Hidden Wartime Fire Station History Remembered
Steve Hunnisett, a Freelance Battlefield Guide and historian, was intrigued by information he came across regarding the history and story of a war-time fire station in London. With the assistance of Antonia Nicol, an Operational Equipment Officer with London Fire Brigade, an incredible story which was at risk of being forgotten has now been recorded;
On 3 September 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain made a radio broadcast informing the British people that they were “Now at war with Germany”.
Schoolchildren from across London were evacuated, including those from Invicta Road School in East Greenwich, to the relative safety of the Kent countryside.
The school buildings were taken over by the London Fire Brigade as a wartime fire station and became home to members of the Auxiliary Fire Service, men and women who had volunteered to serve in the fire brigade should war come.
When the Blitz began on 7 September 1940, the men based at Invicta Road School would have seen plenty of action since the school was located very close to the River Thames and was surrounded by factories, wharves and associated industries, all of which were undertaking vital war work.
At 23:05 on 13 September, the school suffered its first damage of the war when a 50kg bomb fell through the roof of the School Assembly Hall.
Fortunately for all concerned, the bomb failed to explode and it was carried out of the building by Firefighter Arthur Grant into the playground, where he proceeded to bury it beneath a large pile of sandbags.
The bomb exploded, but because it was covered by sandbags, did no further damage to the school buildings or people in it.
For this act of extreme bravery, Arthur Grant was recommended a George Medal, the award of which was confirmed on 12 November 1940.
On November 14th, 1940, the same night as the great raid on Coventry, southeast London also suffered.
By far the worst incident in London on this night happened at 21:20 hours when a one-tonne parachute mine floated silently down, became entangled in the trees that lined Invicta Road, East Greenwich and exploded with terrific force.
The school buildings collapsed like a house of cards and left many firefighters trapped and seriously injured beneath the rubble.
Help came quickly from their colleagues in surrounding fire stations. The work to free them went on well into the next day but sadly, when everyone had been accounted for, twelve firefighters had died along with a further three civilians who had been in the school premises when the mine exploded.
Amongst the firefighters killed was Firefighter Arthur Grant, aged 29, whose award of the George Medal had been announced just two days previously and who had not yet received his decoration.
On 16 March 2017, a memorial plaque was erected by the charity Firemen Remembered at the Invicta Primary School, commemorating what was once the scene of one of the worst tragedies in wartime in South East London at the school some seventy-seven years ago.
The plaque was installed, fittingly onto the last surviving retaining wall of the original Victorian school, which now overlooks the present school’s playground.
In late 2017, the 77th anniversary of the bomb, East Greenwich fire station Green Watch (E23) took their Fire Engine down to the school in order to take part in the memorial ceremony alongside the school and Steve Hunnisett, a Freelance Battlefield Guide and historian, who researched the history of this event, wrote about it and recounted the story for the school.
The main image shows Firefighters working to locate and rescue those trapped in the rubble of the school after the second bomb was dropped. Embedded Images show SM Richard Melrose, WM Paul Ryan, FF Mat Riley, FF Simon Claydon and FF Michael Williams attending the school. and helping lay the wreath in front of the plaque. Photographs supplied by Antonia Nicol and London Fire Brigade.