All Quiet. Roof Still On: Jarrold’s Fire Watching Log August 1940-May 1941 (Part 1)

Jarrold’s department store in Norwich had to adhere to the 1940 Fire Watchers Orders by having firewatchers on duty at all times.  This log begins in August 1940 and ends in May 1941 (JLD 4/10/16).  It records the duties and activities of the Jarrold’s firewatchers who who were part of a city-wide system of supervising the city.  There were four watches a day until 1941.  The date of the watch generally starting at 6pm the previous evening, the second watch at 10pm then 7am to 1pm and 1pm-6pm. 

A Firewatching Fraternity

This log is more about the men than the war itself.  Three key characteristics are evident; comradeship, dedication and humour alongside a fair helping of boredom and grumpiness. Some had witnessed the First World War while others were waiting to be called up. 

The log records 63 men in total.  The 1939 census and Jarrold’s staff records (JLD 2/4/4) identify some. Those of particular note are: 

  1. Barker.  Barker’s name appears on almost every watch and is clearly held in high esteem.  Who was Barker?
  2. Frank Englebright. Stationer’s assistant.
  3. Harry Gaze.  Manager at the store and ARP Warden 677.  He died in December 1942.  Was this as the result of the war?
  4. David Grant.  Store manager and ARP Warden.  The log refers to him as the Director.
  5. Walter Ringer. Stores dispatch manager. 
  6. Jack Trudgill.  A fancy goods buyer.
  7. Sydney Vyse.  Departmental manager of the china and glass department.
  8. Gordon Wasley.  Manager in the book department.  Source of much humour in the log. 
  9. Austin Youngman.  Stationery packer.  Expert rat catcher!

Food and Drink

In times of crisis comfort can be found in food and drink and this was certainly the case for the firewatchers. 

Jarrold’s had an account with the local milkman – or so the men thought. When it was Wasley’s turn to collect the milk: G R W wondering why he had to fork out 4d for milk.  Always understood firm’s credit was good until this morning. 

This led to the following comment:

The Milk Crisis

Two weeks later the milkman arrives to be paid.  Mr Futter fourpence lighter.  Remarks of previous contributor concerning our credit still very much justified.

A week later tempers are frayed on both sides:  Read forced to give 8 terrific blasts on the bell and 80 terrific blasts when held up by our now hysterical milkman.  If these notes should come to the notice of the management the writer has joined the noble ranks of milk victims.

Tea was an important part of any watch.  On the first night:  prepared to brew some tea no sugar.  Made an extensive search but found none . . . procured a small phial of sacarin (sic) from chemistry (department). . . . Good cup (of tea) spoon stood very upright in the cup.  What about a tea cosy for the canteen tea-pot?  Will Alice knit one? Or do we have to continue using our vests?

Patfield (nickname chef) and Russell were particularly popular for their culinary skills.  One November watch Russell made supper: It consisted of fried spuds and sprouts, meat pie, apple tart, bread and cheese, mutton sandwiches and cake washed down with copious draughts of real old Ceylon. PS There are no vacancies in this night gang.

Whiling Away the Hours

Nothing happening was obviously a good thing but meant there were long hours to fill between the routine patrols. 

A radio was provided to alleviate the boredom.  In September: Advent of Ferguson Radio Set. . . . Had a good laugh when Lord Haw Haw told us how inferior our Spitfires were to their Messerschmitts . . . . Suggest radio is changed for at least a mediocre set.  This one sounds like frying bacon – horrible in the extreme. . . .  One word to purchaser of set.  Sir you’re a rotten judge of horseflesh!

The Ferguson set was quickly replaced with a Decca which was well received but did not last long either. 

Gramophone recitals were also organized.  Never realized how much like an air raid warning Deanna Durbin’s voice was before tonight.  Made so much row that “O2” contacted us.  Sorry Mr Pitchford. . . . . Gramophone concert.  Mr Elliott brought his straw skirt out.  Fireplace collapsed.

The men also played a variety of games.  In October Wasley challenged Read to a competition of draughts, tiddledywinks , ludo or darts.  Read responds:  Will take up challenge subject to Mr Grant putting us on together one night . . all excepting ludo as this is out of my class, but common no doubt to St William’s Way as on the outskirts of the city they have more facilities for this strenuous pastime.

Playing Chess

The men engaged in various other pastimes including poetry and rug making.  Barker and Trudgill were often on duty together.  Trudgill liked to draw cartoons and: Remarked to Mr Barker (complete with steel helmet) his amazing resemblance to “Old Bill”. 

Trudgill’s cartoon of Barker
Ringer’s poem about Wasley

Find out more about the Jarrold’s Firewatchers in Part 2, coming soon!

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