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London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton welcomed war hero and former London Fire Brigade Deputy Assistant Chief Officer Bill Williams to Brigade HQ last month.
Ninety-three-year-old Bill served with the Brigade for 30 years and is a veteran of the Battle of Arnhem.
The Battle of Arnhem was a major battle of the Second World War, fought from 17–26 September 1944, during which Allied forces were sent to secure key bridges but were overwhelmed by the German tanks. Bill witnessed the death of dozens of his comrades and was himself taken as a prisoner of war.
After the war, he worked for Ford where once a colleague was lamenting the fact that he couldn’t joint the fire brigade because he wore glasses. This put the idea of joining the fire service into Bill’s head and he applied to be a firefighter the next day.
Bill rose through the ranks from a firefighter to Deputy Assistant Chief Officer. He served at fire stations including Plumstead, East Greenwich, Clerkenwell, Kingsland, Brunswick, Whitechapel, Cannon Street and Southwark.
During his visit to Brigade HQ earlier this month, Bill brought with him a leaflet used for a recruitment campaign in the 1950s, which depicts the military band the Brigade had at the time.
Director of Operations Tom George spoke to Bill about how the kits, fire engines and firefighters’ challenges had evolved since his time with the Brigade. Bill said one of the biggest problems he and his crews encountered during his time with the Brigade was gaining access into houses that had metal grates on their front door. He said: “It gave us such a headache that we were even looking at using explosives.”
The Commissioner also brought in her jacket to demonstrate just how advanced the personal protection equipment has become. Bill said: “It was good to meet old friends and present day firefighters and it brought back many memories.”
Tom George said: “It was a real pleasure having Bill at HQ and hearing about his time with the Brigade all those years ago. It is wonderful that he is still interested in the work that we do and that he is able to recall to clearly his time with the Brigade.”
Bill is still a bit of a daredevil and has recently completed a parachute jump over Arnhem in a replica of the aircraft he flew in September 1944. He plans to go back to Arnhem next year to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the battle.
To find out more about the Brigade’s history, visit the pop-up museum’s page.