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Homepage. This page: Original photographs of Morris Commercial & Dennis Fire Engines prior to WW2 in Surbiton, UK.

Fire Engines (Part 1).

Ray sent in these original photographs that show his paternal grandfather when he was a member of the Surbiton Fire Service, prior to, and during, WW2, and two of the appliances he worked with.
Back to Transport Photographs Page 3.

Picture 1: Dennis Fire Engine

Dennis Fire Engine
Ray says: "Please find attached two pics of Surbiton Fire Engines circa WW2, which show my grandfather Gilbert Vail.
Rear Line: Driver Fireman Bilsby, Fireman Sherwood, Fireman Vail (standing).
Front line: Fireman Mumford and Fireman Howark.
The photograph is showing a 250 gallon Dennis Fire Engine."

Picture 2: Morris Commercial AFS Fire Engine

"This picture was taken around 1940. The machine Fireman Vail is standing in front of is a 'Morris Commercial' fire engine, which was quite popular in the 1930's. (Kathmandu Fire Brigade in Nepal still have one!)."
AFS Morris Fire Engine

Gilbert William Vail and how he joined the fire service.
"My paternal grandfather, Gilbert William Vail, was born in 1901 in Bloomsbury, London, and lived in the Surbiton area since an infant. He worked on the railway when he first left school and had a number of other jobs, including a motor fitter and general handyman. Thus in the 1930's when rumours of a pending war where in the air he was of an age that he could be called up. He, and his brothers-in-law, believed that war was inevitable and came up with a plan.
"It was quite simple, if they were in a reserved occupation they could avoid being called-up! So they volunteered to become retained firemen. My grandfather's house was very near to Surbiton Fire Station and thus he could cycle there in good time. A bell was installed in the house in Richmond Grove via a line from the GPO pole. Presumably he had another job as well. At the time the local Fire Brigade was run by Surbiton Urban District Council.
"Sure enough war was declared and the retained firemen became full-time. My grandfather became full-time in 1937/38, and received nearly 4 per week, a good wage then. At this time there were between 1400 and 1500 small brigades run by local councils throughout Britain. Gilbert helped train recruits for the new Auxiliary Fire Service. He was a trained motor fitter and served at the Brigade workshop at the Cattle Market at Kingston. In 1941 the National Fire Service was formed and the existing fire brigades were amalgamated into it by the then Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison. Gilbert was also stationed at Godalming in Surrey and Norwich in Norfolk. He returned to Surbiton Fire Station on normal duties in 1945. He was also a member of the St John Ambulance and drove the Surbiton Fire Brigade Ambulance. He and his brothers-in-law were not asked to do military service.
"There was one small problem with their cunning plan - London was to become one of the most dangerous places to live. Its civilian population were in the frontline. Surbiton and the surrounding towns were hit on a number of occasions. He fought fires all over London and presumably lost some of his colleagues.
"Fighting fires and dealing with incidents in all weathers, often for long periods of time, took its toll. He developed asthma, for which there was not any effective treatment at the time. His son remembers him smoking herbal asthma cigarettes, which were thought to help asthmatics and were sold by Boots and other chemists. In 1947 the National Fire Service was handed back to local authorities but not to the small local boroughs and borough councils, but instead to county councils and county boroughs, in all 148 different brigades. It was shortly after this time that Gilbert became too ill to work and left the Brigade. According to records held at Surrey Fire Brigade he did not receive a pension.
"Gilbert died in May 1949 of kidney failure a condition today which can be treated. I was born in 1958 and thus never meet him but I do have photos of him in his uniform at Surbiton Fire Station."

News on the Morris fire appliance in Kathmandu.

After seeing this page, and reference to a Morris fire engine still surviving out in Nepal, Kamal who lives in Kathmandu, dropped me a line with the following photograph. It shows the surviving Morris appliance in the garage of the Kathmandu fire department. It doesn't look like it has moved for some time, maybe it will be restored one day? Thanks for sending the photo over.
Morris Fire Engine
Fire engine enthusiasts may also be interested to see this early 1920s image, showing a Merryweather appliance being worked on in a garage in New Zealand. A second page of misc fire engine photo "finds" has now been published here.

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