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Firefighter's Long Service Medal


Firefighter's Long Service MedalThe principle of awarding medals for long service and good conduct to uniformed forces is long established in the United Kingdom. Such medals were instituted in 1830 for the Royal Navy and the Army, and for the Royal Air Force shortly after its formation in 1918. In comparison with the armed services there was not really a coherent ‘fire service’ until the National Fire Service (NFS) was created in 1941.

From early in the 19th Century up to the late 1930s there had gradually evolved more than a thousand local authority fire brigades varying widely in size and organisation. Recognition of long service and good conduct of members, where it was recognised at all, was achieved in various ways, depending upon the type of brigade.

In police brigades the members formed part of the police force of the employing authority. The fire brigade staff were ‘sworn-in’ as police constables, but were employed either wholly or partly on fire brigade duties, which in some brigades included staffing the emergency ambulances. Typical police brigades were Liverpool and Stockport, as were many of the larger towns and cities in the country. Other local authority brigades were quite independent of the police force. Such brigades could consist of full-time paid members, or part-time volunteers, or a mixture of both. The largest non-police brigade was the London Fire Brigade. An unusual case was provided by the City of Manchester which was a non-police brigade from 1843 to 1886 and 1898 to 1920, and a police brigade from 1886 to 1898 and 1920 to 1941.

The award of the long service medals to this multiplicity of brigades was quite complicated. Some local authorities issued their own medals for service varying between 15 and 25 years, sometimes with bars for further periods of 5 or 10 years. Others relied upon the medals issued by two fire brigade associations, which they either granted to their members, or permitted their members to wear. There were some local authorities who did not issue or grant any medals at all.

Of the numerous medals issued by local authorities, probably the best documented are those of the London County Council. In 1883 a bronze medal for long service was instituted by the LCC/Metropolitan Fire Brigade (which became the London Fire Brigade in 1904). This highly prized medal, worn on a watered yellow ribbon, was awarded for fifteen years unblemished service. Its official name was the LCC Medal for Zeal and Fidelity; unofficially and affectionately its ribbon was called 'The Yellow Peril’. The medal continued to be issued until 1954.

Fire Brigade Association Medals

Instead of providing their own long service medals some local authorities relied on the medals of fire brigade associations. The first of these was the National Fire Brigades Union (NFBU). This was not a ‘trades’ union, but rather a ‘union’ of fire brigades, and was inaugurated in 1887. In 1919 it changed its name to the National Fire Brigades Association (NFBA). The NFBU issued bronze medals  for ten years service with bars for each additional five years and in 1907 a silver medal for twenty years service was introduced. The NFBU medals were worn on a maroon coloured ribbon. Between about 1916 and 1919, the ribbon of the silver medal carried a narrow central white stripe. These medals were continued after the change of name, although the ribbons were changed to equal stripes of scarlet, dark blue and scarlet, separated by narrow gold stripes.


Firefighter's Long Service Medal The second association was formed in 1902 as the Association of Professional Fire Brigade Officers of the British Empire; the name was changed in 1920 to the Professional Fire Brigades Association (PFBA). This association also awarded long service medals to its members It is thought that the first medal, in bronze, was awarded for five years service, with bars for ten and fifteen years service. Later, silver medals were introduced and very possibly replaced the bronze medals, although this point is not clear. The medals were worn on ribbons consisting of stripes of blue/grey, white and scarlet. They had to be purchased by the recipients or their employers.

In 1949 the NFBA and the PFBA amalgamated to form the British Fire Services Association (BFSA). Service in either the NFBA or the PFBA could count towards the BFSA Long and Efficient Service Medals. The medals are awarded in bronze for ten years and in silver for twenty years service, with bronze and silver bars for each additional five years service. Although a member may eventually qualify for both the bronze and silver medals, only one can be worn. The same ribbon is used for either medal and consists of approximately equal stripes of grey, red and grey, the colours being separated by narrow stripes of black and white. The BFSA long service medals have to be purchased by the recipients.

The Inconsistency With Medals

The use of these long service medals continued until 1941, discontinued from 1941 to 1948, and then revived from 1948 to 1954. There were then several long service medals which could be awarded by various bodies, but with no uniformity of practice. Theoretically, a member in one brigade could wear up to three long service medals; that is, one from his local authority, together with one or two from one or both of the associations; while a man with identical service in another brigade might wear no medals at all. Everything depended upon the policy of his employing authority and his own willingness to join the associations. All the awards mentioned were ‘unofficial’ in the sense that they were not part of the State system of honours, and when medals or ribbons were worn in uniform they would be placed on the right breast.

The medals were either made by manufacturing jewellers to patterns requested by the purchasers, or from a range of standard patterns stocked by manufacturers.

A Changing Fire Service

The middle and late 1930s brought important developments affecting fire brigades. In 1935 the Government set up the ‘Riverdale Committee’ to look into the organisation of fire services in England and Wales. The committee’s recommendations led to the Fire Brigades Act 1938, which for the first time made a statutory requirement for a nationwide fire service, but before the 1938 Act could be implemented, it was overtaken by the outbreak of war.

In September 1939, the fire brigades went on to a war footing, greatly reinforced by the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) which had been created in 1938, also as a consequence of the Riverdale Committee. Air raids in the autumn of 1940 revealed grave deficiencies in the fire defences of the United Kingdom. Despite the mobilisation of the AFS, the issuing of stockpiled equipment and the creation of command and control systems for large scale incidents, individual brigades were sometimes overwhelmed by the ferocity and scale of the fires. The fire brigades and the AFS were nationalised in August 1941 to form the National Fire Service (NFS), and this severed the long-standing connection with the police which had existed in some brigades. The then Home Secretary, Mr. Herbert Morrison, promised that at the end of the war the fire brigades would be returned to the control of local authorities.

The first post-war Home Secretary, Mr. J. Chuter Ede, honoured this promise by means of the Fire Services Act 1947, which, with effect from 1st April 1948, returned the brigades to local authorities. These were not in all cases the same local authorities as pre-war. It was the councils of county boroughs and counties which became the new ‘Fire Authorities’ charged with the statutory duty of providing and maintaining fire brigades. Although somewhat different in detail, similar arrangements applied in Scotland and Northern Ireland. About one hundred and fifty brigades came into existence. Some, such as London, Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, were the direct descendants of pre-war brigades. Others, like Lancashire, Middlesex and Surrey, became the new ‘county’ brigades, a type of brigade which had not previously existed in England and Wales.

The Medal is Created

In 1949, the question of an official long service medal for members of fire brigades came up for consideration by the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council (for England and Wales) and the Scottish Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council. These two councils advise the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland respectively on certain fire service matters. The two advisory councils appointed a Joint Committee to consider the award of long service medals. The Report of the Joint Committee was completed by May 1951.
In outlining the arguments for the creation of a long service medal, it was emphasised by the committee that local authority medals failed to give full recognition to the different types of service- pre-war local authorities, war-time nationalised and post-war local authorities - which could be aggregated. The main arguments in favour of a medal were:
(a) the only medal available to fire brigades, except for awards of the Order of the British Empire, was the then King’s Police and Fire Services Medal, which was limited to a very small number annually;

(b) the grant of a long service medal would provide a means of recognition  of long and faithful service which is lacking in the Fire Service although provided in other forces, (the police in 1951) and the Industrial side of the civil service who are eligible for the Imperial Service Medal;

(c) the medal would be of particular value in the case of the lower ranks, in which most firemen necessarily remain throughout their careers.

The Joint Committee also noted that the establishment of a long service medal for the Police (in 1951) would give rise to strong feelings among firemen, many of whom spent their early years of service as Police Firemen, and that they should not be at a disadvantage with policemen in this respect.

The report was accepted by the Advisory Councils on 2nd May 1951, although some representatives of the local authorities considered that they should retain the discretion to issue local medals. The report was submitted to the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals in March 1952; the Honours Committee expressed the view that they would prefer that the design of the proposed medal should be based upon ‘fire fighting’ rather than ‘rescue from fire’.

Finally, with the sanction of the Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, a draft Royal Warrant was submitted to the Queen and received Her Majesty’s gracious approval. An announcement was made by the Prime Minister in the House of Commons, accompanied by a White Paper giving the terms of the warrant, which came into effect on 1st June 1954.

In May 1954, the Honours Committee gave provisional approval to the medal design which was ordered to be photographed and submitted for the Queen’s approval. In August 1954, a specimen was struck and approval was granted by the Queen on 13th December 1954. A Press Notice and photographs were issued on 31st December 1954.

The Honours Committee had also considered the design of a suitable ribbon for the new medal. It was first thought that the ribbon should be similar in design to the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal ribbon, but with Union Flag Red in place of the dark blue. These colours were not proceeded with, possibly because they bore some resemblance to the Sea Gallantry Medal. Bunting Yellow was used to replace the white in the Police ribbon, together with a selection of oranges and reds. The final choice was for Union Flag Red (BCC21O) with Bunting Yellow (BCC133) stripes.

The Fire Brigade Long Service and Good Conduct Medal


The medal as finally approved is 1.42 inches in diameter and struck in cupro-nickel. The obverse uses what is described as ‘Her Majesty’s Crowned Effigy for Medals’, designed by Mr. Cecil Thomas OBE. The reverse, which was designed by Mr. Paul Vincze, shows two firemen directing a fire hose, with the surrounding inscription - FOR EXEMPLARY FIRE SERVICE. In the mid- 1970s the Royal Mint started to supply rhodium plated medals, to eliminate problems with tarnishing. The medal is suspended from the ribbon by a ring, about half an inch in diameter; the ribbon is officially described as ‘one and a quarter inches in width, colour red, with on either side a yellow stripe on which is superimposed a narrow stripe of red’.

For many years the medals were issued in standard cardboard medal boxes, but from the early 1970s onwards they have been supplied in Royal Mint fitted cases.

Prior to issue, a medal has the rank and name of the recipient impressed upon the edge, up to a maximum of thirty six characters or spaces. This exacting process is carried out by hand using letter punches to give a far superior result than could be achieved by machine stamping. The name is impressed with the first forename in full and initials only for other forenames.

 

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