All Quiet. Roof Still On: Jarrold’s Fire Watching Log August 1940-May 1941 (Part 2)

(Continued from Part 1, taken from the Jarrold’s fire watch log book JLD 4/10/16)

Battling the Enemy

Britain went to war with Germany in 1939.  The Jarrold’s firewatchers went to war with the rats in August 1940. Youngman took it upon himself to be the chief ratcatcher while the Jarrold’s cat proved elusive and ineffectual: Austin delivered attack upon Rat No 1 which fell easy victim to his accurate fire . . . .One rat decides to pay us a visit but not for long, as it decides to join the “Home Guards”.  Two dead men buried with full military honours in Alice’s cupboard.

The Rat Battle

The rats would enjoy running up and down the piano in the basement: Investigated – rats playing “Kitten on the Keys”.  “Ratmaninoff”!

The Night Watch

If it wasn’t for Goering

You’d all be snoring

And owing to Hitler

Your rest gets littler. (for the night watch)

On the night watch the men would sleep on a rota basis.  Much excitement – beds prepared.  Fifth Columnist has sabotaged beds.  General tightening of bolts found necessary.

Wasley is mentioned frequently.  Wasley arrives fuming about borrowed bicycle & lamp which conked out half way down.  Decapitated four people in Prince of Wales Rd in pitch black conditions. 

There were several comments regarding Wasley’s punctuality.  Wasley & Turner puff up to back door.  Late again!   . . . . Miracle of miracle – Wasley arrives! 

Sleeping was not always easy: Mr Read spent a very restless night hearing several large bangs throughout the night but a suggestion from Mr Russell to the effect that it was his (Read’s) conscience knocking did not suit.  Catchpole later writes: I thought about calling a doctor in to see Mr S –  can he snore.  Sadd replies No need to poke me in the ribs, I do not snore, am a light sleeper and resent the remarks of Colleague Catchpole.

Keeping awake was also difficult.  Green writes:  It is very hard to keep awake when Mr Russell is played such a lovely sleepy lullaby with his nasal organs and the clock on the mantel-piece is ticking away like a time-bomb . . .why should you loose (sic) your beauty sleep through a black smudged upper-lipped twirp like Hitler.

Maintaining the blackout was vital.  Mysterious light seen on Market Place.  Came to conclusion it was copper poking round stalls. When Scott was on patrol:  Found light in Gents Cloakroom which cost me a penny to put out . . . . Police called. Light in Canteen Kitchen.  Found blackout was down.  Took my name and address – & announced he would report me. 

As the night watch signed off, a moment of wry humour: We depart.  The period of duty has not been hunpleasant or hunpresent.

No Escaping the War

Whatever their antics, the realities of war were never far away.  In September:  Heard scream suggestive of falling bomb – no explosion – we investigate our roof strong smell of gas (coal gas?).  We contact Garland’s watchers roof to roof.  PC 36 taken up to our roof to sniff . . . Later discovered several unexploded bombs occurred in Norwich – one in Rampant Horse Street.

The rooftop was a focal point of patrols:  Inspection party to the roof.  Roof and Dunham’s garden still there.  Caretaker Arthur Dunham lived with his wife on the roof and had a garden there. 

In October a huge fire broke out in Back of the Inns:  Understand it started in Adcocks.  Looks as if Castle Hotel stable block will be razed.  Magnificent sight.  I’m sure if Mr Grant looked out of window at this moment he’d think it was Jarrolds.  YOU CAN RELY ON US!  It makes you wonder if we ought to have fire watchers here in peace-time.  This is no formal application for the job by the way.

In November:  A horrible sounding plane was heard careering round the city . . . . bombs expected every moment but he evidently mistook Jarrolds for a hot potato truck and went away noisily.

In April:  Explosions heard.  Boulton & Paul’s Burning.


A network of communication linked the firewatchers, the police and the ARP Wardens. 

Due to its close proximity Observer 2 warden’s post in Exchange Street is mentioned several times.  In October: Patrol interrupted by pleasurable visit of A.R.P. Warden H Gaze.  He was delighted to know that W Dept still existed.

From 1941 the firewatchers had a duty to inform the Corn Hall and Skippers but neither were very good at confirming messages received. Gave warning to Corn Hall – no response.  Went round to see caretaker but made no contact, either asleep or not there . . . . Endeavoured to contact Skippers watchers – not on roof – no answer from door – gave contact signal; no response to this. . .  Contact bell with Skippers out of order.

The Log Changes

In 1941 the new Fire Precaution (Business Premises) Order dictated a change in both the arrangements and the style of the log.  There is only the night watch from 6pm to 7am, daytime incidents are simply logged.

From this point onwards the log becomes a perfunctory list of dates and times of warnings, patrols and related incidents.  No more humour, narrative or cartoons.  The heart and soul of the log is lost.

The two photos below show the contrast between the old style reporting and the new.

Typical log September 1940

Photo 7 Typical Log March

Typical log March 1941

The End of the War

In September the log records: According to the “Sunday Express” this morning the war will be over in ten days from now.  Sadly there was still a long five years to go. 

The log ends abruptly at 7pm on 3 May 1941.  It reads Window in Dunham’s flat open – have closed same.

However that same watch continued in the second log book (JLD 4/10/17)) and continues in the same vein.

And while the soul of these logs was lost under the new arrangements, it must have been the case that this loyal group of Jarrold’s employees continued to joke, eat and grumble their way through the night watches while ensuring they did their bit to keep the city safe.  It is fitting that Barker’s poem should end this blog.

Daryl Long NRO Research Blogger

Firewatchers’ Ode by Barker. Who was Barker?
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