Wilfred Nelson lost his life in the line of duty on the 5th March 1955. His Red Plaque was presented on the 2nd October 2021.
Wilfred was attending a fire at Wellington Mill, Chew Valley in Greenfield, Greater Manchester when he tragically fell to his death as the fourth floor of the mill collapsed while damping down the fire in the building. He was one of 100 firemen called at the height of the incident to tackle the blaze at the former spinning mill. He was forty-one and left behind a young son and a wife.
A report of the incident, which spread over three days, stated:
“During damping down procedures, a fireman fell approximately 40ft to his death, it is understood, from the 3rd floor. He was last seen at around 6.30am on the 3rd floor trying to reach areas where the fire was still burning.
“After being told to ‘knock off and take some hot tea’ he apparently, instead of doing this, tried to find a way to the still burning fire pockets and fell through the ‘badly burned floor-timbers to the ground floor below’. He was found at around 8am by a station officer (John Topping) below where he had last been seen damping down.
Today, Wilfred is fondly remembered by his family, friends, and brothers and sisters in the FBU. The Plaque’s unveiling event was attended by his family, representatives of the FBU, Area Manager Carlos Meakin and firefighters from Mossley Community Fire Station. The Red Plaque is located at the Greenfield Tesco on Chew Valley Road, near the location of Wilfred’s death.
GMFRS Stalybridge & Mossley Station Manager Dave Swallow who initiated tribute said:
“Wilfred died trying to protect his local community. What happened is part of our history and it is still important we recognise that.
“We all understand the problems where Wilf was at. He was one of those told by his superior to have a break but he wanted to push on and do that bit more.
“The anniversary of firefighter Nelson’s death was brought to my attention by a local media enquiry earlier this year. At the time, he had left behind a young son and wife, and I thought installing a red plaque would be a fitting tribute to recognise this tragic loss.
“I have been working with the FBU and the Fire Fighters Charity over the past few months to prepare for the installation. This would bring meaning to firefighter Nelson’s family and the community. Apart from remembering his bravery, the red plaque could remind local residents the importance of their own role in preventing fire incidents.”
Three generations of the family gathered to see the unveiling, including the son of Wilfred Nelson, Trevor Nelson was 12 when his dad died:
“What happened is now nearly 70 years ago but it is very good to have it recognised like this. It is a nice gesture what they are trying to do. I appreciate the trouble being taken to recognise my father. His grave is in the cemetery at Micklehurst where my mother (who died in 1993) is also buried. But there was never anything else to mark what happened.
“It was hard for my mum but credit to her. We lived in a fire brigade house opposite the fire station when dad was working. We were used to him going out to work at different times but on this occasion he didn’t come back.”
“Dad was pretty strict with me but he was a popular chap and well liked from what I can remember.”
Below are memories added by those who knew Wilfred Nelson or had a story that they wish to share with you. If you have a tribute for Wilfred Nelson that you wish to add, please include your memory below.
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Photo credits: Ed Burrows and The Fireground Rochdale Fire Museum