Cheapside Street 50 Years on
Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Preservation Group (now Scottish Fire and Rescue Service Heritage Trust) were delighted to be asked to visit St. Patricks and the Anderston Primary Schools in Glasgow as part of the Cheapside Project.
These two schools are on the doorstep of Cheapside Street and are directly involved in The Cheapside Project.
As part of this project, Strathclyde Fire & Rescue (now Scottish Fire and Rescue Service) commissioned a Mosaic to commemorate 50 years since the fire at Cheapside Street, Anderston – one of the worst disasters in Glasgow’s history.
Our fearless crew, Jimmy, Steve, Bert and Alex – dressed in period fire fighters uniform – were in attendance and brought along the Dennis F108 Pump Escape.
Pupils from both primary schools were shown round the appliances, where they were able to see the period uniform, equipment and breathing apparatus from the era and everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves.
At the same time, the pupils had the opportunity to speak with Felix Lennon who was at the disastrous fire in Cheapside Street on March 28th 1960.
During this devastating fire, 14 Fire Service and 5 Salvage Corps perished under tons of falling debris following huge explosions in the warehouses. This resulted in the biggest loss of life suffered by the Fire Service during peacetime.
The Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Cheapside Committee were represented by Alan Forbes and Jim Smith along with David Adam the chairman of Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Preservation Group.
Similar events are being planned in the run-up to the Memorial Service and Strathclyde Fire & Rescue Preservation Group along with Strathclyde Fire & Rescue will be putting on a large display of modern and vintage Fire Appliances in George Square.
A Private Service for Friends and Family of The Fallen will be held at Glasgow’s Necropolis at 13:00 hrs, concluding at 13:30 hrs.
The Necropolis event will be followed by a Service to be held within Glasgow Cathedral. The Service will commence at 14:30 hrs and conclude at 15:30 hrs.
Due to restrictions within the Cathedral, the Service is a ticketed event with priority given to veterans and family members.
Following the Cathedral service, a Guard of Honour will march along Cochrane Street to George Square and at 15:50 hrs. Two minutes silence will take place.
There will be a gathering at George Square at 16:30 hrs where Lord Provost Robert Winter and councillor Brian Wallace will unveil a new memorial stone. The stone will be later mounted at the River Clyde Walkway near to the point where water was drawn to supply the pumps at the Cheapside Street Fire.
The static display in George Square will open to the public at 12:00 hrs. This will include uniforms and equipment from the period.
Visitors can view The Cheapside Street Disaster Display in the Mitchell Street Library during normal Library opening hours until April 30th.
A Selection of the Items Currently On View in The Mitchell Library
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The Cheapside Street Disaster – March 28th – 1960
83 CHEAPSIDE STREET GLASGOW
That address may not ring a bell in the minds of the younger generation, unless they have family or friends linked to the Glasgow Fire Service or the Glasgow Salvage Corps of the 1960’s.
For Glasgow’s older generation however, the street name is synonymous with one particular day in Glasgow’s history. In fact, March 28, 1960, is deeply etched in many a Glaswegian’s memory.
At approximately 7.15pm, on that day, a 999 call was made by George Pinkstone, who was working nearby, stating he could see smoke coming from the second storey of a building at 83 Cheapside Street. This turned out to be the premises of a Messrs Arbuckle Smith and Co Ltd, within which was stored some one million gallons of proof whisky and a further 31,100 gallons of rum, both in vats and barrels.
In under three minutes from receipt of the call to the Area Control Room, the first appliances from Glasgow’s West and Central Fire Stations reached the scene.
Meanwhile, the Fire Boat St. Mungo was making its way from the Marine Fire Station at Yorkhill Quay to supply water lifted from the Clyde to the fire appliances if it was required
The St. Mungo could draw water from the River Clyde at the rate of 32 tons per minute using its two, 3000 gallon per minute, four-stage turbine pumps, driven by Rustman Paxman diesel engines. At the height of the inferno, some 31 lines of hose were used, supplying the fire appliances at the scene.
Just six minutes after the initial 999 call, the Area Control received a message from Sub Officer James Calder requesting to “Make pumps 5”. This was Fire Brigade language of that time asking for additional Fire Appliances to be dispatched due to the developing fire.
Fire fighting and salvage operations continued and at 7:48pm a message was received at Area Control from Assistant Firemaster John Swanson asking to “Make Pumps Eight”.
Moments after that message was sent, “The Cheapside Street Disaster” took place.
As Assistant Firemaster Swanson was making his way up Cheapside from Broomielaw, there was an explosion, which sent tons of debris crashing down onto the street below as a large section of wall was blown out. Screams were heard briefly as that section of the street was enveloped by tons of fallen bricks, masonry and dust. Then silence.
Under the rubble was Central Fire Station’s brand new Turntable Ladder which had only just entered service with the Glasgow Fire Service. (The cost of that ill-fated appliance back then, £17,000)
Assistant Firemaster Swanson immediately sent another message,
“Make Pumps 10. Send on six ambulances”.
The initial search for survivors and casualties was started but was severely hampered due to the intensity of the fire. Firemen carried on with the task of controlling the raging fire that was sending flames and smoke high into the skies over Glasgow.
The fire grew rapidly and Divisional Officer John Evans described the scene as an “awe-inspiring fire of gigantic proportions”. Along with the glow of flames and dense smoke in the sky, clouds of alcohol vapours drifted up through the air to ignite like giant distress flares, hundreds of feet above the city.
As crowds gathered, a BBC television crew arrived and tried to secure a brief interview with anyone who could speak about the disaster but fire and salvage operations were growing in intensity and urgency as the search for the missing men continued.
Firemaster Martin Chadwick had been on the scene long enough to ascertain that this fire was continuing to develop at great speed and at 8:20pm requested Area Control to firstly “Make pumps 15” and just eight minutes later made a further request to “Make pumps 20”.
A roll call was taken at this point and the final tally of missing men was revealed to be fourteen Glasgow Fire Service and five Glasgow Salvage Corps.
At that time, the scene was still too dangerous to continue any attempt at rescue of survivors or any recovery of bodies.
The priority of the Fire Service was to both contain the fire and prevent any spread into the adjacent buildings, one of which was a Distillers Co. Ltd. Whisky bond in Cheapside Street directly opposite the whisky bond already on fire and a Harland and Wolff engineering works in Warroch Street.
Such was the intensity and fast development of the fire that, in cinemas around Glasgow, messages were shown asking for all off duty firemen to report to their stations to assist ongoing operations. Those same messages were also transmitted on the television and radio stations serving Glasgow and the surrounding areas.
It took until 6:18am the following day to bring this devastating fire under control.
The harrowing task of informing distraught wives and families of the loss of loved ones began in the early hours of the morning.
Firemaster Martin Chadwick selected Glasgow funeral directors Wylie and Lockhead to organise the funerals, while the Merchants House of Glasgow donated a communal vault at the Necropolis overlooking Glasgow Cathedral..
On the day of the funerals, flags all over Glasgow flew at half mast and an estimated 16,000 people lined the High Street and Cathedral Square to watch the funeral cortege which stretched four hundred yards.
In the processions were members of every Fire Brigade in Britain and Northern Ireland as well as representatives of the London and Liverpool Salvage Corps.
The impressive service in Glasgow Cathedral was led by the Minister of Glasgow , The Rev. Dr. Neville Davidson who stated that “this was one of the saddest days in the history of the great city of Glasgow”.
The internment took place at the Necropolis with each of the coffins being carried by six firemen.
Mourners stood as Pipe Major Thomas Renton of the Glasgow Fire Service Pipe Band played the “Flowers of the Forest” and Firemaster Chadwick, fellow officers of the Glasgow Fire Service and officers of the Glasgow Salvage Corps saluted their dead comrades.
The following year, (1961) a stately monument funded by Glasgow Corporation was unveiled by Lord Provost Jean Roberts as a tribute to the firemen who had sacrificed their lives in service to the City.
On the night of the Cheapside Street Fire Disaster, countless acts of selfless determination, bravery and courage were carried out by all involved at the scene.
The ultimate sacrifice made by so many is commemorated every year at the monument by friends and relatives of the fallen, Strathclyde Fire & Rescue, Glasgow City Council and many other organisations.
When I am called to duty, God,
wherever flames may rage,
give me strength to save a life,
whatever be its age.
Help me embrace a little child
before it is too late,
or save an older person from
the horror of that fate.
Enable me to be alert,
and hear the weakest shout,
quickly and efficiently
to put the fire out.
I want to fill my calling,
to give the best in me,
to guard my friend and neighbor,
and protect his property.
And if according to Your will
I must answer death’s call,
please bless with your protecting hand,
my children and my wife.
History of the Fireman’s Prayer
While most accounts of the Fireman’s Prayer conclude with Author Unknown, the world renowned poem was written by Firefighter A.W. “Smokey” Linn. As a young firefighter in 1958 Linn and his crew responded to a fire in which three children were trapped behind security bars and died in the fire.
The only way he could find to ease the pain of such a tragedy was to sit down and put his thoughts on paper. The phrase, “enable me to be alert and hear the weakest shout”, sends a chill up a firefighter’s spine as you imagine what he experienced on that fateful night. It was a particularly tough time for him as he had young children around the same age.
His granddaughter, Penny McGlachlin said that back then there were no grief counselors to help the firefighters. Penny believes this was an actual prayer from him, to god for the sake of his own family, the other fireman, and the families of the children.
Smokey joined the Wichita, Kansas Fire Department in 1947 after returning from World War 2. He retired in 1975 and became president of the local chapter of the Good Sam Camping Club. He passed away March 31, 2004 of complications following surgery. The Fireman’s Prayer was originally published in a book called, “A Celebration of Poets” in 1958. The last copyright of the book was 1998. It is the family’s desire that the credit for the Firemen’s Prayer go to the author, A.W. “Smokey” Linn.
|Glasgow Fire Service||Home Station||Glasgow Salvage Corps||Based At|
|Sub Officer James Calder||West Fire Station||Deputy Chief Salvage Officer,||Salvage Corps HQ. Albion Street|
|Superintendent Edward Murray|
|Sub Officer John McPherson||South Fire Station||Leading Salvageman James McLellan||Salvage Corps HQ. Albion Street|
|Fireman Christopher Boyle||South Fire Station||Salvageman Gordon McMillan||Salvage Corps HQ. Albion Street|
|Fireman Alexander Grassie||South Fire Station||Salvageman James Mungall||Salvage Corps HQ. Albion Street|
|Fireman Edward McMillan||South Fire Station||Salvageman William Oliver||Salvage Corps HQ. Albion Street|
|Fireman Ian McMillan||South Fire Station|
|Fireman William Watson||South Fire Station|
|Fireman John Allan||Central Fire Station|
|Fireman Gordon Chapman||Central Fire Station|
|Fireman William Crocket||Central Fire Station|
|Fireman Archibald Darroch||Central Fire Station|
|Fireman Daniel Davidson||Central Fire Station|
|Fireman Alfred Dickinson||Central Fire Station|
|Fireman George McIntyre||Central Fire Station|
The book is entitled “TINDERBOX HEROES” by ALAN FORBES & JAMES SMITH
Commemorating The Cheapside Street Disaster and the extreme challenges faced by Glasgow’s Postwar Fire Service.
The Book is Available at Waterstones books and also available online. Price £12.99 (Net profits going to the Scottish Fire and Rescue’s Retired Employees Assoc. who are heavily involved in volunteering work including spreading the fire safety message).
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