The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) was formed in 1938 and its role was to support local fire brigades should there be a need to deal with a particular event. In 1941, both local brigades and the AFS were replaced by the National Fire Service and the role of the AFS changed just after the war to form part of our civilian defence strategy should there have been a nuclear war. It is for this specific purpose the Green Goddesses (which was just an affectionate nickname) were built between 1953 and 1956. RGC 781 is one of the latter examples being built in 1956. They are really defined as pumping appliances rather than fire engines, as they were designed to pump large quantities of water over several miles so that fires from any nuclear explosion could be reached at any location in the UK. It is with this in mind that most AFS appliances were 4-wheel drive (4×4), which RGC 781 is an example of. A small number of 4×2 versions were built and most Boroughs in the UK had examples of both appliances.
They are built on the chassis of a Bedford RL which had a 300 cubic inch (5 litre) 6-cylinder petrol engine along with an ash framed wooden body. They have a large Sigmund pump located at the vehicle rear capable of pumping over 1,000 gallons (4,500 litres) of water per minute and a smaller portable pump carried in the first locker behind the cab, capable of pumping 300 gallons (1,350 litres) per minute. The other lockers contain a variety of hoses, nozzles and fire-fighting equipment, but no cutting gear as with modern fire engines. They can carry a crew of 6 and between the lockers in the middle of the vehicle is a large water tank that can carry 300 gallons. However, the lack of baffles within the tank and relatively high centre of gravity of the 4-wheel drive appliances made them prone to poor handling around corners and it wasn’t uncommon for them to tip over when fully loaded.
These machines were regularly serviced, but little used during their lifespan. RGC 781 only covered just over 2,000 miles whilst it was in AFS ownership. They are particularly remembered for providing cover during the Firefighters strikes of 1977 and 2002. Although they were crewed by military personnel during those strikes, the AFS never had any direct affiliation with the military, the vehicles were simply painted in the same bronze green livery. All vehicles were in fact civilian registered. The AFS was finally disbanded in 1968 under the Harold Wilson Government. The smaller 4×2 appliances were disposed of at that time, but the 4×4 versions were kept in storage as the nuclear attack was still very much a potential threat to the UK. These machines had greater coverage of terrain given their off-road capabilities. Green Goddesses were finally withdrawn in 2005 when the then Government changed the law to enable the military to use civilian fire appliances in the event of another fire-fighters strike. Many of the 1,000 plus machines were sold abroad especially to African countries for use in their brigades. However, a small number survive today in private hands such as this example being part of Town and District Transport Trust’s collection. It lives on in memory of Iain Bonner who sadly passed away in 2018