Southend Timeline

Bringing Your Memories Back to Life

National Fire Service

With the introduction of the Fire Brigades Act of 1938 this made the county boroughs, boroughs, urban districts and rural districts each responsible for their own provision of an adequate and efficient fire service. 


With war looming a major study was undertaken into the services being provided, this resulted in the Home Secretary establishing a National Fire Service in May 1941, this was achieved by amalgamating the Auxiliary Fire Service and the fire services operated by the local authorities.


With the scrapping of the local fire services the country was divided into separate regions with a central Home Office Fire Control was established in London to maintain contact with each of the regional organisations, this would also enable better communication between regions should extra help be needed during or after an air raid. 

Each area was given a number, Southend was designated Area 11.

1 Gosforth

2 Middlesborough

3 Rotherham

4 Leeds

5 Bradford

6 Hessle

7 Derby

8 Nottingham

9 Leicester

10 Louth

11 Southend

12 Stevenage

13 Hethersett

14 Durley

15 Taplow

16 Lyndhurst

17 Bristol

18 Exeter

19 Yelverton

20 Llanishen

21 Sketty

22 Colwyn Bay

23 Worcester

24 Birmingham

25 Stone

26 Liverpool

27 Cheadle

28 Bolton

29 Preston

30 Maidstone

31 Brighton

32 Woking

33 London (Administrative)

34 London (Ealing)

35 London (Highgate)

36 London (Ilford)

37 London (Eltham)

38 London (Wimbledon)

39 Swindon

40 Wolverhampton

41 Warrington

42 Stalybridge

43 Kendal


The on-duty uniform used plastic war time economy buttons, the tunic had one internal pocket and the trousers two side pockets and a buttoned fly and a metal helmet, lined with leather. The dress uniform was a peeked cap, and a dark blue double breasted tunic, with metal buttons.


LEFT: Metal dress uniform button. 


The NFS was manned by both full time and part time crews, these were made up of men and women, men would work every fourth night, women every sixth night.


When on duty crews were able to volunteer to be involved in manufacturing for the war effort, with a small part of the fire station given over to the job, firefighters could also work in buildings alongside the fire station, most would offer to take up the task as many had previously worked in factories before the war. 

Service in the NFS would mean putting yourself at very considerable risk, as the NFS would be called out to attend not only the aftermath of the German air raids, but also much of the time attend fires as the air raids were still ongoing. The fires would make buildings collapse and unexploded bombs could go off at any time or bomb could drop onto the site they were working. 


The highest number of people working for the NFS was 370,000 of which 80,000 were women who were mostly employed on administrative roles, however some would be frontline team members going out to tackle fires. 


The NFS was disbanded in 1948, when the local authorities once again took charge, however the number was slashed from the previous 1600 before the war, this was because each County Council was responsible for the operation of the services within that county, however County Borough’s such as Southend retained control of their own fire service operations. 


Eventually the Borough Fire Services were absorbed into the county fire services


National Fire Service Helmet.

This helmet had been acquired by a militaria collector in Lincolnshire a number of years ago, however when one for his local area became available he bought it, so this one became surplus to his collection.


He offered it to me at a very very reasonable price, this was much less than he had originally paid, and less than he had been offered by a collector in the USA.


LEFT: From the UK to the USA and back to the UK again. probably the furthest travelled National Fire Service helmet 

The reason for the greatly reduced offer was, like me he has a real passion for local history, and really wanted it to return “home” after looking up Southend, he found the Southend Timeline and got in touch, after chatting he made the incredible offer and the price was agreed, which saw it travel back to the UK for just the price of postage! 


No restoration has been undertaken as the patina it has taken on through age gives it real character and having it completely restored would loose its whole history.


Everything about it is original, from the paint to the padding to the chinstrap to the decals.



RIGHT: Original leather padding and chin strap, remarkable condition considering they are over 80 years old. 


The helmet joined the Southend Timeline collection on Tuesday 11th July 2017.