Joseph Calderwood lost his life in the line of duty on the 7th January 1963, along with his colleague Stanley McIntosh. Their Red Plaque was unveiled on the 11th January 2023.
On 7 January 1963, fire appliances from across Lanarkshire attended a call to a fire at the premises of David Colville & Sons, an iron and steel company with its works in Mossend, Bellshill, as well as Motherwell. One of the largest employers in the area, Colville’s produced the lion’s share of Scotland’s steel, which was used on ships like the Titanic and Queen Mary as well as iconic structures including the Forth and Tay bridges. The fire broke out in a paint store but, unbeknownst to the firefighters at the scene, other flammable materials were stored there, including paraffin and petrol in large unmarked drums.
Station Officer Joseph Calderwood was aged 58 was visiting retained fire stations with Stanley when the fire broke out and they attended the scene. Joseph entered the premises with a hose jet accompanied by Stanley but a violent explosion killed Stanley instantly and sent Joseph staggering out of the building, ‘blazing like a torch’ from head to foot. He died a week later from his injuries.
From this incident, important lessons were learnt: these included the need for improved PPE, the importance of adhering to agreed methods of safe working during a fire of unknown cause, and the legal requirement for firms to clearly label dangerous substances and advise the local brigade of any particularly dangerous risks.
Both Joseph and Stanley were awarded full service honours, their coffins carried on the back of fire engines and accompanied by firefighters through their home communities.
Joseph had recently received his long-service medal for twenty years’ continuous service. A carpenter by trade, he made an elegant memorial to local men who gave their lives during the Fire World War, which still hangs in the parish church at Carfin. He was married to Catherine and they had two daughters and a son, Ian, who was also a firefighter.
The project to remember these two firefighters was coordinated by Professors Shane Ewen (Leeds Beckett University) and Jonathan Reinarz as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council-funded project ‘Forged by Fire: Burns Injury and Identity in Britain, c.1800-2000’. It included community work with the school located almost directly opposite the station, Knowetop Primary School. Pupils at the School studied archival materials relating to the incident and created a timeline of events leading up to the fire, used historical documents to investigate its caused, handled historic and contemporary fire kit, re-enacted the FAI and wrote dedications to the two firefighters, before creating plaques from clay to honour their own heroes. He explained that:
“Both men served in the National Fire Service during the Second World War before working as senior officers in the post-war Lanarkshire Fire Brigade. Stories such as these are a timely reminder of the dangers posed by unregulated workplaces as well as the bravery of firefighters who run into burning premises without a second’s thought for their own safety.”
FBU regional treasurer, Seona Hart, said:
“Stanley McIntosh and Joseph Calderwood gave everything in trying to help with a fire in incredibly dangerous conditions. They were on routine duties in the area when they were called into action on what turned out to be a perilous fire. They wanted to protect life and property and very tragically lost their lives in doing so.
“Firefighters in Lanarkshire and beyond have never forgotten this massively significant incident. This plaque will help ensure that continues and will help the public to remember Stanley and Joseph and their sacrifice.”
Fire Brigades Union national officer, Tam McFarlane, said:
“We created the Red Plaque scheme in 2018 because we knew how important it was that firefighters who die in the line of duty are properly remembered. mTheir sacrifices can never be forgotten and they will not be with plaques like this one. Red Plaques make sure that these vital pieces of our past are remembered in the spaces they were lived.
“Mr McIntosh and Mr Calderwood were thinking only of protecting their communities when they rushed into the burning building. As we remember them today, we should remember the scale of the sacrifice they made.”
Joseph was fondly remembered by his family, former colleagues, and brothers and sisters in the FBU. The unveiling ceremony was attended by his relatives, the local school-children from Knowetop Primary School in Motherwell, as well as FBU and fire service officials. Joseph and Stanley’s Red Plaque can be located at Motherwell Fire Station.
Below are memories added by those who knew Joseph Calderwood or had a story that they wish to share with you. If you have a tribute for Joseph Calderwood that you wish to add, please include your memory below.
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Photo credits: Craig Maclean