CHAPTER 15 RESCUE SERVICE

The term " Rescue Service " in Walthamstow was regarded as generally referring to what was later known as the Heavy Rescue Service, although in 1942 the Stretcher Bearers were renamed Light Rescue and undertook certain Rescue functions. (The Light Rescue Service is dealt with under Stretcher Party Service on page 6.)

The Rescue Service was organised under the Council's Building Works Manager and, initially, was largely composed of Building Works Department employees, plus a number of employees of private Builders and Contractors. With the outbreak of War, a whole-time establishment was approved, and the number of part-time volunteers associated with this Service locally was very few at any stage. The Service was organised into Parties of ten men, comprising a Party Leader (or Foreman), a minimum of three skilled men paid at craftsmen's rates and seven other men including a driver.

Like the other Services, the Heavy Rescue Service was spread over the Town, Parties being held originally at eight of our ten Depots, with other Parties at the Rescue Service Headquarters, Clock House. Wood Street. When the cuts took place these Services were reduced and ultimately one Heavy Rescue Party was held at each of five Depots and one at the new Rescue Service Headquarters, Northcott House, High Street. The equipment of the Heavy Rescue Service was augmented from time to time until the heavy van or lorry which was required to carry this equipment resembled in some respects a Christmas Tree for it carried not only picks and shovels but ladders, crow¬bars, debris baskets, and so on. In order to ensure the safety of the equipment, the driver was always instructed to remain by his vehicle.

The Heavy Rescue men from their practical experience or the construction of buildings had a knowledge which was exceedingly valuable and, in many cases of serious difficulty, rescue work was effected without loss of life simply because of the knowledge which these men had of the possibilities as well as the dangers of dealing with wrecked buildings. One of the most interesting and heart-warming experiences at an Incident was to see the faces of the men after they had rescued a trapped casualty from a particularly difficult situation. They would work for hours under most gruelling conditions, would refuse to be relieved by other squads and then, at the end of their labours, be more than rewarded by the extrication alive of a man or woman or child who had been buried for some hours.

It will be appropriate to record here that 84 men, 101 women and 34 children were rescued in Walthamstow from debris wherein they had been trapped, and although Light Rescue and Wardens made some of the rescues the bulk of these people owed their rescue to the Heavy Rescue Service.

In addition, five horses were rescued from stables.

Our Rescue men were, however, not only active in Walthamstow but were called to help under the " mutual assistance " schemes in most of the Boroughs north of the Thames, our calls ranging from Dagenham to Hampstead. The first such call was to send six Parties to West Ham and the Docks at the beginning of the London Blitz on 7th September, 1940. Among other noteworthy occasions the worst from our point of view was the Poplar Hospital Incident, when two squads worked throughout the night rescuing hospital residents under very severe conditions including the presence of delayed-action bombs which placed the rescuers very definitely " under fire."

Apart from rescue of human beings, dogs, cats, chickens, ducks, rabbits, canaries, paraqueets and even tame mice came within the ambit of the Rescue Service, and many an owner had reason to bless the men for restoring a prized pet. In addition to Rescue work, a considerable amount of first aid repair work in the early days of the war was done by Heavy Rescue Parties who, after they had dealt with the Incident, turned-to and fixed tarpaulins and felt and assisted generally to put the places in a state of reasonable repair. They had moreover the job of shoring dangerous buildings which would otherwise have collapsed.

Latterly, (after first aid repairs had been provided for by a special organisation), the Heavy Rescue Parties still turned out on Sundays to replace tarpaulins in stormy weather and regularly helped first with furniture removal and then, when the houses had been cleared, with the removal of debris from the site.

Among the convivial a man may be praised for " pushing out the boat " but, probably unique among Rescue Parties, it was the experience of our people literally to " pull in the boat " when, after long effort, it was at last found possible to salvage from the River Lea a cabin-boat " house " sunk by the debris flung on to the boat by a Rocket.

Part I - General

Part IIa - The Services

Part IIb - The Services

Part III - The Story of the Raids

Part IV - Flying Bombs & Rockets

Part V - To the Unknown Citizen