At a small memorial service held today (Friday, 18 September), Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Clayman paid tribute to seven Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) firefighters, including his great-uncle, who lost their lives on 18 September 1940.
It was exactly 80 years ago today, just after the start of the Blitz that the men lost their lives when a German bomb made a direct hit on Soho’s AFS sub-station building on Rathbone Street, W1, demolishing the whole building and killing the seven AFS firefighters, as well as a number of civilians who were sheltering there.
One of those AFS men killed was Det Ch Supt Clayman’s great-uncle, Myer Wand.
Myer Wand lived in Stepney, Tower Hamlets and was a member of the Jewish community who lived in the East End of London at the time of the Blitz. He was 31 years old when he died and was survived at the time by his wife and son.
To commemorate the day, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) held a service at Rathbone Street to recognise and honour the firefighters. As part of the remembrance service, a plaque was arranged for the site on 7-9 Rathbone Street, W1 of the sub-station to recognise the sacrifice made by London’s firemen and remember the events that unfolded 80 years ago.
The plaque, which is due to be officially unveiled at a later date to be confirmed, will be placed at the side of the substation and will also honour Harry Errington, an AFS firefighter who risked his life on the night to rescue two of his comrades from the basement of the three-storey garage.
Harry Errington was later awarded the George Cross by King George VI for his bravery and endurance on the night of 18 September 1940, making him one of very few firefighters in London to have received a Gallantry medal.
Due to the current Covid restrictions, the remembrance was held in a small capacity but the plaque will be officially made viewable to the public when restrictions allow.
Detective Chief Superintendent Stephen Clayman, BCU Commander for the Met’s East Area, said: “Today, 80 years on from the terrible events that unfolded, we remember the sacrifice that these firemen made and the gallantry they have shown.
“The building, which was in use as a fire sub-station, received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb. The floors above collapsed as the vehicles and the garage petrol store, also above, crashed into the basement creating a huge ball of fire.
“My great-uncle, Myer Wand, his colleagues and a number of civilians were very seriously injured and died as a result of their injuries.
“Remarkably the building itself still stands today and the placement of the plaque is a poignant reminder of the Blitz and the impact on London and other cities, along with the toll it must have taken on those who lived through it.
“I can’t imagine what it must have felt like, especially for the emergency services working there at the time.
“We must remember the families that tragically lost their loved ones, and this is only one example of such an incident, as the Blitz cost thousands of lives.
“It is worth remembering that these firefighters, like modern day emergency service workers including the police, represent London communities. I am extremely proud to follow in my great-uncle’s footsteps and protect Londoners by working in our emergency services.
“Myer Wand and Harry Errington were both from the London Jewish community and were the children of immigrants. My great-grandfather arrived in the UK at the turn of the last century, escaping the anti-Semitism of Eastern Europe and seeking a better life. Like so many immigrant communities, they have contributed to London life, culture and prosperity.
“Thank you to all of our modern-day firefighters and other emergency service workers for their quick thinking and their efforts at protecting the public, as they are always walking towards danger.”
Borough Commander Rodney Vitalis from the London Fire Brigade, said: “Remembering and recognising our history is incredibly important to us.
“For our firefighters, who now work at Soho Fire Station 80 years on, the bravery of those who preceded us is inspiring and it’s an honour that we are able to celebrate their memories by organising a plaque which will be placed at the site of the substation.”