Richard Oliff: Memories of firefighting volunteers

The oddest thought recently occurred to me.

Imagine if recreational cycling had been as popular among the adult population in the 1960s as it is today.

With the absence of all modern technology, even Lycra, I had images of men in thick tweed suits, sporting ties, sitting bolt upright, pipe in mouth and a puncture repair kit at the ready.

I was suddenly reminded of a sight that one might see 50 years ago on a fairly frequent basis from one’s front garden in Corby’s Thoroughsale Road.

That of a man – I never once saw a woman doing this – partly dressed in day-clothes and pyjamas with hair resembling that of a witch doctor’s hut, pedalling his bike as fast as his legs could possibly rotate and always headed in the same direction. This was a man on a mission: a man with purpose, and nothing and nobody was going to stop him.

He was following a sound that one may hear in an old wartime film that would warn the general populous of an impending air raid by the Luftwaffe.

A siren. A siren that sounded as if it were hand-cranked by yet another pipe-smoking man on a mission.

These were Corby’s firemen, firefighters in today’s lingo, racing to the sound emanating from the fire station at the bottom of Forest Gate Road long before pagers or mobiles.

That siren brought the firemen cycling, even running from their beds to get to the fire engines – not trucks – and the first to get there was assured of a financial bonus.

Films being shown at the Odeon cinema on Rockingham Road would be paused in their tracks to announce that any firemen in the audience were required for service immediately.

My friend Roy’s dad, Johnny, was a Corby fireman and would risk his life on a regular basis in the course of his duty.

It’s odd what goes through ones head during a walk in the countryside.