Thursday August 3, 2017
This column is by way of a tribute to one of the most interesting public service vehicles of post-war Britain - the Bedford ‘Green Goddess’ fire appliance. Its origins date back to 1949 when the Home Office created the Civil Defence Corps (CDC), whose purpose was to work alongside the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) in the aftermath of a nuclear war. Both services were staffed by volunteers and for almost two decades they provided tireless and invaluable assistance in so many emergencies, from Aberfan in 1966 to the East Coast floods of 1953.
The Civil Defence and the AFS initially used World War II-surplus equipment, but in 1953 the government commissioned a new fleet of Bedford Self Propelled Pumps - better known as the ‘Green Goddess’. Tests demonstrated that the new appliance was capable of a 50 mph top speed and could cope with a 45-degree incline. The early forms of ‘Green Goddess’ were based on the RWD Bedford SHZ and could hold 400 gallons of water while the later versions used the 4x4 RLHZ chassis and had a 300-gallon tank. There was also a backup portable pump and a 35-ft. extendable ladder mounted on the roof. Power for both models was a 4,927cc petrol engine married to a four-speed gearbox. The bodies were supplied by a variety of coachbuilders and the paint finish was’ Deep Bronze Green’ to distinguish them from the red local authority appliances. This 1959 silent Pathe newsreel footage gives a fascinating look at Goddesses in action.
The Goddesses carried a six-strong crew, one officer and five firefighters, and although the maximum speed was limited it was never intended to be a fast 999 response vehicle. This was a transportable pump capable of moving 900 gallons per minute. In the event of a crisis, a team of Green Goddesses would travel in a mobile column to a stricken area where they would be interconnected via hoses to the nearest river, canal or reservoir. The Bedfords also provided support to County Fire Brigades, where their facility in relaying water over long distances was invaluable
The government ordered 5,150 Green Goddesses over a three-year period but in 1968 the AFS and the CDC were disbanded. Many of the Bedfords were retained in storage in Home Office depots and they eventually gained flashing indicators, blue beacons and two-note horns instead of a bell. They frequently saw service, assisting with county brigades during the 1976 drought and being manned by the military during the fire services industrial disputes of 1977 and 2002. In 1995 Commercial Motor reported that the Green Goddesses ‘supported fire services throughout the country, including Cleveland, Warwickshire, Derbyshire and Hampshire. Their four-wheel drive and high ground clearance was ideal for tackling some of the problems experienced this summer’.
In March 2004, the government announced that they planned to sell their remaining Goddesses and thirteen years later they are guaranteed to attract attention at any classic gathering. And is no less than the Bedford deserve; they are not only vehicles of great historic importance but they were instrumental in saving lives.