Killed in the Line of Duty…………….
The following extremely detailed research into the life of AFS Fireman Leslie Thomas Healey has been carried out by researcher Judith Batchelor
Another young man cut down in the prime of his life and another young married couple whose future was so cruelly taken away from them on that fateful night in April 1941. The loss of a loved one, husband, son, father, is an immeasurable loss and something that we truly never overcome, instead we lead a different life to the one that we were destined to lead. Here is Leslie’s story…….
Auxiliary Fireman Leslie Thomas Healey was born on 30th March 1909 in Anerley, Kent, a son of Herbert Sydney Healey and Isabella Healey née Ironside. His father was a Plasterer and his mother was a Dressmaker which is recorded on the 1911 Census. The 1911 census shows him living with his parents, three elder sisters, an aunt and cousin at 70, Marlow Road, Anerley, Kent. Eight family members in a house with five rooms, although cramped this would have been typical of a working class terraced street at this time.
Below is an image from @googlemaps showing 70, Marlow Road in Anerley as it looks today.
(Marlow Road, Anerley)
Below is an image kindly provided from the Beckenham History website of Marlow Road around the 1930’s, the most notable thing from this image is the lack of parked cars in the street, a stark contrast to what we would find today.
Leslie was educated at Balgowan Central School, Balgowan Road, Beckenham, Kent. The school was built in 1914-15 and served as an auxiliary war hospital during World War I. A memorial commemorating the role of the school during this period is located in the main school hall. In 1920 Balgowan returned to its original purpose of providing education for local children, which would have included Leslie, who would have been aged eleven at the time.
The image below shows the School whilst it was being used as a Military Hospital during WW1 and this image has been kindly provided by Rob Higgins.
The 1921 Census shows the Healey family living at 156, Mackenzie Road, Beckenham, Kent. Living at home are Herbert Sydney Healey a Plasterer aged 54, Isabella aged 49, Elsie May a dressmaker aged 20, Gladys Louise a Shorthand Typist aged 18, Marjorie aged 14 and our Leslie Thomas aged 12.
(1921 Census Healey family)
(1921 Census Address for Healey family)
In mid 1935 he married his sweetheart Aimee Mary Austin in Bromley, Kent, there are no known children born to this couple from my researches. Aimee was born on 29th April 1912, a local girl, she was born in Bromley in Kent.
The 1939 England and Wales Register shows them living at 15 Greenview Avenue, Croydon, Surrey and his occupation was listed as a Filing Clerk. There is no mention of Leslie being an AFS Volunteer at this time, although there are others on the same page who are recorded as AFS volunteers, so we can only assume that Leslie had not signed up by the time the 1939 Register was taken. Leslie would have joined the Auxiliary Fire Service sometime after 29 September 1939, when the 1939 was taken and he was attached to the West Wickham Fire Station.
With the threat of another World War imminent, the British Government acted swiftly by organising a head count of the whole civilian population, which culminated in the 1939 Register. The Register was the pre-requisite for the issuing of National Identity Cards and the information recorded the full names, addresses, dates of birth, occupations of individuals and additional information such as somebody serving in the armed forces, or an ARP Warden, or somebody serving in the Auxiliary Fire Services (AFS).
The British Government also took the decision to make all men over the age of eighteen undertake basic military training. Certain roles were deemed essential and were therefore not part of the army reserve call up, so conscious of ‘doing his bit’ Leslie signed up with the newly formed Auxiliary Fire Service instead (AFS). Prior to the start of WW2 the Government recognised the fact that the threat of War was imminent and that they were poorly prepared for a second World War. The Government acted swiftly with the Fire Brigade Act of July 1938 which demanded the recruitment of an auxiliary fire service as part of the country’s Civil Defence Force. As the nation’s capital, London was a natural prime target. Dockland warehouses packed with highly combustible oils, grain and timber were clearly a risk and the narrow maze of streets would provide an easy path for the fire. It was obvious that a large number of firefighters would be needed to prevent London becoming little more than a smoking ruin.
The answer was to expand the regular Fire Brigade by forming an Auxiliary Fire Service. By 1939 about 28, 000 men and women had joined the AFS and regular firefighters, who had been trained as instructors, put the new recruits through 60 hours intensive training. Originally recruits were unpaid volunteers, but eventually the men were paid £3 per week, women received £2 per week, with youths under 18 and messengers earning £1 per week. At first recruits endured poor accommodation, inadequate conditions and were dubbed “£3-a-week war dodgers” by the public who thought they were choosing an easy life. After many recruits left to join the war effort, the Government passed a statutory order preventing full time members resigning. Once the Blitz started, attitudes towards the volunteers quickly changed and they received the recognition they deserved.
Sadly for Leslie and his family, Leslie’s contribution to the war effort was cut dramatically short when he was tragically killed at the Old Palace School in East London on 20th April 1941, along with 33 of his fellow colleagues.
(The Guarding of the Coffins)
Leslie Thomas Healey was buried with his fellow Beckenham Firefighters at Beckenham Cemetery on the 25th April 1941. Nineteen of the Twenty-One Beckenham Firemen were buried in a mass grave, at the Beckenham Cemetery, after a memorial service at the parish church of St. George by Canon Boyd and a solemn procession through the town. The grave was dug entirely by their comrades and was softened by masses of daffodils. The 19 coffins were placed in St. George’s church on the Wednesday before the service and guarded by Firemen. The 19 coffins were borne from the church to the hearses by 114 bearers from the Beckenham AFS. As they left they passed between the lines of The Guard of Honour lining the path to the lychgate. The silence and peace was deeply affecting, all the traffic through the town had been stopped. The bearing of the coffins to the hearses seemed endless. As the Chopin Funeral March was played, the procession of hearses, firemen, service personnel, 19 cars with the families of the deceased and two fire appliances loaded with a mass of flowers, left on its journey to the Beckenham Cemetery. It took half an hour for the procession to pass any point on the route to the Cemetery. After the coffins had been placed in the grave, posies and bunches of flowers were dropped in and there were 350 wreaths. A plaque at the graveside read;
“We remember proudly the deeds of these bravemen, martyrs in the cause of liberty”.
The pictures below are taken from the Funeral Cortege for the 19 Beckenham Firemen.
Leslie’s widow, Aimee Mary Healey remarried in 1952 to Eric AJ Hall in Croydon in Surrey, again from my researches, there are no known children born to this marriage. Aimee died on 2nd March 1983 in Croydon in Surrey.
Leslie was another one of those firefighters who left very little in the way of records behind, but that doesn’t make his contribution or his loss to his family any less. When he was called upon to stand up and serve his country, Leslie was one of the tens of thousands of volunteers who signed up to join the volunteer AFS to help protect and defend our Country in its darkest hours. These brave men and women and their families were to pay the ultimate price in the loss of their loved ones at the Old palace School.
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