University of Oxford
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Fireman Sidney French: A Hero of the Coventry Blitz

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 17:47 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

My father was a part-time fireman for Southam fire brigade. He couldn't go in the army due to his role as a fireman and stayed in his job until the 1960s.

Southam was a small village, so most firemen were part-time. They had a call-out bell at home. He used to jump on a bicycle and pedal off to the fire. He attended fires and road accidents. He went to the Coventry Blitz for three days with very little break - it was the first time the Germans flew over and across to systematically blitz the place. The whole of Coventry was on fire - they had to try to put it out. Ryton, near Coventry, was part of where they built the ammunition. Father wouldn't talk about it. In the early 1960s, Coventry was turned into a pedestrian area and he said "you're walking on top of so many bodies".

The ceremonial helmet was in the home, but the war was never spoken about. Going back brought it back - he seemed upset. People either talked about it or not.

Many others in the photo would also have been involved. Mother may have been working in the Ryton Ammunition Factory. She had young children to look after. The contributor thinks they had someone billeted with them – they are not sure. This spare room was used. Possibly known through a brother. She was like most women in the ammunition factory.

The helmet, which was uncomfortable, would have been presented when they first started. It was ceremonial initially, but the bumps on the top suggest it was used in fires. It was needed for inspection. Not sure what happened to the rest of the uniform. It was polished twice a year with Brasso and a toothbrush. The helmet is on display in the window.


Item list and details

Firemen helmet Photograph of 8 fire officers

Person the story/items relate to

Mr Sidney Francis French

Person who shared the story/items

Mrs Patricia Townsend

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor

He was my father.

Type of submission

Shared at Thornton College, Buckinghamshire on 16 September 2023.

Record ID

93459 | THO042