dangerous and vital role in the war effort, the fire services have been, as with most other male civilian occupations, little considered by historians despite some popular efforts by authors such as Neil Wallington.3 Sonya Rose does make reference to the men of the fire services being depicted as ‘epic heroes’.4 However this idea has not been thoroughly scrutinised. This chapter will rectify this historiographical absence by exploring the cultural depiction of Britain’s firemen in wartime.


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Copyright information

© Linsey Robb 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Linsey Robb
    • 1
  1. 1.University of StrathclydeUK

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