The onset of World War Two saw big changes to the Fire Brigade nationwide with the formation of the Auxiliary Fire Service in 1938, which amalgamated with local authority fire brigades to form the National Fire Service in 1941.
Uckfield received an influx of NFS personnel who were billeted in Nissen huts on the riverbank or at the fire station, writes Ian Ritchie in this third part of his history of the town’s fire service.
Many of these personnel were from the North of England and developed strong ties with the local population and remained in Uckfield until after the war.
Above: AFS The Auxiliary fire Service personnel outside the station with the name blanked out to prevent enemies from knowing their whereabouts.
Little history exists of Uckfield Fire Brigade action during the war and stories such as ‘700 incendiary devices and a dozen high explosive bombs being dropped on Uckfield’ on the night of September 18 1940 would appear a little embellished as the only recorded damage was that of a burned out photographer”s studio in the High Street and a burst water main.
The stories continue that 600 incendiary bombs dropped on Nutley set no more alight than a straw rick and that 1200 such bombs caused no damage at all around Chelwood Gate.
It should be assumed, that these attacks, mainly from German bombers returning from raids on the London area, kept the Uckfield firemen busy.
There is no doubting the constant threat from the enemy overhead and although Uckfield was not a target, the town and surrounding villages were unfortunately on the route of the bombers who jettisoned their load before heading back across the Channel.
However, by 1944, the Germans had developed the V1 rockets or ‘Doodlebugs’ and serious damage to local villages was caused as they were shot down to prevent them from reaching London.
Buxted (twice), Isfield and Ridgewood are all recorded as having large numbers of houses damaged by these flying bombs as they fell short of their intended target and it would be reasonable to have expected the involvement of the Uckfield Fire Brigade in its NFS guise in dealing with the aftermath.
The most serious recorded fire in the area during the war was apparently nothing to do with the bombings. On February 2 1940, fire broke out at Buxted Park, which was then a private residence housing artwork and furniture brought from the owners London home for ‘safe keeping’. The top floor was lost despite the efforts of Uckfield and Crowborough Fire Brigades who were assisted by locally billeted soldiers in salvaging what valuables they could.
A major restructure of the emergency services post war saw the Fire Services Act 1947 published which resulted in all local fire brigades being amalgamated into County or County Borough Brigades.
In 1948, after 80 years of brave volunteers, Uckfield Fire Brigade became part of the East Sussex Fire Brigade and a new professional era began.
Above: Firemen train at their Keld Avenue station as a new era begins