London Fire Brigade

LFB 150: New book uncovers amazing bravery of Jewish firefighters during the Blitz

27 January 2016

Today marks Holocaust Memorial Day and as part of the Brigade’s 150 year celebrations we are championing a new book that documents the bravery of Jewish firefighters in London during the Second World War.

A third of Britain's 330,000 Jewish community lived in London's East End at the start of the war, and as Hitler’s bombs rained down, they served in great numbers often as firefighters and firewatchers.

Dangerous and necessary job

A new book by Martin Sugarman explains the huge sacrifice that Jewish firefighters made during the blitz and brings their stories to life.

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson has provided a foreword for the book called Jewish Participation in the Fire Service in the Second World War: Last Voices.

The Commissioner wrote:

"An important part of the ethos of the London Fire Brigade is that its firefighters should reflect the communities they serve.

"So it is a pleasure to read these compelling stories of the Jewish men and women of the Fire Brigade in London during the Blitz.

"Martin Sugarman's research has been long and thorough and the characters he mentions come alive in these pages.

"Like many Britons, they were doing a dangerous and necessary job, often under terrific bombardment.

"But, perhaps, they, more than most, had a reason to recognise the deadly threat of the fascist armies across the sea. I thank them all."

Harry Errington

London Fire Brigade's most famous Jewish firefighter is Harry Errington, who was the only firefighter to receive the George Cross during the Second World War for his considerable act of bravery.

Just before midnight, on 17 September 1940, a bomb virtually demolished a three-storey garage, the basement of which was used as an air raid shelter by the Auxiliary Fire Service personnel.

The floors caved in and 20 people, including six firefighters, were killed outright.

Harry recovered consciousness and, upon escape, rescued one of his colleagues and saw another trapped underneath a radiator.

He returned to rescue the second man despite his hands being badly burnt and the building due to collapse at any moment.

All three men were seriously injured but, thanks to Errington's bravery, they were all returned to duty.

Born in Westminster on 20 August 1910, he first trained as an engraver and later as a tailor. When war broke out he volunteered at a station on Shaftesbury Avenue, near the business where he worked.

Harry was later active in basketball administration - particularly during the London Olympics of 1948 - and served as treasurer of The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association until 1990.

His George Cross is on display in the collection of the Jewish Museum London.

Soho asked Harry into the station to celebrate his 90th birthday in 2000. The red watch presented him with an engraved tankard, and copious amounts of birthday cake.

The firefighters remarked that Harry was "still as razor sharp and fit."

Harry Errington GC died in London on 15 December 2004.