An honour and a privilege.
I was at a Brigade Committee Meeting where Keith Handscomb completed a presentation on the Red Plaque Scheme. He spoke with such infectious passion about the project and pointed out that John was the only Firefighter to have died at an operational incident in our brigade, but had no permanent, publicly accessible memorial. I wanted to get involved.
I did not know John - the Fengate explosion occurred two years prior to my joining CFRS - but as a Firefighter stationed in Peterborough, I was aware of the location of the incident. As a Watch, we visited the site and viewed a brass plaque located in the foyer of a coffee roasting company, formerly the site of Vibroplant. Driving away afterwards, I couldn't comprehend losing a member of my own watch and wanted to help create a lasting memorial not only for John's family, colleagues, members past and present, but also for the public to quietly reflect on the sacrifice John made.
Thanks to the Red Plaque scheme, we were able to do this. It was an honour and a privilege to be part of a small group of volunteers that have ensured John Humphries will not be forgotten.
PLAQUE FOR FORGOTTEN BLITZ HERO UNVEILED IN LEEDS
This Red Plaque was unveiled at a historic fire station in memory of a Leeds firefighter who lost his life defending the city from air raid fires during the Second World War.
Solomon Belinsky, a Russian born upholsterer from east Leeds, was one of 3,847 men and women who volunteered for the citys Auxiliary Fire Service in 1940, serving at his local fire station in Gipton.
Leeds suffered nine air raids over the duration of the war with its heaviest on the night of 14 and 15 March 1941 when forty bombers attacked the city centre. Incendiary and high explosive bombs destroyed around 100 houses killing 65 people.
Research by Leeds Beckett historian Shane Ewen revealed that just after midnight Belinksy turned out with his Gipton crew to Park Row where they tried to save the citys museum after it sustained a direct hit.
However Belinksky was injured by a falling bomb and died 17 days later. The official cause of death recorded as Death from Enemy Action. He left a widow, Rachel, and four children, one of whom, Anita, also joined the AFS and served in Hull. The following month, the government nationalised the fire service to provide an improved nationwide system of fire protection. In total, 818 firefighters including 25 women lost their lives during the war. Their names have been recorded on the National Firefighters Memorial outside St. Pauls Cathedral in London, and are remembered every May as part of Firefighters Memorial Day.
Shane Ewen said Volunteers made up an increasing number and proportion of firefighters during the war, swelling the membership of the Fire Brigades Union to 66,500. Many stayed on to help transform the service into a modern profession after the war.
Men and women like Solomon Belinsky risked their lives to help make the fire service an indispensable arm in the countrys civil defence, they heroically fought fires while bombs rained down upon them. Many who survived suffered burns and broken bones as well as post-traumatic stress disorder having witnessed multiple fatalities.
Belinskys contribution to the citys wartime defence was marked by the erection of a plaque at The Old Fire Station, Gipton, which is now a community hub.
Neil Carbutt, secretary of the FBU in South Yorkshire, said As firefighters we know our history and we never forget the bravery and sacrifice of our colleagues past or present. Solomon Belinsky gave his live serving his community, as so many firefighters have done, and this Red Plaque will help to ensure that his courage and service is recognised and never forgotten.
The plaque was unveiled on Saturday 15 September 2018, as part of a series of activities to mark Heritage Open Day at The Old Fire Station. The activities included heritage tours of the building, led by retired firefighters, a mobile gallery commemorating the centenary of the FBU, and two screenings of the Unions documentary film, called The Firefighters Story, which featured in the programme for the Leeds Scalarama Film Festival.
The East Leeds Firefighters Heritage Group also launched a permanent display about Gipton Fire Station, which was originally opened in 1937, and West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service had an engine and crew in attendance from Killingbeck for part of the day.
More information about Solomon Belinsky, which was found after a great deal of research is detailed below and is also illustrated in the attached photos.
Solomon Belinsky , Leeds Auxiliary Fire Service, Wounded in Action 15 3 1941 in enemy action on Leeds Museum, Park Row. Died at Leeds General Infirmary, 1 4 41, aged 41 Some sources list his age as 43 and one further source lists him as 45. Husband of Rachel of 19 St Albans Mount, Harehills, Leeds. Left wife and 4 children. Buried New Farnley Jewish Cemetery, grave 1 1 4.
Also, FBU researcher Amy, has turned up Solomons naturalization certificate see attached which clears up the issue of spelling of his name.
Married Rachel Patankoff, June 1921 in Leeds, according to the Register of Marriages.
Leeds Town Hall and Museum hit by enemy action Heavy Explosive and Incendiary Bombs 15 03 1941 at 00 55. Attended by AFS and extinguished by hoses attached to the mains.
LGI admission records are below
Date of admission 15 Mar 1941
In patient registration number 450 1728 LP
Residence PC Leeds City War Reserve 19 St Albans Mt, Leeds
Locality where accident occurred Direct
Nature of Injuries inj to leg
Date of discharge DEATH 1 4 41
No of days 17
An exceptional event attended by family members from the USA
Organising a Red Plaque event for a firefighter killed in 1899 must have been a very challenging task and it is therefore important to give huge credit to the main organiser, Neil Gillespie, who researched the death of James Mair meticulously and brought everything together for a memorable event. Here is an article that was written about the event and the life of James Mair........
ARTICLE ON THE RED PLAQUE EVENT AND LIFE OF FIREFIGHTER JAMES MAIR
On the 29th of June 2019. Paisley Fire Station in Scotland remembered one of their brothers who had passed as a result of his injuries after a fatal fire 120 Years ago. With the red plaque scheme now well established, Firefighters at Paisley knew of this event and felt it only right that James be honoured for his Service, his ultimate sacrifice and for us to leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.
120 Years ago, on the 29th of June 1899, Firefighter James Mair, aged 36, paid the ultimate sacrifice and died in the line of duty as a result of a wall collapse at a fire at Ferguslie brick clay works. He died leaving a widow and five children.
James had previously served in the army for 6 Years and had fought at the battle of Tel El Kabir. He achieved the rank of Sargent which was uncommon in those days. He was a well respected member of the community and was from a Family who had both served Paisley as roofers and firefighters. James' Grandfather was one of the first firefighters when Paisley Fire Brigade was established in the early 1800's. James joined Paisley Fire Brigade in January 1899. At James' funeral, his fire helmet was converted into a collecting pot, for the funeral procession to leave donations for his wife and Family. It was recognised that after the event that as there was no widows and orphans fund established for Fire fighters at that time, that one should be established. Thus the beginnings of establishing better workers rights for firefighters and their families. The Helmet now sits in the Heritage Museum in Greenock.
Paisley's Branch Secretary, Neil Gillespie coordinated the event cited a number of challenges in putting it all together, with James having passed 120 years ago. It was a challenge for Neil to try and locate Family descendants to get permission to hold the ceremony. Using Social Media, he was able to track down James' Great granddaughter who lives in Boston, in the USA. Telephone numbers where exchanged and it eventually ended with 11 Family members from America coming over for the event. Neil was also able to use local media in Paisley and found a number of living descendants still living in the Paisley Area. One of the many positives of the event.
Neil stated that it was an absolute privileged and honour to coordinate the event. He said it would not have been possible without the help of the SFRS and the FBU to make it happen. On the day the plaque was unveiled, a private ceremony also took place at James' grave side and then the Family where given a Police Scotland motorcycle escort, under blue light conditions, through the town of Paisley and then onto the former site of 111 Ferguslie, where the tragic event happened.
A formal service, with a guard of honour and ceremonial piper was held with speeches from SFRS staff, a Captain from the Royal regiment of Scotland and FBU National Officer Tam McFarlane. They detailed the events of the day and why we should honour our fallen. Tam spoke eloquently on the importance of the red plaque and the reasons why we lay them. Whilst he was delivering his speech, it was only fitting that the on duty Crew at Paisley where to pass by under blue lights responding to an incident in the Area.
A heritage trail stone as well as the red plague was unveiled. The event was then to go onto a Civic reception, hosted by the Assistant Lord Provost, at the local Town Hall.
Neil had also commissioned an ornamental table to display FF Mairs helmet. Fellow FBU member and Watch Manager Sam Fredreich, a master craftsman to trade, was asked to design a new table to replace the old one that sat in Paisley Fire Station, displaying James' helmet. Sam was to go on to make it and it now sits aside a exhibition of James' life at the heritage museum. Sam also made a Ceremonial flag holder to present to the Family so that they would have a memento of their visit to Scotland. The Family in return gave it back to the Station so that something of James' memory would remain in Paisley Fire Station for Years to come. A fitting act that represented the bond that was created between the firefighters of Paisley and the Mair Family. Sam is now to go on to design a display cabinet to host the flag in the reception area in Paisley Station.
The red plaque scheme is a wonderful concept and it is only right that we remember our brothers and sisters who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in protecting the communities we serve so as to leave a lasting legacy for all to remember.
Feature in FBU journal 'Firefighter'
After the event, key organiser Nicola Barlow wrote a feature in the June July edition of the twenty nineteen FBU journal Firefighter. In the article, Nic talks about her experience of organising a Red Plaque event and offers advice to others who may want to do the same for a fallen comrade. I've attached photos of the article here but you can find the feature on the online edition of the magazine which is available on the FBU website.
Recognises all firefighters in Northern Ireland killed in the line of duty during the Troubles
A huge well done has to go out to all the organisers of this special plaque, recognising all firefighters in Norther Ireland killed in the line of duty during the Troubles. The plaque is mounted on a dynamic mural wall celebrating workers solidarity in Donegall Street at the rear of the John Hewitt Bar. I attended the event and was deeply impressed with the common bond of firefighters from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland as they commemorated fallen colleagues. A massive 'well done' has to go to all the organisers, especially to FBU EC member Jim Quinn who played a key role in the event. Please go and see it if you are ever in Belfast.
Order of Service for the unveiling event
The FBU organisers wrote and published a short order of service for the unveiling event on 22 March 2019. This set out the sequence of events for the day and also gave some background of the terrible event where John lost his life. It's attached here as a series of photos for people to view.
A moving & very well organised event
This was a very moving unveiling which was attended by some of John's family and his former colleagues, some of whom who were with him at the incident where he lost his life. Firefighter Nicola Barlow deserves huge credit for her key role in organising the plaque and the unveiling event. The crews marched from Peterborough Guildhall with FBU banners before arriving at the plaque site, where a minute's silence was held in memory of John - sounded by a Fire Service bell. The standards of Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service and the Fire Brigades Union were present and a piper played the Firefighters lament. An exceptionally well organised and dignifed event which exemplifies the spirit and purpose of the Red Plaque project.
The blitz was a defining moment for the fire service and we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to the firefighters who fought the fire storms at the time. I attended the unveiling of the Red Plaque for the twenty one firefighters who died protecting Portsmouth and its citizens during the blitz in WW2, it was an exceptionally well organised event which paid a fitting tribute to the firefighters who had lost their lives. All the organisers should be rightly proud of the role they played in organising this event with special thanks going to Mark Chapman who played such a key role in developing the plaque and the event where it was laid.
I attended the unveiling of the Red Plaque to Firefighter ‘Sonny’ Liston and found it to be a moving and powerful experience. All the people involved in organising the event deserve to be thanked, especially Mark Goldsmith and Guy Herrington - the FBU members who were central to the organising of the Red Plaque and the members and staff of Liskeard-Looe RFC, where Sonny played Rugby and where his plaque is placed. I never knew Sonny, but I was on duty in a different Brigade when the terrible news of his death came through in September 1994. It was a terrible shock and a tragic loss, which affected all firefighters. Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service and the Fire Brigades Union have made sure that he will be permanently remembered by this striking Red Plaque, they have done his memory proud and deserve our thanks for doing so.
After decades of neglect by my fire & rescue service, it was one of the proudest moments of my career being part of the FBU team that organised a Red Plaque for Firefighter John Humphries in 2019. A particular special mention should go to firefighters Nicola Barlow and Rob Allport in the organising. I personally hadn’t known John. He died on 22nd March 1989 in horrific blast in Fengate, Peterborough. But from the moment I joined the fire and rescue service I knew he was the only firefighter in my small brigade to die in the line of duty since WWII. So it always felt so wrong that there was no memorial to remember his bravery and sacrifice. The Red Plaque scheme gave us firefighters the opportunity to finally correct this. There is now a Red Plaque memorial and place of remembrance in the heart of the city that John dedicated his working life protecting. Thanks to the Red Plaque scheme we were able to bring together John’s family, friends, local firefighters and the community for a respectful unveiling event on the 30th anniversary of his death, ensuring he will never be forgotten.
The day the Red Plaque was unveiled in memory of Bob, I was privileged to be the then Brigade Secretary for Leicestershire, as I worked with a Red Plaque unveiling committee of volunteers that wanted to ensure that the day that marked the unveiling of the Red Plaque was done so with no detail not considered, with such dedication in making it the occasion that Bob’s family, friends and colleagues would be incredibly proud of – for that, I am proud of those committee members, my fellow FBU members.
The committee and their efforts, and the subsequent unveiling event was testament to the character of Bob that I had come to learn. I never knew Bob, I knew of the tragic fire in 2002, as it was across the street from where my parents worked. The Red Plaque, upon on the building where Bob lost his life, is in an area that has been regenerated and changed considerably in just a few short years, but the Red Plaque ensures that Bob’s legacy lives on. On the day of the unveiling a few hundred people that knew and loved Bob, and many like me that only had the opportunity to learn through others how great Bob was, turned up and met old friends, created new friends and spoke about the “good old days”, of which all centred around Bob. It was a day of unity, of bringing people together -to stand together. It was also a day, if one was ever needed, to show how much Bob meant to so many.
The unveiling event had many facets, we had tea and cake at the Central station, people could look round the FBU exhibition that was set up there, before we all walked en masse to the street where the plaque was to be unveiled. We had many speakers, but one who stood out was Bob’s old friend and Sub-o, Mark “Mole” Smith. Mole spoke from the stage to the hundreds that arrived, marking the occasion as something very special. We then invited people to the theatre nearby to watch the Firefighter Story.
The day the Red Plaque was unveiled, is and will continue to be remembered fondly by all that I speak to, the memory and sacrifice that Bob made has been acknowledged respectfully and forever.