The London Blitz of 1940 is one of the most horrifying events of World War 2. For the first time, citizens were the primary target in an attempt to shock Britain into surrender. The Blitz opened a new chapter in the book of WWII. Hitler wanted to reduce London to a pile of ashes and rubble. To accomplish this feat, the Germans introduced an entirely new air-raid strategy. Guided by a new tracking system, that allowed them to locate London even during government imposed blackouts, the Germans dropped a barrage of incendiary bombs over London. These small, tubular objects would lodge themselves in buildings and start small fires throughout the city. While harmless in small numbers, the Germans dropped tens of thousands of these incendiary bombs on London. As fires spread, the German bombers then began to drop massive explosives that leveled buildings throughout the city. On the front lines in the streets of London, fire brigades scrambled to contain the fires.
Britain’s Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) was established in 1937 to assist the regular fire brigades in the event of all-out war. When the Blitz took London by storm in 1940, the Auxiliary Fire Service was called into action. The AFS was made up of over 20,000 part-time and emergency full-time volunteers. Both men and women were played large roles in the AFS. Whether they were pump operators or communication staffers, there was still one glaring trait shared by many of these brave volunteers: they had no experience fighting fires (90% had never fought fires before the Blitz). While many lacked experience, the AFS played a major role in holding off the fires that threatened to reduce Britain to a pile of ashes. Churchill called AFS members “heroes with grimy faces.”