London Fire Brigade

Groundbreaking wartime firefighting hero recognised with blue plaque

09 September 2016

One of the first black men to serve in the British army and in the London Fire Brigade was honoured by London Fire Brigade at blue plaque ceremony on Sunday, 11 September.

Born in Trinidad in 1890, George Arthur Roberts served in the First World War and went on to become a firefighter throughout the Blitz and rest of World War II.

In 1944 he was awarded the British Empire Medal 'for general duties at New Cross Fire Station and for his part as a founder and pioneer of the Discussion and Education groups of the Fire Service' throughout the Second World War.

Guard of Honour

Black and ethnic minority firefighters lined up as a guard of honour at the unveiling of the plaque at George's former home on Warner Road in Camberwell.

The event, which started at 11.30am, was also attended by the Brigade's Director of Safety and Assurance Dany Cotton, local MPs and Tedwin Herbert, The Acting High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago.

Standing at  6'2", George earned a reputation in the Great War for throwing bombs back over enemy lines.



Image: Twitter / @heritagemonster


He was first wounded at the Battle of Loos and then in the Battle of the Somme.

After the war he settled in London, living in Peckham and later Camberwell where George and his family lived for almost 50 years.

Portrait

A former electrical engineer, in 1939 George completed his training with the fire service and in 1943 he was made a Section Leader - the equivalent of a Watch Manager B in today's Brigade.

During the Second World War, George's portrait was painted by the famous painter Norman Hepple (1908-1994), who was also a member of the National Fire Service, and it was widely exhibited.

The 1939-1945 exhibitions by war and civil defence artists were very popular because no works of art were being imported from Europe, which was then under occupation by the Germans, and many works from Britain's national collections had been packed away and stored in Wales for the duration of the war.



London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said:  "In our 150th year it is fitting that our most famous black firefighter has been recognised with a blue plaque.

"From First World War solider to decorated Blitz firefighter, George's story is remarkable and still incredibly relevant for all who aspire to make a difference.

"The guard of honour of black and ethnic minority firefighters shows how far the Brigade has come over our history but we can and are committed to doing much more to make our workforce as diverse as the communities we serve."



In 1931, George was one of the founder members of the League of Coloured Peoples. This was one of the first organisations to take care of the needs of Britain's black community. He remained an active member of the League for many years.

George, died in January 1970. The blue plaque was organised by Southwark Heritage Association after his story won a competition in the local paper.