The Green part was because they were painted that colour, and Green Goddess was already a phrase in literature, hence the nick-name. They were fire engines, and the colour for a normal fire engine was red of course. Nowadays they might be largely silver coloured, but back in the days when the Green Goddess first appeared they were all red. The green colour of the Green Goddesses came from their military origins. The intention was to provide a large number of appliances to deal with the fires that would follow a nuclear attack. The reason they were built had nothing to do with strike breaking, though that was the only thing they were ever used for.
Green Goddesses were introduced in 1953, and by the time they first appeared on our streets in the late 1970s they were already a bit dated. They had first belonged to the Civil Defence which would have operated them in time of conflict, but when that organisation was abolished in 1968 they were transferred to the Home Office. The personnel called in to drive them when needed belonged to the armed services.
In the 1950s when the red fire engines were on call they rung a bell as they sped along the road; the two-tone siren had not yet been invented. The same applied to ambulances and police cars. I never heard a Green Goddess on call, but I am sure that it would have rung a bell too. The flashing light, like the siren, was a later development and I think they both came from America. In the States the flashing lights are often red, but we Brits have always used blue.
The design of the Green Goddess was based on a Bedford army truck and they were intended primarily to pump large quantities of water onto a fire. They also had a ladder for rescuing people, but it was relatively short. The Green Goddesses were called out when the Fire Service went on strike during the Union troubles of the 1970s. I preferred the old term, the Fire Brigade, but they never went on strike under that name. Striking in these services, like health, impacts upon the public rather than the employers, and does not seem to me to be good way of resolving disputes. Luckily the Green Goddesses never had to deal with a major conflagration, because the training of the ‘firemen’ at the controls (i.e squaddies) was not very thorough.
The ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1978 is the time that I remember the Green Goddesses best. We felt the whole of society was falling apart under Jim Callaghan’s Labour Government. It wasn’t only the firemen who went on strike – the binmen went out too, and rubbish was piling up on the streets. The only time that proved to be even worse was Mrs Thatcher’s first administration, and her massive increase in VAT. This killed my business stone dead. I, along with the majority of the people, resolved never to vote Tory again. She was saved in the eyes of the British public by her firm handling of the Falklands crisis, and after that she could no wrong in their opinion.
I had forgotten that the Green Goddesses made another brief appearance on our streets in 2003. By then they were 50 years old and it is no wonder that they were sold off the following year. They had seemed antiques a quarter of a century earlier when they were first called out. Although they were very old they had not seen much service and had been well cared for. Many of them were sold to African countries where communities had never before had the benefit of a fire engine.
THE BLOG FOR MEMORIES OF THE PAST