Page 27 - November 2021
P. 27

Frank Sommerville
Members of the Company and the FirefightersMemorialTrust(FMT) will be sad to learn of the passing of an old friend Frank Sommerville. Frank was passionate about the fire brigade during the second world war and was a regular attender at the Annual Service of Remembrance at the FMT memorial in Carter Lane Gardens, London. Frank purchased, owned and restored GLE 947, a 1942 Austin K2 Heavy Pumping Unit (HU) and brought it to London each year as part of the parade of vintage appliances escorting the band and marchers from the church service to the Memorial.
But where did this passion come from? Frank was a post-war baby whose father had been in the National Fire Service (NFS) stationed at Homerton.
On 19 April 1941, during a bombing raid, a parachute bomb landed on Old Palace School in St Leonards Street Poplar, east London. This caused the greatest ever loss of fire brigade personnel in one incident, as the school had been utilised as a sub-fire station for the NFS. A total of 34 firemen and
firewomen from the local stations (Homerton and Beckenham) were on duty and subsequently died. From the diary of W Sommerville, Franks father, he learned about the incident and how badly it had affected him. Franks father was off duty that night and not at the school, but the loss of his friends and colleagues had a major impact on him for the rest of his life.
Frank decided to commemorate the incident by purchasing and displaying his fire appliance so the incident, and many others during WW2, would not be forgotten. It became his life. He was a great supporter of “Firemen Remembered” and Fire Force 36 in particular. Active in the various preservation groups he popped up everywhere.
September 2005 saw the 60th Anniversary of the end of WW2 forwhichtheFirefightersMemorial Trust and Firefighters Company arranged a celebration and exhibition of the civilian services who had participated so well and given all during those terrible years. One of the exhibits was of course Franks “old girl” which he and his crew set up to give a demonstration of pumping. This was held in Guildhall yard and visited by schoolchildren, and of course The Lord Mayor.
The year 2010 saw the 70th Anniversary of the first “Blitz” on the City of London and so for the Modern Livery Companies entry into the Lord Mayors Show so we decided to add this as the theme of our entry. Frank was very happy to help us buy putting his fire appliance in the Show,
So in the early hours of Saturday 13th November, at Dowgate Fire Station in the City, Frank’s appliance got washed off and prepared for its big day. At 0830, on the bell, we made our way to the muster point in St Martin’s le Grand to join the other entries. A
buzz was in the air as people came to admire the appliance and chat to the six other “volunteers” that Frank had recruited to form the WW2 crew.
During the Show Franks’ “old girl” suffered just a little because we were travelling very slowly and she got a little hot, but as during the war, she never let us down. We were extremely grateful to Frank and his crew for making it such a special day for us.When not out on the road the appliance was nevertheless available for viewing at the “Under Fire” exhibition at RAF Twinwood, a former WW2 “Night Fighter “ training airbase just north of Bedford.
“Under Fire” is Britain’s’ only “wartime” fire service museum and is constructed in the form of a utility firestationofthe1940s’.Itincludes an exhibition room, watchroom, dormitory and mess room. The appliance room contains vehicles and a workshop.
A few years ago Frank’s personal circumstances changed. Living alone and working permanent night shifts for Royal Mail he found it difficult to continue with his passion. He subsequently sold the appliance and we lost touch with him.
We understand that he found the Covid pandemic and isolation difficult to deal with. He was still working with Royal Mail but became unwell. It is thought that he was not keen on seeking medical treatment. Unfortunately during late January a concerned neighbour called on him only to discover that he had passed away.
We are most grateful for his friendship, enthusiasm and help over the past years, trusting that he will Rest in Peace. Love and Light Frank!
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Peter Cowland Almoner

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