Click here for more...

(ARCHIVE) Vol. XX No. 19, January 16-31, 2011
AFS helped to protect
wartime Madras
(By Aaron David, Retired Divisional Fire Officer)

Till about 1940-41, Madras was protected against fire by the Madras Fire Brigade armed with only three imported fire engines stationed in Pudupet Fire Station in Driver’s Street. When the Japanese threatened India during World War II, the Government in India, then British, introduced civil defence measures in the country, particularly focussing on Madras and Calcutta.

As preparations for a full-time Fire Service, the Government organised what was called the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS). The men recruited were volunteers and were given uniforms and a parade attendance batta. The supervisory staff were selected from senior British and Indian civilians in the city and were made Honorary Officers.

Fire units, such as the Mobile Tank Unit with 600 gallons of water and the Towing Vehicle for Trailer Fire Pumps imported from England, were all body-built locally and were available for AFS drills. With no building to house these fire units, they were parked in the compounds of Government offices such as the Surgeon-General’s Office in Teynampet, Police Inspector-General’s Office in Mylapore, Government House Estate on Mount Road, the High Court, Vepery Police Station, etc. D. Latham was appointed overall Controller of Air Raid Precautions (ARP). G.F. Harrison, Deputy Commissioner of Police, was put in charge of the AFS. J.H. Gray, an Assistant Commissioner of Police, who was also in charge of the Madras Fire Brigade in Pudupet, gave weekly exercises to the AFS volunteers and trained them to use the equipment.

W.L. Knopp of Machonchie & Co. was the Chief Officer (Civilian) of the AFS. He divided the city into three divisions following Poonamalle High Road and the railway line running North from Central Station. Thus, George Town, Mannady, Royapuram, Washermanpet and Tondiarpet formed the Eastern Division, Vepery, Purasawalkam, Kilpauk, Perambur Barracks and Perambur formed the Western Division, while the territory south of Poonamallee High Road, comprising Chintadripet, Triplicane, Royapettah, Mylapore, Teynampet, etc. formed the Southern Division.

By the end of 1941 the Japanese had come as far as Rangoon and invasions by sea and air appeared imminent. The Government built on war-footing pucca concrete buildings for fire stations in High Court, Wall Tax Road, Washermanpet, Seven Wells, Tondiarpet, Vepery, Kilpauk, Egmore, Triplicane, Teynampet and Mylapore. The fire units, under the trees till then, were moved into these buildings which also had facilities for the volunteer firemen, drivers and the Leading Fireman posted to each station as regular staff. Civilian Honorary Officers were in charge of the fire stations.

The postings of the Honorary Officers were as follows:

Eastern Division

B.W. Batchelor (Sr. Director, Binny & Co.), Divisional Officer-in-charge with office at the High Court Fire Station.

High Court: C.P. Mathen, District Office i/c. Justice A. Byers (Judge of the Madras High Court), Station Officer.

Wall Tax Road: McGregor, Station Officer.

Washermanpet: W.R. Wood, District Officer i/c.

Seven Wells: Haddow, District Officer i/c.

Tondiarpet: Kandaswamy Nadar (industrialist), District Officer i/c;
K. Karunakaran (hotelier), Station Officer.

Western Division

N. Barlow, Divisional Officer i/c with office at Vepery Fire Station.

Vepery: E.M. Gawne i.c.s. (Chief Secretary to the Government of Madras) District Officer i/c.

Kilpauk: C.R. Barlow (Union Motors), District Officer i/c; Govind Swaminathan (Barrister), Station Officer; M.K. Belgamwala, Station Officer.

Southern Division

D.D. Warren i.c.s. (Secretary, PWD, Government of Madras) Divisional Officer i/c with office at Triplicane Fire Station.

Triplicane: F. Jamieson, District Officer i/c.

Egmore: F.W. Leuchs (Bosh & Co.), District Officer i/c; J.P. Jesudasen (Advocate), Station Officer.

Mylapore: J.W. Fletcher (Shalimar Paints), District Officer-in-charge; P. Ramanujam (Shalimar Paints), Station Officer; N. Subramaniam (of Mylapore), Station Officer.

Teynampet: (I can’t recall)

Though the number of fire stations increased during 1943-44, the Honorary Officers continued to be in charge of the respective fire stations. Senior Leading Firemen were trained as Sub-Officers and posted to the new fire stations.

The Auxiliary Fire Service Honorary Officers continued till the end of the War in 1946. The Governor of Madras thanked them and gave them a grateful ‘send off’ in a “Stand Down” parade on the Police Maidan, Egmore, towards the end of the year. The AFS had by then merged with the Madras Fire Services on Government orders.

In this issue

Scant attention paid to heritage by Metro
Traditional markets making way for malls
AFS helped to protect wartime Madras
The decisive third battle
Breathing the air of Broadway
Other stories

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Dates for your diary


Back to current issue...