Brave Firefighters of the Blitz

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The National Firefighters Memorial, located near St Paul's Cathedral in the City of London, is an enduring symbol of resilience.

Originally called 'Blitz', the three bronze figures, which depict a Fire Officer and two Firemen, commemorate the courageous men and women of the Fire Service who lost their lives as a result of their duties during World War II.

The man pointing towards St Paul's Cathedral is Cyril Thomas Demarne, OBE, sub officer in the West Ham Fire Brigade, and father-in-law of the memorial’s artist, John W Mills.

On the first day of the London Blitz, 7 September 1940, Demarne recalled a “lovely sunny day. There were about 300 German aircraft. Some flew along the waterfront from North Woolwich to the tidal basin and bombed the big factories. [They] had thousands of people in them and there were horrendous casualties.” Remembering those days 60 years later, he recalled

"In the first week of the Blitz, I thought London wouldn't be able to stand up to it. There were huge craters and gas flames blazing high in the air and tangled telephone cables everywhere but every night the emergency services got to work and got everything up and running all over again”.

London was struck by bombs for 57 consecutive nights and suffered enormous fire damage. The work of the fire service was essential to put out the flames caused by the air raids, as the images below show.

Firemen dislodge bomb-damaged masonry with a powerful jet in Aldersgate following German fire attack in December 1940.
© London Metropolitan Archives
23 Queen Victoria Street collapses in flames on 11 May 1941.
© London Metropolitan Archives

Following retirement, Demarne wrote extensively about his experiences. 'The London Blitz – A Fireman's Tale' and 'Our Girls – A Story of the Nation's Wartime Firewomen' are fascinating accounts of some of the frontline heroes of WWII. The books present the true stories of ordinary men and women in extraordinary circumstances, who, with great courage, became far from ordinary.

Cyril had the idea of establishing memorial for the firefighters. The original concept was for a memorial to the 363 male members of the London fire service who lost their lives in WWII. The idea soon grew to be a national WWII memorial and to include the women who worked in the Fire Brigade in WWII.  The statue was erected in 1991 on a low plinth carrying 1,027 names. The memorial was unveiled by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother on 4 May 1991.

In 2003, it was decided to re-dedicate the memorial to all firefighters who had lost their lives in service, beyond the war.  This required the addition of 1,192 names which meant the statue had to be raised by over a metre to provide space on the plinth for all the names. A re-dedication took place on the 16th September 2003 by HRH The Princess Royal, Patron to the Firefighters Memorial Charitable Trust.