Austin K2, 1941, GLE 820.
Austin K2, 1941, GLE 820
Before the start of World War II in 1939, the UK Government's Home Office soon realised that their firefighting preparations for the anticipated hostilities were well below what would be required so they set about embarking on a major fire engine building programme that involved the production of heavy units.
These were built using commercially available lorry chassis and the bodywork was constructed to enable a large self-contained pump to be carried in the payload.
Initially these were supplied to the Auxiliary Fire Service as every local authority had to form a section to supplement their own brigades. However due to the problems experienced during the Blitz, in 1941 all local authority fire brigades throughout the United Kingdom became under the umbrella control of the National Fire Service.
The production of heavy units and other types of firefighting vehicles was increased considerably as the war progressed and it is likely that this Austin was delivered direct to the NFS but its wartime service is unrecorded. The date of the first stamp on the registration document is unclear but it is under the name of "The Secretary of State, Home Office, S.W.1".
The vehicle carried a four-delivery Leyland-Gwynne 750 gpm pump and, interestingly, subsequent restoration uncovered wording on the cab that read "coachwork built by Leyland". Heavy units were designed to pump large volumes of water either directly onto blazes or as part of a water relay using several similar pumps.
The end of hostilities saw local authorities being made responsible for firefighting arrangements but only at county, municipal and county borough levels.
One of the fire brigades in Scotland was the Fife Fire Brigade and the first change in the registration book in May 1948 shows Fife Motor Taxation, County Buildings, Cupar. The fire brigade history of the appliance in Fife is not known but it stayed on the fleet for the next ten years.
On disposal in August 1959, the Austin was acquired by Messrs. J. Ward of The Bay, Inverkeithing, Fife. Similarly named Thomas W. Ward had a large shipbreaking yard in Inverkeithing so it is possible that there was a link but the registration book indicated that the appliance remained there until early 1985.
It was then that it seems that it was saved for preservation or possibly another use as the new owner John Lawrie of Larkhall, Lanarkshire, had the registration number changed to GSV 352. A letter in the appliance's file is dated 1989 and is addressed to Miles Hopperton of Millers Bridge, Lochgilphead, Argyll who, by then, seems to be the owner.
It was in 1995 that Paul Stevens of Wooburn Green, Buckinghamshire purchased the vehicle that had been in storage near Banbury in Oxfordshire so why it had come from Scotland to England is unknown.
One of the first tasks for Paul was to ask DVLA for the return of the original registration mark and this was achieved thanks to Mike Hebard acting on behalf of the Fire Service Preservation Group.
A total chassis-up restoration was necessary for both Austin and Leyland-Gwynne pump and Paul was joined in this mammoth task by his father John and brother Philip. The appliance was returned from the red applied by the Fife Fire Brigade, to its original wartime grey together with the NFS station numbers for Wooburn Green.
With other projects in the pipeline in the late 1990s, Paul decided to pass the appliance on and it was purchased by Peter Baldwin of Chidham, West Sussex, who was a retained fireman at Bosham. Peter rallied it for many years but in 2019 it became part of the Wessex Fire and Rescue Service's Heritage Collection.
It returned in October 2020 from the National Emergency Services Museum in Sheffield where it was on loan.